I have been here 11 months and I have officially posted ONCE on the field. Whoops.
Right now all the universities in our city are expecting their English Major freshmen to hold interviews with native speakers. This is confusing homework, since native English speakers are not common in this area. Most people in this city will simply go their lives without meeting one. As you would expect, myself and my team members are suddenly in high demand. Last weekend a group of people showed up at my team leader's house for impromptu interviews. Normally these are incredibly awkward. These are freshmen English majors, their command of the English Language is medium-rare at best. If I ask a clarifying question, I am normally met with blank, terrified stares. The interview ends once five minues is up, they ask for pictures, and we go our separate ways.
I realized, many of the questions these people ask me are questions that people at home would either want to ask themselves, or just find confusing. So, for your reading pleasure, I present a **not legitimate, but very accurate** transcript of an interview with a native speaker. (I am skipping the "Why are you here?", "Where do you come from?" "Is that your real hair?" questions, since I assume you already know the answers to those questions)
**some of these questions are asked every single time, some questions just throw me off guard and made me laugh/scratch my head. You can do the work of figuring out which are which.
Do you like it here?
What I say out loud: "Of course! The people here are very friendly an welcoming. There are so many things I like about living here. I like the weather, the people, the food, almost everything!"
More complete answer: I do like it here. The people really are very nice, the food is absolutely delicious, and I really do like the weather. If I were to do it all again, I would choose to come to this city in a heartbeat. However, it is very hard living over here. The weather is incredibly hot (which I would choose over snow pretty much any time), we went through a season of almost-suffocating haze, and the culture still shocks me almost every day. I would say that I like it here, but maybe I don't like it every second of every day. Sometimes something happens, or a season hits, or I just plain miss home.
So, can you speak the language yet?
What I say out loud: **sentence in the local language, followed by awkward laughter** "I spend most of my time learning the language. After 11 months I can speak fairly well, although I do not understand EVERYTHING yet."
More complete answer: I sometimes legitimately shock myself by what comes out of my mouth. A couple months ago I had this realization that I was no longer fumbling all the time, and that most of my answers were actually coming naturally. This is a realization that still shocks me, because I still feel incredibly inadequate when it comes to the language. (Last week I was asked to pray with my neighbor's family. Every prayer I had memorized fell out of my brain and I had to wing it. To my utter amazement, words came out and they made sense (ok, 70% sense, 30% weird, nervous rambling). I am still getting the hang of the language, but praise God, I will be finishing with language school next month, and I'm so excited!
Do you eat the food? (Follow up questions: favorite kinds of food, how often do I eat the food, do I like spicy food, etc)
What I say out loud: "I LOVE the food here. I thought I wouldn't, but I do. I like almost everything I eat. My favorite, right now, is either the mixed salad with peanut sauce dressing or the meat simmered in coconut milk and spices." (I use actual names, but that would be gibberish to most people reading, most likely) "I eat the local food almost every day, and I genuinely enjoy it. The spicy food is awesome, honestly, when I go somewher else I miss it."
More complete answer: Everything I say above is the complete truth. When I first came here I was certain I would sort of hate the food. It's all meats, in strange spicy sauces, with rice, and slimy vegetables. A year ago I would have read that with genuine fear. But the food here is so good. I live in the area with (literally) the spiciest food in the country. I sweat, I cry, my nose runs, and I enjoy every bite.
Where do you get western food?
What I say out loud: "I make it myself."
More complete answer: Many many restaurants here attempt to make western food, but they don't actually want to make western food. They want to make local versions of western dishes. So..cheeseburgers covered in hot sauce. Spaghetti with cayenne peppers. Pizza, covered with mayonaise. Sometimes I go to those places, but not because I crave western food, it's because I am going with people who think they like western food. They don't. I know this because when we make actual western food for them they make faces and add 4 buckets of hot sauce (It's not tobasco sauce, it's something else completely. more saucy with a different flavor).
When I want actual western food, I make it myself. Learning how to make western dishes with the available materials has become my new favorite hobby. I have even started to make things I never made before, just to see if I can do it under these conditions.
Did you have culture shock?
What I say out loud: "Of course! Coming to a new culture is hard, and this culture is very different from mine. It's like being a baby again. You can't communicate, you don't understand what is happening, everyone is looking at you, you need help with everything. I definitely had culture shock."
More complete answer: "Did" I have culture shock? More like "Do you still experience culture shock?". I am convinced that I will always be living with some degree of culture shock. If only because, this is not my cutlure. Culture shock happens when the world around you is not conforming to your expectations, habits, or worldview, and I am living outside of all three. I still am not used to everyone staring at me everywhere I go. I still have trouble figuring out things like "the front door to my house is broken, where is the appropriate place to search for help?". This improved significantly once I had decent command over the language, but that does not fix everything.
Why are you in a Mslm city?
What I say out loud: "Becase I wanted to come to this country, and it is a majority mslm nation. I was assigned to this city, and I am glad that I was."
More complete answer: This question varies. And it is always difficult to answer. Many times I simply answer "Because this is where God sent me." and that is the end of it. Since it is a mslm country, religious answers like that are normal and easier to understand. Sometimes I say I came here because I wanted to live in Asia and I thought this place was beautiful. Sometimes I say it was because the language is notably easier to learn. The real reason behind this question is "You are foreign, and I am pretty sure you are a Christian, I thought you guys hate mslms." When they ask the question above (not the one I just stated) I answer that question only, and then wait for them to ask about the heart behind it. Such as...
When you first arrived, were you afraid of women with head coverings?
What I say out loud: "I already knew it is a mslm country. If I were afraid of women with head coverings I would not have chosen to come here. I do not see any reason to be afraid of the women here, I never did."
More complete answer: This is a more direct way of asking about my opinion on mslms. Everything that they hear about western countries right now (especially from America) is about how westerners are scared of them. For me, what was more difficult, was actually WEARING a head covering. There are a few times where I am required to wear a head covering, and in the beginning, there were many times where I chose to wear one. In this country, the head covering means you are a faithfully religious person, and you should be respected. My team leader wears one every time she goes out in public, it creates a bridge. I wore one my first 6 months because when I did guys stopped yelling "Hello I love you where are you going?" or slowing down to stare at me, and instead yelled "God bless you!" While the head cover is definitely a sign of there religion, it is a deep part of their culture. I came here to learn about and love these people. I could never do that if I were afraid of the head covering or the people who wear them.
This is already very long, so I will not include any more examples of questions. But doing these interviews has definitely made me think more deeply about certain aspects about this culture and my own culture. As a white person, I am always going to be treated as something different, strange, and (in many cases) special. It's something I still struggle with (especially since I want to get to know them as people, and not be set on some sort of beauty/personal/cultural/intellectual pedestal).
Please pray as I continue to learn how to embrace the culture adapt to my surroundings.