Work And Culture Shocks

Seeing as I’m back in the mental space of being active online, I thought I’d write a post on my offline life. I studied to be a teacher’s aide, after working even lower paying jobs I thought it would be cool to do something around small humans that can say funny shit. During school I discovered a lot of things about myself, one of which was that I had lost the feeling of wander, amazement. Small kids can be so immensely impressed or stunned by things that are completely mundane to adults, it’s wonderful to see.

Seeing little humans discover that a tall narrow glass can hold the exact same amount of water as a short wide glass, those kinds of things.

Recently I got a job I studied for, after wasting away two more years in a dead-end job, I decided it was time.

Time for work

Working in primary education in a bigger city, with a more diverse population, turned out to be more of a challenge than I had thought. But in a different way than what I had expected. I grew up in quite a small town. I did go to other, slightly bigger and slightly more diverse towns and cities, but being embedded into one this way is something else entirely. Okay to say things very clearly, when I was 4 there was this boy in my class from an Arabian country (I believe) and 4-year-old me didn’t like holding his hand because I thought that would stain my hand. That’s where I grew up. Do I need to mention that this is not the case any more?

I went to secondary school in a farmers town, I honestly don’t remember if there was anyone else with brown hair like me, let alone darker skin than I get during the summer. But after that, during studies and unrelated work and a little travel, I did get to see some more colour and variation in the world. But working in this bigger city still brought quite the culture shock.

Can I explain this any less clearly?

content warning: physical abuse

There’s 4 different groups I work with, let’s say 25 kids in each, and, I just checked in the school system, there’s 15 kids as white or whiter than I am with most likely local heritage. For me these are wildly different demographics, and I have to say, I am loving it. Before school started, we had a couple of preparation days, getting to know each other and starting off the year, getting furniture in place and everything, and all these kids’ names I saw and heard were new to me. New as in ‘had never ever heard before.’ I started having a little twinkle of doubt about working there, fearing the culture shock and also the difficulty in learning to pronounce some of these names, but come Monday I went in and that sunny day was great. Now after a couple of months I can say that I love these little creatures. It turned out to be a lot of fun getting to know these little humans and their ways, and it was way easier than I expected to start building a bond. Waaaay way easier. Just by one silly remark I bound this one kid to me for life I think.

One thing I did and do have issues with, is some of the stories I hear from these kids. Buried between the fun shit they do over the weekend and how they don’t like x, y or z, I overhear or am directly told by a child that their parents hit them. One kid was acting pretty hyperactive and bouncy and didn’t feel like joining in whatever we were doing, and I jokingly asked him if I could come home with them for lunch sometime to see how he acts at home. If he acts a little cuckoo at home as well. The answer was that no, he doesn’t act cuckoo at home because he gets hit with a belt if he does. Well then. Another boy told me that his back hurts and that he can’t run today, because his mum hit him multiple times because she thought he stole some cookies. Turns out that was just an already empty container she found. It just hurts me so much to hear these kinds of things. Mentioning this to my co-workers, who’ve been working in this area for a long time, I did not get the reaction I thought I would. I would’ve expected the school would be on the phone to child protective services or family guidance or whatever, but no. “That’s just their culture…” is what I got. Later heard that one of these kids’ mother actually performs exorcisms on her sons. Overheard another kid saying that “Dutch people act like hitting kids is very bad and illegal but really they do it a lot too.” That hurt. Yes I got a slap on the wrist when I was a kid but never did I go to school still physically hurting from the day before.

Some instances of this are being recorded in the necessary systems, there are resources for parents being deployed to help them in parenting in a more 21st century and a slightly less abusive way, it’s not like nothing is being done but out of all things I expected to find in a poorer neighbourhood in a bigger city, this was not one of them.

I do want to mention as an aside but not an aside that I really do enjoy being around these kids, and am trying my very best to be there for them in any way I can. To chat, to talk about shit, whatever. And I somewhat understand the hardships these families go through, and that it’s extremely hard to break a cycle of abuse. At the end of the day I just hope my presence is in some way a positive thing.