Thursday, 31 January 2013

Bullying ~ Is It Really Ever Over?

I managed to find a rather frightening statistic online that indicates that 46% of children in the UK had been bullied at school at some point in their lives. That’s nearly half the population - if we generalise this figure - and it seems to be on the increase. School is just another survival mechanism. What we learn and how well we do academically is supposed to set us up for the future and enable us to get the better jobs when we enter into the world of adulthood (obviously this is debatable right now in this day and age, but that’s another topic entirely). But also, it teaches us how to get along with others. We develop friendships with likeminded people; we develop our interpersonal skills; we learn what is right and what is wrong and then we do what feels right.

Obviously, however, what feels right isn’t necessarily what is right. Some people are naturally more outgoing or extrovert while others are more withdrawn or reserved. These are the people that are usually targeted by those of us who find joy in picking on others and while we could assess this behaviour until the cow’s come home, it’s never realised just how much of an impact bullying can have. Granted, children – or bullies in general – don’t consider this when they choose to act. My primary school head-teacher didn’t think that the child he took part in bullying in his youth would jump off of London Bridge because he couldn’t take it anymore. Nor have others considered that the reason why someone self harms might be because they think they deserve it – after all, everyone else clearly thinks so.

I was reading an interesting article the other day and the following statement hit close to home:

“If you are or have ever been a victim of bullying and failed to do anything about it, your confidence has most likely been deflated. If you couldn’t stand up to your bully, you probably felt ashamed, like I did… This lack of confidence can carry over to your adult life…”

I was bullied in primary school and indirectly during secondary school. I know the reasons why and knowing what has become of these people warms my soul a little – karma’s a bitch, ain’t it? But even though I feel like I may have made my peace with it all, I look at the way I evaluate myself and conduct myself and it leads me to realise that I haven’t.

The article went on the further explain how this lack of confidence generated through bullying can stop you from doing things such as approaching that good-looking guy at the bar or something along the lines of asking for a raise (this seems to be a female specific thing, however). And I realise that I do this. In my entire life, I have only ever directly told one guy that I found him attractive* – and this was over the internet. Most of the time, I’ve been pursued by someone else. When someone has rather rudely been smoking in the queues at Thorpe Park, I’ll usually let it go despite how much it irritates the crap out of me; the same goes for queue jumpers – although, I’ve been working on this. Ultimately, for the most part, I am a docile person. I don’t like to make waves or cause trouble – even when it might be necessary. I find confrontation terrifying – such like I experienced yesterday at work when an angry married couple came in first thing shouting the odds about an issue that wasn’t even my fault.

I’m not damaged to the point of depression, but I am not as assertive as I’d like to be – it really depends on the situation. At the same time, however, I am an adult and a woman at that, which means I have the ability to remove myself from an uncomfortable situation. In school, however, this is not the case. Children are forced to endure because it’s the law that they attend school, but no matter how many anti-bullying campaigns arise or how many times a teacher is told, it doesn’t detract from the fact that bullying is on the rise. And where there’s bullying, there’s low self esteem and in some cases, self-hate. And where there’s self-hate, there comes a failure to function adequately in society when is that not what society wants – its people to behave in uniformity; in a socially accepted manner?

But humans are constantly subject to human error and we continue to make bad choices as part of every day life. We try to make up for it by instigating these anti-bullying campaigns and zero-tolerance measures in school and sometimes they work, but when a child ventures outside those school gates or grows up and enters into the real world, these movements lose their power. What’s more is that society has a habit of shoving all the problem kids into one place. I remember hearing a rumour that when a school changes its name to incorporate the word “Academy”, it’s generally because it's quite a bad school. Similarly, an ex supervisor of mine now works in a school that specifically takes in problem children. These children make friends with other problem children which strengthens the nature of their issues, so to speak. They run circles around the teachers that they know they can get around and while the school may have measures in place, they’ll continue to take in these children because the more of them they get, the more money the school gets.

Imagine that. Making money out of the misfortune of others? Haven’t heard that one before...

Fortunately, children are impressionable and if you isolate a child – even a bully – and work with them, I feel that they can be reformed in some shape or...form, but society just doesn’t have enough of these resources. And with jobs few and far between, it doesn’t have the man power either. So we get trapped in a cycle. Bullies pick their targets; targets become victims; victims may even become bullies, or they grow up emotionally crippled (no matter how small that scar is) and pass this on to the next generation.

Sad, isn’t it? :/

*two, if you count the confidence I gained via drinking excessive amounts of alcohol at a Staff Christmas Party

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Revenge of the Bounty – The Acting ( Insert Race ) Debate

I was having an interesting conversation with my aunts the other day, of which one of them seemed pleasantly surprised when her sister commented on the fact that her intelligence is quite superior in comparison to other members of the family. I can’t understand how she couldn’t see it however. The woman was selected for one of twelve positions to attend university back in the day when all you had to do to get into university was to work damn hard. She’s the kind of person that talks a lot of sense and has a lot of wisdom; she has a first degree; she was an accountant and now she’s well on her way to becoming a judge. I have never met anyone who is quite that extraordinary and she’s to be admired really.

The conversation soon swayed to education and upbringing to which it was commented that she must have received a lot of stick at school for being so smart. But no – this was not the case. People had generally liked my aunt in school – they flocked to her – and I was suddenly reminded of my school days where I was considered smart, but at the cost of comfortably integrating socially. It was not cool to be smart. It was cool to be face-ty. And even if you were smart, if you were rude on the side, than you managed to save yourself from social damnation. But I wasn’t rude. I wasn’t confrontation. And for that – as I mentioned in a previous entry – I was dubbed a bounty.

As a woman now however, and with a lot more sense, I tend look at this as nonsense. People dubbed me a bounty because I wanted to persevere and kept my nose out of trouble. However, forty years prior, our grandparents were encouraging our parents to keep their noses in their books. They wanted them to get a good education and to make something of themselves because back then, the societal encouragement for minority groups to progress was little. They would point our parents into the direction of unskilled manual jobs or secretarial work. Forget moving into the corporate world. Forget earning that six figure salary. Back then, you had to really work for it, but nowadays, there are more opportunities for all of us.

Nevertheless, doing certain things makes others think you’re a sellout. Because, let’s face it – the world caters to this thing called “stereotypes”; people buy into these stereotypes and even though, I believe that in every stereotype, there is a hint of truth (they don’t just derive out of thin air), it doesn’t mean that we must all fall in line just because we’re Black, White or Asian. Therefore, I don’t particularly understand when people talk about ‘acting white” or acting in such a way that is race specific. Because the last time I checked, I didn’t think that all members of a certain race, religion or what have you, behaved in strict accordance with each other. It just seems stupid.

It was David Starkey who foolishly stated the following on BBCs Newsnight back in 2011:

“The whites have become black. A particular sort of violent destructive, nihilistic gangster culture has become the fashion and black and white boys and girls operate in this language together. This language is wholly false, which is this Jamaican patois that has been intruded in England and that is why so many of us have this sense of literally of a foreign country”

He was talking in conjunction with the 2011 riots and while I don’t’ dispute that gang culture is prevalent in areas where there happen to be a lot of minority groups living, gang culture has always been active - and not just in the UK, but on an international scale. Organised crime syndicates like the Mafia or the Triads have existed for eons. And in the UK, before the arrival of large minority groups, gangs like the Mims, the Dead Boys and the Hectors were active in the 17th century. So is being Black really interchangeable with being a gang member? And is it White to be smart and to want to do well in life?

But when it comes to race and issues like this, it is generally a “black” thing. We accuse the Asians of ‘acting white’ because they own so many of their own businesses and push their children to greatness. We accuse those of mixed origin for ‘acting white’ by making potent references to that very ‘mixed’ nature – especially if one parent just happens to be white. And more than that, we accuse each other of ‘acting white’ for a variety of reasons. Take this article about Nikki Minaj. Heck, even the President of America himself gets stick.

But I don’t buy it. As people of colour (and maybe even those who are not), we can't seem to look at the bigger picture. People are individuals irrespective of whatever racial background or culture they derive from and just because some Asian guy wants to cornrow his hair or some African girl wants to wear blue contacts, it does not mean that he or she is letting down one’s entire racial community as a whole. In London, in particular, we are one of the most multi-ethnic and multicultural cities on the planet. We don’t live in perfect harmony, but there is tolerance and intrigue here. We are exposed to so many different walks of life that we cannot help but desire to feed our curiosity. And there's nothing wrong with this. I refuse to believe that stepping outside one's cultural bubble is selling out.

So to those who look at celebrities or people around them and think that just because of the way someone speaks, looks or dresses, that they're bringing down some form of torrential shame on an entire racial community, I ask you to think again. Because what is "acting [insert race here]" really? Is it possible to say that 'all [insert race here] are [insert behaviour here]'? Is it physically possible to have met all members of that community to form those generalisations? And is it logical to link an entire community based on that hearsay alone? I ask you to step outside yourself for a moment.


Tuesday, 15 January 2013

The JET Programme ~ The One With The Interview

As you already know, I applied for the JET Programme back in November last year and last week, I received an email and letter inviting me to an interview. Cue shock-horror! Because you see, the last time I’d applied to the JET Programme, I was rejected…and rightfully so I might add. I don’t remember what I put in my application, but I do recall not following such simple rules as putting my application pack in the correct order. Nevertheless, despite doing things correctly this time and having someone look over my personal statement, I still hadn’t expected I would get an interview considering that the programme is extremely competitive. New graduates are introduced to the JET programme and some apply constantly every year. In actuality, I had damn near forgotten about it until I received that email. Thus, I systematically had one week to prepare.

This is virtually how my interview went:

For you see, it started off pretty well. I was a little wobbly, but I started to feel pretty good until they dropped that question. That one bastard question! But I always find that in any interview I’ve been in, there’s always one question that trips me up. And low and behold, it surfaced.

I’ll start from the beginning, shall I?

I arrived in the area of the embassy about thirty minutes before the time I was asked to arrive. In order to calm my nerves, I took a walk and listened to some music. My MP4 player died halfway through, but I felt strangely tranquil. Mariah Carey can sing! I entered into the embassy about five minutes prior to the designated arrival time. Went through security. Signed in and sat down opposite a Japanese man. We exchanged “hellos”. I managed to catch words of his conversation and felt quite proud of myself for being able to understand. Then another guy who was interviewing also emerged. I introduced myself as I saw he had his passport too (they requested that we bring identification with us); he seemed just as nervous as I was but I didn’t get to talk to him much as I went to the bathroom to change out of my thermal leggings – it was a furnace in there. When I came out, the representative was there and so it began.

I don’t know what the experiences of other embassy’s are, but the whole thing was very formal. We had to distribute any recording devices into lockers and then when we entered into the interview area. We were also, instructed not to speak to one another even though I distinctly recall two other participants who came in after us, who were having a rather in depth conversation.

We were told to sit at a table and given a short grammar test. It wasn’t too bad. Circle the odd word out. What is the difference between these two sentences? Correct this paragraph. Which word fits this definition? Afterwards, we chatted to the ex JETs about their experiences with the JET DVD playing in the background and then were led back outside into a small waiting area. Minutes later, an old white guy poked his head out of the door and invited me in.

I was happy there were only two of them instead of three and I shook their hands. The other interviewer was a Japanese woman with that phenomenal Japanese poker face but I didn’t feel intimidated by her strangely enough. The room was quite big and there was a screen across it which makes me consider whether there might have been someone on the other side listening in… Nevertheless, I wasn’t thinking this during the interview, but I was still as nervous as hell.

As soon as I came in nonetheless, the man mentioned that he thought I’d been interviewed previously. I clarified that while I had applied back in 2009, I had been rejected. The interviewers exchanged looks and I can’t help but think that they fully intended to do something horrible had it emerged that I had had an interview previously.

I’m not sure if I remember my questions properly - it was all a blur - but they were something along the lines of this:

Why JET and why Japan?

This is standard procedure and I had my answer ready. I mentioned anime (yes, I went there. People say that you shouldn't but I mentioned it in my personal statement as well and I still got an interview) and that I had read some books utilising a historical Japanese theme. The English guy homed in on this and asked me how that would apply to modern Japan. I launched into knowledge about the behaviour and the level of politeness used in historical Japan and even in current Japanese society. I mentioned my knowledge of keigo and the Japanese woman seemed impressed.

Introduce yourself in Japanese.

Despite the fact that I mentioned on my application that I had no Japanese ability, they asked me to introduce myself in Japanese. I think it’s because I mentioned my interest in the language in my personal statement. I did this and they seemed quite impressed. Granted, I have been told that my pronunciation is pretty good so I think this is a saving grace. My level of confidence was rising and the initial nerves began to dwindle. 

What’s your Japanese knowledge and what have you been doing over the years to improve said cultural awareness.

The English guy mentioned that I’d indicated I had a TESOL qualification. I mentioned that I was currently doing a Japanese-English language exchange. I’m sure I mentioned something else, but I don’t remember what I said. They seemed satiated.

Give us a possible activity where you had to illustrate a grammar point.

I launched into an activity I was going to do on my TESOL course. Money Bingo. The English guy wanted me to clarify what the grammar point was but I think he came to his own conclusion in the end. He also, dropped in that I need to be careful that the grammar point doesn’t get lost in the activity. As I sit here writing this however, I realise I should have probably mentioned the Murder Mystery idea I actually did implement when I was teaching Modals of Deduction.

What do you know about the Japanese education system?

I mentioned the 6-3-3-4 system with High School and University not being compulsory. I mentioned the emphasis on reading and writing and the 100% literacy rate. I mentioned that students in Japanese schools may be a bit shyer. I mentioned cultural events like Bunkasai/Bunka no Hi and Sports Day. Pockets of information like that.

Tell us about an experience of being a community where you stood out?

Had this ready. I’m Black. I’m British. I went on holiday to visit a friend in his mountain village in Granada, Spain. The children stared at me. Hard. The rest was history.

What could you introduce to Japanese people?

I picked food and mentioned baking a Victoria Sponge…etc. They mentioned that it might be difficult as some schools don’t have ovens. The Japanese woman said that when she came to the UK, she had to learn to use one.

Do you play any sports?

I mentioned that while it's not a sport, I do attend zumba classes. I think they liked this…or at least the Japanese woman did as she mentioned it later.

What are any after school clubs that you could introduce to the Japanese people.

I mentioned I could introduce a games to children e.g. British Bulldog, Stuck in the Mud, Bench Ball…etc. Probably should have said zumba.

As a teacher, stand up and introduce yourself as if you were speaking to a large room of people in two of three sentences.

I think I spoke loudly enough for them. The English guy thanked me and made some notes.

And then there was the that question which was about British culture. He asked me about the Scottish Referendum and I froze. I know vaguely about it, but I rarely read newspapers so my knowledge of current affairs is limited to hear’say. But no, the man didn’t stop there. He asked me to recommend places to visit in Wales – what do I know about Wales? And then he asked about England and for the life of me, I was so flustered at that point that I couldn’t think so I blurted out Canterbury for its festivals to which the guy than stated that festivals happen everywhere. I mentioned Cambridge for its architecture, but he wouldn’t drop it and wanted to know what about the architecture specifically so I just admitted that I didn’t know anything about architecture in the slightest and knew at that instant that any hope that there was had been dashed* as he began to school me on the importance of knowing about British culture.

The Japanese woman asked me an additional question along the lines of what I could bring to the community or something – I don’t remember – but I do recall saying that maybe I could launch a medieval banquet with jesters, kings and queens, lords and ladies…etc, in order to introduce this aspect of British culture. The English guy then asked me who my favourite King was and I answered “Not King but Queen - Elizabeth I”. I think he liked this but I’m not sure.

They asked me about my tattoo and I explained that I was aware of the cultural significance of the tattoo in Japanese society. I remember that every time I'd say something e.g. I mentioned that it was really small...etc, the English guy would follow up with a comment as if he wasn't sure if I understood the cultural significance of a tattoo in Japan. I ended with the fact that I'd keep it covered.

Nevertheless, I’m pretty sure the question that they asked towards the end e.g. “Is there anything else you’d like to say about yourself?” was a means of disguising the fact that I’d bombed the cultural question quite badly and I needed to say something that would save myself, but I waffled incredibly and came off desperate.

The English guy finished by asking me what I intended to do in the next year – this makes me consider that I definitely haven’t got it now, but - I said, I hope I’d be teaching English in Japan and he asked me if I’d considered other companies. I listed a few and then he asked why I thought the JET programme was better. This question was easy because obviously teaching English and teaching about culture are two very different things. I said that companies like Interac, ECC..etc are just jobs, but the JET programme is about internalisation, and cultural exchange and I’d like to be a part of that.

They thanked me, I shook hands with them both again and left with my tail between my legs. I said a quiet hello to the guy who was waiting in the waiting area and then collected my belongings and waited in the hall all emo-like until I was collected by a member of staff and escorted back to the embassy reception. (I wonder if I should have done that now however considering that there were probably cameras watching me).

I look at it now and realise I had some good bits, but that British culture question was a very important one as it basically quantifies the “E” in JET – Japanese Exchange and Teaching Programme. I think I fulfilled the “J” and the “T” to some extent, in my interview, but the “E” will stand against me. What’s more, when I signed out I think I was one of the first people to leave.

Ultimately though, I don’t think I’ll make it onto the JET programme. It’s very competitive. Interviews will be taking place over the next six weeks meaning they’ll be interviewing hundreds of applicants. I needed to walk out of it today feeling neutral but I walked out feeling horrible.

I hate job interviews with a passion anyway, but if anyone’s reading this and hopes to join the JET programme some day, I would say – know your culture; current affairs and politics included, even if it’s just a bit. I think the reason why I was asked these questions however was because I didn’t mention anything on how I would promote British culture in my personal statement and that’s where they caught me out.

Best of luck to any future JETters.

*I look back and realise that I could have said Brighton for the British seaside culture. –headdesk-

Thursday, 3 January 2013

The Sacrifice ~ Social Surrender in Action

This entry is dedicated to all the friends – past and present - so-called friends, acquaintances and even family members who may have invited me out on occasion only to have me politely decline almost every time. It’s not that I’m a stick in the mud – even though sometimes I genuinely don’t feel like it; but on occasion when I haven’t felt like it, I may have gone anyway – it’s a very rare occasion that I pull out of something that I’ve already said “yes” to.

But I digress.

It’s not that I don’t want to hang out with you – sometimes I might not want to hang out with you on that particular occasion however. But then again, sometimes it might be that I am avoiding you because the event makes me feel uncomfortable or you do and I haven’t got the balls gotten around to telling you yet.* Just being honest.

Again, however, I digress.

It’s not because I don’t like you; now that I think about it, there aren’t many people that I dislike – just the actions of those people sometimes. But ultimately, it all boils down to sacrifice and the amount of things I’ve had to give up over the last year or so in order to move forward with my dreams. Gosh, I sound like a sob story, don’t I?

But you see, for the longest while, I was lost. Fresh into university, I had already decided that I wanted to be a counsellor. Only, a brief stint with this after graduation taught me that I wasn’t ready for something of that scale – not yet anyway. So for a year or so, I wondered around lost trying to figure out what it was that I should do with myself and then bam! In early 2012, I started to take steps towards TEFL.

I only work part time so I make peanuts. I also, have bills – however minor – that I must see to every month. So I’ve had to maintain my ‘control freak charade’ (and believe me, I’m very good at it) and manage my expenditure very carefully. Every month, I set aside my bills, my transport expense and the money I intended and still intend to save to make my dreams of teaching English overseas a reality. Only a fraction of that is what I can spend on myself and it usually goes towards food because let’s face it, a girl’s gotta eat.

I’m sure you’re all nodding your heads and rolling your eyes thinking to yourselves that everybody does this – or at least everyone with sense. Everybody has bills to pay and obligations to meet. And everybody can meet them – you know, as long as they’re smart. But I feel particularly strained because it’s a rare instance that I can actually treat myself.

The last time I bought an item of clothing for myself was December 2011. Don’t worry; I’m not at the door of the poor house just yet. I have clothes. Some of them are on their way out, but I have them anyway. I actually managed to buy myself a video game over the Christmas holidays thanks to some wonderful family members who treated me to a little extra cash. But then how could I not remember the wonderful people at who reduced the game in price as well. January sales for the win!

I have to economise however. I buy mostly only what I need nowadays and when I want/need something of superior expense, I have to save for it. So while most of my friends would probably only have to wait a few weeks until their next pay check, I might have a wait a few months.

I’m basically on a budget. I want to save a certain amount by a certain time and thus, I’ve set myself a personal target. In actuality, I was supposed to have met that target by the beginning of this year, but extenuating circumstances –coughTESOLcoursecough- set me back a couple hundred. This means that in the months to come, I may or may not still reject invitations to my friends, family and what have you. But I just wanted to let everyone know that it’s not always because I’m being awkward; it’s because I’ve got a goal I wanna reach. And if that means that I can’t have as much fun as everybody else, then so be it. It’s been a year; I could probably do another 6 months.

But at the end of the day, I know that it’s not always gonna be like this. And believe me, when I’ve hit my target – or if I mysterious come into money tomorrow – I’ll be back on the shelf and raring to party. And I might even surprise you with my own invitation one of these days when I’ve finally book my plane ticket overseas. So watch this space. =D

*note: this mostly applies so-called friends and acquaintances.