A brief pause was needed while I took a break and screamed.
Since my last post, I have been busily working away at my new job. As is the case with many new jobs, the first days, I find, are the peaceful ones. I would arrive at the office each day fresh and sprinkled with ‘newness’ dew. I knew no one and no one knew me. The veil of ‘who’s the new person?’ protected and isolated me. I was filled with the energy and the confidence to do anything. There were tea breaks.
Now, there is no break for tea because there simply is no time. I am lost about how I need to behave in my new role for my position. Everything I used to do in my job and every instinct I have developed over the past many years is not applicable here. It’s a whole new Monday to Friday daily grind, and it’s more difficult than I thought it would be.
Because this is the first time that I have ever worked outside of America, I really didn’t know how the day-to-day would unfold. I knew things were going to be different, but little did I know what my work experiences would be like. I work in an African country with very heavy Asian and Indian influences. Minnesota it is not.
In the beginning, I went into my new job filled with a sense of obligation and opportunistic hope. My little freedom flag was flapping in the wind of change. I used to think, “I’m an American and I have worked in ‘Corporate America’ – a money making model for the world, a machine of precision, a place for endless opportunity, inspiration and guidance!” Here I come! Watch my trail of smoke as I burn through my daily responsibilities with ease and efficiency.
I am an American and I am really stupid.
The current economic crisis has turned all that I say and do in the office into a complete test of confidence which usually ends in some heated debate. My co-workers wonder aloud, “Should we really do it that way? Look what’s just happened to your country?! We don’t want to make the same mistakes.” ‘Corporate America’ – the thank you card is in the mail.
I have come to realize that visiting a country for holiday making pleasure is one level of experiencing a new culture. Living in a new country adds yet another level, but working in another country and in the same field that you worked back in your home country, really fills the edges up. Add to the mix that I am working in a developing country as someone holding a power position and sprinkle in the fact that I am a woman…well…now, you’ve got a chocolate cake with sprinkles, baby!
And what to do with the chocolate cake?
I struggle with my gender every day – my gender, my extra ‘x’ vs. the powerful ‘y’. I find this topic completely boring and unnecessary in my day-to-day living. There are too many other items that should hold my attention. And yet, every day I think, “I am a woman.”
My Frenchman is experiencing the challenges of working in a different culture, as well. But, because he is a man, he experiences it without having to engage in conversations at work like the following:
Sr. Project Manager: “Hi. Can I speak to you outside the project room for a minute?”
Me: “Sure. What’s up?”
Sr. Project Manager: “Listen, I wanted to have a serious discussion with you about [the only female member on one of the teams I am managing].”
Me: “O.K. What’s the issue?”
Sr. Project Manager: “Do you think [the only female member on one of the teams I am managing] can handle this project?”
Me: “Yes, it’s challenging; but I think she can handle it. Why do you ask?”
Sr. Project Manager: “Well, it’s just that this project has a lot of stress and she’s young and…”
Me: “Why aren’t you asking about [a male member of one of the teams I am managing]? They are exactly the same age and have the same work experience?”
Sr. Project Manager: “No. But, she’s a girl and there’s lots of stress…”
Me: “Do you have an issue with working with women? You do realize that I’m a woman, right? I’m a bit offended that you pulled me out here to discuss this. It’s completely inappropriate and irrelevant.”
Sr. Project Manager: “You misunderstand! I’m not sexist! It’s just that…”
Me: “Whatever you are, you cannot take away my opinion of this situation. There is not an issue with [only female member of one of the teams I am managing]. You know that and I know that. I’m going back to work.”
The bad thing is that I actually had this conversation in my professional workplace with the university educated, tie-wearing, Sr. Project Manager. The good thing is that ever since this conversation took place, he has been bright as a daffodil on a sunny, Sunday morning with me.
I have heard that there are only between 200-400 Americans on the island. I don’t know if there are any other American women working in the same professional field as me. Most of the French women I meet do not work outside the home. If they do work outside the home, they work in fields that were once considered traditional for women such as, teaching, or they work in offices where everyone is a French national.
I’m slowly figuring it out, but I have a long way to go. I can’t go in with my guns blazing nor can I run to the finish line. I’m learning where the ‘in-between’ is located.
I scream. I kick the wall. I sometimes cry. I am a woman working in Mauritius.