Homeschooling, Culture Shock, and Me

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Lana Hope’s blog Wide Open Ground. It was originally published on February 26, 2014.

This is a good week. My university is on spring break, and this means I don’t have to be around people (other than the family I obviously live with).  I can play in the snow, cycle, study, write, submit conference papers, clean house, and relax.

My western social skills were set back after not socializing with westerners for three years.

In SE Asia I had friends, but there was no pressure to make friends with my peers. In fact, peer-socialization was almost unheard of. If a teacher at my language school had a birthday, everyone was invited, regardless of race or age.

This had two positive implications for me. First, I did not have to work at making friends. It just fell into place. Secondly, I felt more safe. I never had to fear that so-in-so was a teacher, and therefore, I could not invite her over for dinner, and I never had anxiety asking people for favors. There was no public-private divide. I did not have to hide. Thirdly, I was not viewed as a freak for having friends significantly older than me.

I find Canada extremely lonely and frightening at the same time.

Some days I nearly have panic attacks before one of our seminars because I find the clique frightening. As even the grad school newsletter pointed out, no one is less than 20 or over 40; mostly people are in their 20s.  Everyone comes from a vastly different background than me, except that I’m expected to put the past behind as soon as I walk in the room (just to get the idea of how I might not feel like I’m in their boat: before last year, I was parenting teenagers). And then there’s the lonely part. Despite being apart of the community, we are all fiercely independent, myself included. Sure, we ask each other for rides home sometime, but every time we do, it’s considered an inconvenience, or doing a friend a favor. In Asia, it was considered a blessing to help each other, and no big deal. Everytime I’m waiting for a bus, and someone passes me up, I piece of my heart still feels rejected, because in Asia, we pick people we know up rather than shove it off on strangers.

Lana Hobbs, from Lana Hobbs the Brave, and I talk about this on twitter sometimes because we both suffering anxiety from large groups and even simple things like traffic. I don’t know what to do about it because I never had this problem in SE Asia. But I can’t deny it. Even the traffic gives me anxiety.

Part of it is the west produces pressure to perform publicly. Lana Hobbs and I were both homeschooled. In homeschooling, there is a ton of pressures, such as looking good, cooking, cleaning, babysitting, and making the parents look good, some more.  But in the work world, or the university world, the performance goes beyond the family or community. We have to produce a lot of papers, work constantly, and blend in a crowd – a crowd of people who are a sea of strangers. This is the world where we have to smile and pretend like we fit in, when we don’t.

It’s hard to describe to people what it’s like to be a foreigner in our own land. The best way to describe it is to think of traditions and customs of another culture.  In our tribal community in SE Asia, picking one’s nose is not considered rude. Now I’m in Canada. I’m a freaky, rude moron if I pick my nose.

Honestly that culture shock I felt coming to Canada is just a fraction of the culture shock I feel after having left my homeschool community. Sure as a kid I still ate with a fork and used toilet paper, unlike the tribal community in SE Asia; however, there was still so many mannerism from my past that are equally shocking, or different, to those in mainstream North American culture. This is why I am frightened in public.

What is frustrating is that when I blog about these things, inevitably people come by and say everyone feels different, and everyone is a freak in their own way. I think they miss the point for two reasons. First, I’ve never denied other people’s stories. For example, I’ve long acknowledged that LGBT people have been bullied, excluded, and treated as if there is something wrong with them. As a result, some may feel as if they are an outsider because they aren’t the “default” “straight.”  My story does not discredit someone else’s story. We just have different stories.

Secondly, people seem to forget that there is a trend among those who were homeschooled. Darcy wrote about how we homeschoolers even have our own historical events. So I don’t think we can say this is just personality that makes me an outsider.

I’m not always an outsider. I’m an outsider when I’m inside mainstream culture.

Thirdly, this is just a challenge; first, for homeschool parents to rethink some of this, and secondly, for people to rethink how they treat others. People do treat me different, and I never know what to do. Do I try to hide my pain and pretend like I am just like everyone else, or do I explain that I was homeschooled in a religious home? Most people don’t care to listen to my story since they have their own stories, sometimes worse than mine (understandable), but by not telling people, I’m also put in the position of hiding, and that’s not fun either.

I’m lonely and frightened, but I have no one to talk to about it. If public schoolers are so certain that they are lonely, weird, different, or an outsider, they need to start speaking up, not hiding and pretending like there is one sweeping narrative that we all need to conform to.

I’ve said this before. Despite how much I hate the discrimination and pride in the homeschool world, I have not found the liberal world more safe. There’s always that set narrative, and everyone is expected to fit into it. One of my professors described it this way. We used to have a small circle that everyone had to conform to. This is what a woman looked like, this is what a man looked like. Now we’ve just expanded the boundaries and made the circle bigger, but the circle is still there.

In many ways, I think my homeschool background was the small circle, and now I live in the big circle.

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