Perceptions are such intense ideas that mold the way you react in situations and to people. I have found from past experiences that once someone tells me something about a certain person or a generalization or how certain events happened to them, I tend to use that to form my own perception of the person. It has also become obvious to me that once I get to know certain people or live through similar events and can form my own opinions, my perceptions change, sometimes quite drastically and I kick myself for letting myself believe that I could feel or view things the same as the next person.
This is especially true and something I’ve known about myself for quite a while, and because of this, I know myself well enough to know to take what people say about others with a block of salt and to try to keep an open mind. However, these views on perceptions have become much more relevant and obvious since I’ve joined the Peace Corps. You’re told to join without any expectations and yet they encourage you to read blogs and books and articles about other volunteers that are already living where you’ll be going. It is encouraged to learn the most you can about the country where you’ll be going before you go. True, the information obtained from these resources could prove to be very helpful, but I have learned that reading and researching such things will just put expectations in your head that may be very hard to quit.
As a trainee, you arrive to your country and will spend the next 3 months or so in training to prepare you for your next 2 years of service. The training is given by host country natives and current volunteers in your country. It’s crucial. It’s very helpful and you learn so much, but yet at the same time as they give all of these generalizations-they emphasize that it’s very different in each town, school, situation, for how each person may deal with certain situations. So many variables go into each experience that while you may be living in the same country-your experience will not even be remotely similar (minus that you’re an English teacher, speaking a new language, some of those huge generalizations) to that of someone else. After all, you’re a different person and react to and deal with situations differently.
Even the host country trainers may have completely different experiences than yours, maybe they grew up in the city and you’ll be based in the countryside, or maybe they tend to be able to shrug off negative emotions quicker than you, who knows, but this just goes to say that there are many factors that go into this. Volunteer trainers are an even more different story. The pictures they paint in the trainees’ minds seem to stick longest and hardest, after all, these are your peers telling you what you’ll be experiencing. You’ve just arrived in the country you’ll be living in for the next 27 months and you’re desperate for any information because the unknown and the future task seem exciting and yet daunting and gleaming any bit of information you can will help you form your perception and create expectations.
I remember throughout training reminding myself to not create my perceptions based on these stories, but it was nearly impossible to do and I was clinging on to every word of every story our trainers ever shared. At the time, I obviously didn’t see the danger in that. However, as I’m closing up my service soon I’ve been evaluating my time and realize that so many of my perceptions were so wrong. Disclaimer: I’m not blaming the trainers, that’s just what happens when stories are shared about anyone or anything at anytime, also, these perceptions came from how I interpreted the stories and not necessarily the stories themselves.
In particular, I remember our trainers talking and telling stories about cheating in schools. Having 80+ students in one classroom makes it nearly impossible to catch all the cheaters/eradicate cheating. I also remember them stating things like, “they just don’t know it’s wrong,” “the other teachers don’t care, so why bother stopping it,” “they’ve always done it and that’s just what they know.” These are just a few of the statements that stuck in my mind and contributed to my own expectations and perceptions being formed.
I spent my whole first year of teaching struggling with the cheating problem, especially with this idea that “they don’t know it’s wrong.” It wasn’t until this year that I realized that was half the difference between my first and second year of teaching; I was able to finally form my own opinions and perceptions the second year based on my own experience in my own situation. My students knew full well that cheating was wrong, otherwise they wouldn’t try to hide it when I walked by, or wouldn’t look at me so much to make sure I wasn’t looking before they cheated (and there I go, interpreting my own experiences to form my very strong opinion). It’s true that it is something they have always done because some teachers are not sticklers on stopping it, but that doesn’t mean that the teachers don’t care. The conversations I’ve had with some of the teachers at my school and by that I mostly mean, conversations I’ve listened in on amongst the teachers at my school is that they don’t like cheating. It’s just one of those problems that is really difficult to stop and will probably result in students disliking you as a teacher. Respect from the students is already such a hard trait to earn that adding one more strike on yourself, is not ideal. Also, it seems to be part of the culture to avoid conflict and confrontation if at all necessary, which also explains the cheating problem.
Anyway, that is just one example that is clear to see how destructive taking perceptions from others as a reality for your own perceptions can be. It’s also been especially relevant as we just had a few new PCVs move in the area a few months ago and I want to be careful with my statements and suggestions/stories because I don’t want to paint false pictures in their heads about experiences I may have interpreted completely differently than they will. I also am struggling with how much to actually tell my replacement. I want to tell them everything-who’s cool, who to stay away from, what to do, what not to do, but then I realize that I would just be contributing to those false perceptions. Perhaps my replacement has a completely different personality than me and will get along perfectly fine with those that I have struggled with and who am I to put negative ideas in their minds about people or experiences?