A Problem of Mentality

In Romania, being a student is something that is usually frowned upon. The moment a professor walks into a classroom, he is in a position of absolute authority. Corporal punishment may be forbidden (though it’s not unheard of, and many people insist that corporal punishment should be brought back as the norm), but anything else is ok.

Teachers tend to have some of the lowest salaries and respectability levels, so usually people do not want to become teachers, they simply end up in a teaching position for lack of a better alternative. Saying that you want to be a teacher is laughed at. With very few exceptions (STEM fields at higher levels, the rare idealist), being a teacher is a matter of happenstance and lack of alternative. Which is why many teachers are under-qualified and hateful, so they often emotionally bully their students. I’ve been called useless, laughed at, hated, or humiliated by teachers for as long as I’ve been in a classroom (almost literally; I once corrected my 1st grade teacher on the first day of school… it went downhill from there. Kept getting serious humiliation all the way to my senior year of Uni). Things that are not done in Romanian academic environments:

  • Ask questions (Unless you’re trying to be a prick)
  • Make mistakes (instantly punished; always your fault)
  • Make orthography mistakes (instantly thought of as inferior)
  • Misunderstand
  • Fall behind
  • Go ahead of the curve
  • Question decisions
  • Stutter
  • Do anything a professor might find offensive (I once had a prof who genuinely thought that I was making fun of her since I stuttered every time she made me read my essay in class; I was stuttering because I had developed a serious case of anxiety whenever I was in a classroom – hers was the first prof I started doing that with, but eventually I started stuttering whenever talking in public)

Though of course, you don’t have to do anything bad to get your sense of self-value obliterated. You’ll constantly be referred to collectively in a disapproving manner, as kids these days are only able to enter a classroom thanks to the global PC agenda, and any ‘respectable’ institution would have kicked you all out long ago. You’ll never get anywhere. Your only hope is to leave the country. That should be your only goal: not to learn, not to help the world, not to make something of yourself in a non-material manner, but to leave the country.

I always thought this was normal, but I’m feeling my inferiority complex dragging me down.

Objectively, I’m not falling behind; I’m catching up to most things; everyone except me places my Japanese level above the dept average; most of my profs are pleased with me; me and the colleagues are getting along lovely. Everything is great.

But then I make a mistake. The prof laughs it off, corrects me and asks me to move on; I start stuttering again. I keep apologising. I forget some information which everyone else seems to know (or not; it doesn’t matter) and it feels like the end of the world. Sometimes I’m tired and can’t follow a discussion for a few minutes and I always feel like I’m doing a crime and will get caught. Many of my classes have started having regular encouragement interludes for me since by now profs and colleagues alike are concerned. I joke about my lack of self-esteem, but it doesn’t stop it from getting to me. I’ve been making these terrible presentations. The presentations aren’t really all that bad, but if I were to present them in Romania they would be an instant fail, and that thought is always at the back of my mind. I still have nightmares about presenting them to class and the profs asking them why I bothered coming to Japan. This semester I have a tutor who has been helping me proofread them, and every time I e-mail her it has so many apologies that you’d think I murdered her dog.

I realised recently that I’ve not been insulted in class since I’ve come to Japan. I mean, sometimes there’s the very friendly jokes when I make some sort of silly mistake, but even then they’re not really meant to be discouraging. At some point I stopped going to class out of spite and just praying to pass my exams, and started going to class to learn and felt bad when I don’t know stuff because of personal disappointment rather than some grade. It’s pretty amazing, though I wish I could get over myself and move on.