Monday, July 25, 2011

The Accidental Ambassador

This entry will be completed in more than one sitting, so ‘today’ will be relative, not the least of which because I’m prolific enough on this blog.

Today I was an accidental ambassador. What do I mean? Well, I mean that today I was invited to lunch with an education delegation from Indiana, just as lunch time commenced.

The meal was lovely, a simple pad thai goong (shrimp) with mangosteen and longan fruit for dessert.

The conversation was amicable as well, and it was refreshing to have a conversation relating to local Indiana topics that didn’t involve people assuming I am an Indiana Policewoman or Indiana Jones.

I was pleased to hear positive updates on the state of education in my home state, from what sounded like a positive turn in the Chinese language program (which not long ago was in danger of disappearing), the renewal of art teaching positions becoming available as one delegate’s nephew seeks an art teaching position and general plans to continue fostering international exchange.

But what struck me more than that was the implied expectation and reminder that I am here as more than an individual representative. I represent a country, a state, a city, a university, my former high school, the list continues. And while much of this was meant to be complimentary, a rather large wave of sheer anxiety washed over me. Don’t mess this up. Gulp.

When I first arrived, I tried to be very cognizant of being a good ‘ambassador.’ As time wore on, my focus shifted down to mere survival mode for a time. Later still I became more aware of the ‘expat bizarro world’ version of Bangkok that I live in as a foreigner. Some of which is simply impossible to explain without the context of having lived it.

I am more cognizant that, I am not just an ambassador; I am currently living my life abroad. So while it is important to foster cultural understanding, walking on eggshells for extended periods of time doesn’t cut it whether at home or abroad.

While I consider myself to have a decent emotional intelligence, sometimes I fail to run my observations through this filter before allowing them to exit my mouth. I can be very, very blunt. Sometimes this is exceedingly comical, and truly, I try to give my honest observations. Other times, it doesn’t turn out so well, regardless of the clarity of my perception.

I have come to the realization that I am simply not suited for large-scale diplomacy. I think this wasn’t so much of a realization as the reinforcement of a previously unconscious but obvious “dude you are so not cut out for that.”

Many things came to mind today as I was reminded of the deep interconnectivity of my current location and the place I grew up. “You were too critical of the technology situation in that one blog post…you shouldn’t have said so much about student cell phone use in class, you shouldn’t have been so open about the legality of your working conditions…”

But then I thought, no. My observations were my observations at that time and place. And while it may be advisable to alter tone, edit for brevity or leave some things unsaid, I have merely described my own experiences. That was my goal, after all, to describe “my own meandering experience,” which yes, I stole from the Sunscreen Song. So sue me.

Some days, I am accidentally an ambassador. Most days, I’m just me. Heck, sometimes I’m mistaken for Russian. I don’t know, I’ve got some Polish heritage but that’s about as close as I come.

I’m not the only American here. I don’t always leave the best impression, but I like to think I’m far from leaving the worst. I may represent the places I have come from, but besides that, I have become someone besides the labels I carry from my past. While I’m proud of my city, of being a boilermaker, and so forth, I’m more than my labels, and I am an ambassador on accident.

Oh, and I didn’t photocopy my butt and add it to my Thai Immigration 90 day report, for the record. No really I didn’t. But I really wanted to. They might not have even noticed in that huge stack of paper, including every single page of my passport. Yep, I’m a great ambassador. Yep, I let this bypass the filter.

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