Wednesday, March 05, 2008

I decided to do peer mentoring for the poor first year students this year. I remember myself in my first year. I was lost, I got daunted by my computing labs full of computer-games-playing-geeks, I despised uni, I did not turn up to the lectures. I would come back home as soon as possible. Days when I knew mother deary would be angry at me for missing lectures, I would simply go and spend the day at the harbour side or sit all day in front of a computer in the library. I was pathetic. Well, I had a shock just before uni started, one of personal life. I know now, I should have taken the semester off as that shock meant my entire future plan got unsteady. I no longer felt like doing my degree, I was unsure and confused about everything. I brooded so much, thinking over what could have been, what haven't been and what should've been that I grew into a complete hermit. By the time I realised, all the new first years were paired up. I was lonely, lost and absolutely hating my degree plus uni.

So I am doing peer mentoring. Now that I am steady at my feet, I hope I can help the first years settle in by giving them practical advices. I stumbled, one who has not stumbled cannot give true, empathetic advices to a stumbled one. This is my asset and aspiration.

Yesterday we had peer mentoring training for science students. I met some interesting people. I saw this guy, W, who came up to give me the name tag, I instantly recognised him (I have a very good memory of faces, but alas, I am so bad at remembering names!). He was my lab partner in first year chemistry! I am sure he did not recognise me, because I did not turn up to half the labs. I must have been such a disappointment! I did not go through the pain of introducing myself and trying to bring back bitter memories!

Then, during the ice breaker exercise I had to be partnered with a south American dude who kind of scared me. We were supposed to ask of each other about our passions, I said I loved reading books. What kind of books? I named some classics that I had been reading lately but poor guy did not recognise anything. May be I should have mentioned Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I did not. I did not get the chance too. He is one of those people who always seem to be in a hurry without any reason. He was breathlessly asking questions and then adding on himself, as if we were running out of time and had to get done as much as possible. As for what he liked to do? Salsa... he said that with such a salsa attitude, smiling a sly smile, jerking the head and winking, and swaying his body in an almost salsa movement, that I got scared. I waited for the time to be up, so that I could move on to the next person, while stiffly admitting, I adore Spanish string music. Those are very sweet. I did not have to wait for long, we were asked to move on. I felt somewhat relieved I pretended not to notice his outstretched hand as he offered to shake hands with me while introducing himself. I put my hand in my chest in an apologetic manner, murmured a sorry and quickly moved on to introducing myself. He soon forgot about the hand shaking business. I felt it would take a long explanation for him if I were to explain the reason why I 'could not' shake hands. I am still so very bad at this! I still do not know how to prevent offense, for my explanation never sounds convincing. If any one does not get offended, it's entirely that person's credit--his own tolerance and acceptance.

We had a small session on cross cultural communication. The trainer explained how in many cultures looking directly into the eyes is disrespectful, what do different body languages mean, all the different cultural ettiquets and making room for accepting all. He was asking for first hand experiences from people, when this guy sitting right next to me started narrating how he once went to give his dear friend a farewell hug with purest of intentions, but the girl went into a flurry, flinging her arms around and screaming... 'no no!'. As it turns out she was Muslim! Later, she sent an email explaining the reason of her behaviour. I was the only Muslim in the room of thirty people (Muslims don't volunteer in un-Muslim events :P), wearing hijab and sitting right next to him so all the eyes were on me! Even though I was smiling and found a certain degree of humour in the narration, my cheeks were burning with embarrassment. Is there any better way to deal with this kind of situation? One of my Irish cousins gave me a farewell hug once. He is younger than me by a year. If he had offered me one, I could have rejected. But poor guy was so emotional, he tried to speak bangla during his stay, stole a place in every one's heart and gave me the gentle hug with so much confidence and brotherly love that I waited for a while before pulling away. That was definitely a bad time to explain why he should not do that!

The complicacy of human interaction makes me feel like going on a hiding at times, at other times--this very thing draws me in to seek more of it!


Em said...

Haha, yeah handshaking is always a difficult one. It's actually easier on women -- they are usually expected to offer their hand first for a shake, also they usually have a handbag or something to clutch on to!

Having said that, I've personally found it easiest - in unofficial contexts - to laugh it off when a lady offers her hand. I just go something like "wow, haha, I'm not much of a hand shaker when it comes to women, I am one of those funky muslims who actually follows the no men-women handshaking rule. Haha, I know, it is pretty funny". By then she would usually smile and take her hand away and I can throw in another thing or two about Islam. The topic actually often changes to my home court where I set the agenda. It's GREAT!

Interestingly, my wife was talking about her difficulties with handshaking just this morning. Coincidence indeed...

Cousin hugging must have been pretty uncomfortable :S. Don't know what to do in that case :S.

TanCurve said...

i better adapt to humouring... that sounds like the best option!