On Being Flexible

Our daughter began her 3rd term at her primary school on Monday, January 6. On Tuesday at 3:23 we got an email with the draft schedule for terms 3 & 4 including holiday breaks and spring break. 18 MINUTES LATER we got an email saying the Minister of Education had told the school they needed to close effective Thursday (today) and could reopen the 20th. So our daughter gets an extra week and a half of vacation (and the calendar they just sent us was no longer accurate).

For those who’ve followed us on social media, you’ll remember that something similar happened last year but we only got an afternoon’s notice then. We half expected it to happen this year so it didn’t throw us off when it did. It’s amazing how your expectations affect your reactions to things.

A couple of days ago, we saw a news story letting us know when national holidays are in Mongolia. It said something along the lines of “These are the expected holidays for 2020″ [emphasis mine]. I’m not sure if it was a misunderstanding of English or if they meant to make it sound like these are expected, not set in stone. It could be either, but I think it’s the latter. In essence, they were saying, “This is when we currently expect national holidays in 2020 BUT THEY COULD CHANGE,” because at least twice in the 16 months we’ve lived here a national holiday was changed or declared within a week of it happening.

I am by nature a pretty structured person. I like to know the framework and perimeters within which I need to work. Here, those perimeters keep changing, holidays are simply an example of how things that were fixed in my passport country are flexible in my host country. There are a lot of other things that are written in pencil, not pen here.

But I’m becoming a lot more flexible.

My expectations are changing. I no longer expect that just because I make plans with someone they will happen, or that church will end at a set time, or my daughter’s school will be open when they told me it would be. I still try to be on time to meetings, I just don’t expect that the person I’m meeting will be there the same time I am. It helps that I’ve learned not to assign North American value or meaning to these things like, “It’s disrespectful to be late.” “Or keeping your commitments is a matter of integrity.” Different cultures attach different value to actions. What communicates respect in one culture is different than what communicates respect in another culture.

It’s an adjustment. It hasn’t been easy. But I’m not fighting it. I’m learning and stretching. And figuring out how to have a semi-productive, semi-relaxing bonus week and a half off with my daughter.

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