I learned that Canada is really a foreign country. I know, duh, right? But since I grew up as close to Vancouver as to Seattle, other than the border crossing it never seemed very different. I mean, we listened to Canadian radio stations and what not. But moving here I learned their bureaucracy is not the same as in the US, and although a few things have been better/easier, a lot of it's been frustrating and hard. I've been here since mid-August, I still don't have health insurance. It took me 5 trips to the DMV before my license was issued (on the other hand, it only cost 35 Canadian dollars and the wait times are very reasonable). My car insurance for 9 months cost nearly what my used truck cost. They refuse to accept my proof of good driving in the US, because I was in Korea for 3 years with no car insurance (apparently not having a car or driving during those three years doesn't mean that I was a safe driver in Korea, it means I was uninsured and there is no proof I didn't go around causing accidents). And constantly having to go across the border to and from Lopez reminds me of the whole two countries thing pretty vividly.
A friend told me her sister was transitioning and now going by the pronouns 'they' and 'them' -- this was grammatically so difficult for me, I called the individual by their new name for the rest of the conversation. Then a few weeks later I noticed that one of my (male?) students seemed to be dressing and accessorizing in a very gender fluid way and by the end of the term I learned that that student also preferred 'they' and 'them' instead of he or she. In my defense, since I only ever call on students by name, I'd never used the wrong pronoun about this student publicly. One of my TAs and I spent a hilarious thirty minutes trying to talk about a situation involving said student while correcting each other's pronoun use. It made me feel like an old dinosaur. But it also made discussions about pronoun that I had vaguely been aware of through friend's FB posts into something real. In Korea we just don't have that sort of issue-- mostly because you call students 'student' or by their name, and pronouns are just not as important. And even more because in Korea occupying a transition space is really really rare. People try to present as either male or female, if they are going to transition, they're going to conform to their chosen gender in every way possible. Here's Korea's most famous transgender star, Harisu, in an interview in Chinese, and a compilation of clips of Kim Jinseon, another Korean transgender celebrity, for reference. Back in 2005 a K-pop girl group made of four transgender M to F performers, Lady, even debuted, although they only lasted a couple years and never made it big. Positive attention for people who fully transition is fairly common, and after the first few years, it hasn't even seemed like much of an issue. I still think 'they' and 'them' sounds awkward to talk about a single individual, but I'll do my best to find out what pronouns people want and use them, cause this isn't some BS political correctness, it's an effort to show someone that I accept their self-presentation, on their terms. My own grammatical or habitual difficulties are nothing compared to demonstrating acceptance, right?
I learned not to be politically complacent. I used to be pretty politically active, and yet still I was one of those people who never thought Trump could win. Considering that he lost the popular vote by a margin that's as large as the population of some countries, it still seems wrong that he will be our next president (lets not even get into the whole Russian hacking dilemma). One of my good friends was actively campaigning for Hillary, phone calling, and even flew to Florida to knock on doors and urge people to go vote. I shared some FB clips and told friends in Korea, "don't worry." Now I feel pretty stupid about it. I know how deeply sexist America is. I know how completely deluded some people are. Yet I never even felt worried. I went to my class on the day of the election excited that I'd be able to say we had elected our first woman president. I wasn't that excited about Hillary, but she wouldn't screw everything up, tank the economy, or insult both friends and competitors of the US. And I liked the idea of having a woman president. That's the last time I'm complacent. For the next election I'll be looking for opportunities to volunteer (and I don't mean the presidential election, I mean the interim).
I'm sure there are other things I learned, and those all seem second-half of 2016...
Okay, I learned (was reminded?) just how much I love cycling. There are few things I love more than cycling-- the things I do include select foods, good music, my own bed, and of course my friends and family (but only if they understand my need to ride my bike). Also, I love my computer, even if it often represents work to me, and all the things I can do on it. But if I didn't get up and ride my bike I'd lose my bananas. (Photos below by Dasz Haagen)