By Debbie Gin
During my recent trip to Asia, I was surprised by two things — both of which continue to keep my mind busy and unsettled, so I share them here in hopes for some dialogue.
The first surprise (even after seeing many movies set in Hong Kong) was the realization that Hong Kong is almost all hills. As such, directions to a location come in three dimensions. Typically, in a flatter area like Southern California, you use East-West and North-South (i.e., two dimensions) when giving directions; the third dimension (up-down) is used, if at all, to indicate the final destination (Room 607, on the 6th floor). In Hong Kong, the up-down dimension is used to indicate another conduit to the destination, an easier way to get to the next building up the side of the hill. For example: go left, then right to such-and-such building, then take the escalator to the 3rd floor and use the pedway (bridge to get across the street) to the next building, and finally take the lift (elevator) to the 17th floor and cross through the plaza to the next building, where you’ll find Room such-and-such. Following these instructions in three dimensions takes you up the side of the hill with more ease.
A paradigm shift came when I asked myself, What other “third dimensions” am I missing — in teaching, leadership, ministry, and life? All I know for now is that in terms of geography, I missed seeing that third dimension because I live and function in an essentially two-dimensional landscape. I needed physically to be in a different geography in order to realize my limited view. So I ask, What “third dimensions” are you missing?
The second surprise stemmed again from being in a different context. Walking through a shopping mall’s food court in Seoul, Korea, I suddenly realized I was missing something. The food court was extremely hectic — lots of people trying to find an empty table, loud noises from talking, food preparation, and TV monitors, and a system of food ordering and retrieving that I wasn’t used to. However, I noticed a sense of calm and relief inside of me — unnoticeable at first, but more pronounced as I let my mind dwell on it. My first words to describe it went something like this: “Hey, no one’s staring at me. I’m just like them. I don’t look any different.”
For the entire trip, I had been struggling with my inability to speak as fluently as I wanted, but in that moment near the end of the trip, I realized that I was not unique, nor was I invisible! It was only then that I noticed that I had lost that gnawing, low-level anxiety that was always there when I was in the United States — the feeling that I had to prove myself in order to be accepted, and the sense of not being totally included. Then came a scary thought: I’ve lived my whole life not knowing what that feels like, to be part of the dominant community (i.e., “majority” culture). I wonder what kind of trajectory I’d have had if I’d been born as a White person in the U.S., rather than an Asian person. I guess I hadn’t realized the intensity of the weight that I carry here in the U.S. until I was in a context where the weight was gone.
So now I’m processing through all that, trying to articulate what I experienced and give names to all those thoughts and feelings. Frankly, as a professor, it can be a scary thing to admit that you don’t know something (or are only just coming to an understanding of that something). However, it can be so rewarding to see your students actually own that knowledge as we all come to it together. By not offering a “solution” here, I am also practicing a pedagogical approach that has been called “feminist” or “relational.” Mary Belenky and colleagues (1986) use the analogy of midwifery and emphasize that classroom teaching/learning should be about the process of coming to the solution. Instructors taking this approach willingly guide the class with transparency, explicitly acknowledging their own lack of understanding and other insecurities about the topic, and resist the urge to share only when they’ve come to some kind of conclusion or end product (which is closer to the “rational” or “scientific” method of an earlier, Modern classroom).
Thus, I’m curious about your experiences, thoughts, and feelings. No conclusions yet, please. Just your honest reflections….
Debbie Gin, M.Div. M.Mus., is the Senior Faculty Fellow in Faculty Development at Azusa Pacific University and an Assistant Professor in Biblical Studies and Ministry at Haggard Graduate School of Theology. She and her husband live in Southern California.