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From Washington, D.C. to Papua New Guinea: Educating Wendy
29 September, 2011 08:50
I’m Dr. Wendy and I grew up on the outskirts of Washington, DC., and lived most of my life in Virginia (USA). I currently live in Lae, Papua New Guinea.
1. Why did you move abroad?
I finished my Ph.D. and started looking for university jobs….. Papua New Guinea? Sure, I’ll apply….
2. How do you make a living?
I work as the Director of Teaching & Learning and oversee faculty development. I also just took over training for all university staff, so I’ve been busy developing plans for that area, too. I “work” here, but honestly I get paid as much as I work (not much work for not much pay….).
3. How often do you communicate with home and how?
I have a prepaid plan on my Blackberry, so I use my minutes to call my kids back in the States. The Internet is pretty expensive and the connection is poor, so I don’t get to video chat with them except on rare occasions. I get my American news and gossip through Facebook on my phone. The internet is slowly getting better and when the time zones work out, I love texting with friends and family back in the States.
4. What's your favorite thing about being an expat in Papua New Guinea?
PNG is VERY laid back and that’s probably my favorite part about being here. Coming from the United States and always on the go, PNG is a stark, stark contrast. There is time for everything… and we fit in work, too!
5. What’s the worst thing about being an expat in Papua New Guinea?
I’d probably say that it’s not the “worst” thing, but one of the more frustrating things about being an expat here is the inefficiency of things. It can literally take a couple of days to get a very mundane task done. As an expat, you’ve been hired to come in for a position that a local person is not qualified to do and yet I spend a lot of my work time chasing down or trying to do a very basic task. It can be frustrating to take an entire afternoon off work to go pay a bill, and yet, it’s a normal thing here.
6. What do you miss most?
I miss diversity of food. Oh, hell, I miss good food! In my city, we really only have the two main hotels, a Chinese restaurant, and the Yacht Club for food. And it’s just…. Okay (on a good day!). I miss a good restaurant or a really good meal. For that, I rely on friends that can cook. I have been known to have food orgasms at people’s dinner tables…. I honestly never really appreciated a good meal until I moved here.
7. What did you do to meet people and integrate in your new home?
Although the university is outside the city, I made it a point to get into town and meet other expats. I was lucky that there was another American here that knew a few key people in town. I bought a car as soon as I was able and made a point to get to town as much as possible. Once I met a few people, I was fine. I created my own little social calendar of events and looked forward to sneaking into the Yacht Club a couple times a week. It was a bit hard integrating in as I’m not the “typical town expat”, but that’s also why I go out of my way to answer questions for people that find my blog. I know once they arrive they’ll fit right in, but it’s daunting at first. I want them to know that I’ll try to answer questions and at least meet them for a drink when they first arrive!
8. What custom/ habits do you find most strange about your adopted culture?
What? Besides cannibalism? No, no, that was outlawed a few decades ago…. Um, there’s a big witchcraft thing here. It’s a bit odd…. I think the biggest thing that is strange is the integration of work and religion. I get more religious emails than work-related emails. Prayer before meetings, interviews asking about religious affiliations, there’s certainly no boundaries in that regard. I found it overwhelming at first, but it’s just part of the culture.
9. What is a myth about your adopted country?
The biggest myth is that it’s all just island life. Yes, there are beautiful, safe places in PNG. There’s world-class diving, and quaint, lovely villages. People in the States think I live on some resort, drinking from coconuts and playing on the beach. However, Lae is really industrial and we have no clean beaches. It is unsafe just to walk around and we’re surrounded by razor wires. Although PNG is a third world country, it is very expensive to travel. "Resort" hotels (not near what you would think of as a "resort" ) are expensive. And, unless you’re going to eat food from the local markets, groceries or anything else imported is quite high in price. I get emails from people wanting to come to bum around and experience island life, but this isn’t quite the place for that type of travel. You certainly need to have a plan before arriving.
10. What advice would you give other expats?
The biggest advice would be to research this place and make sure it’s for you. Things are vastly different from the capital city and Lae, so people come not prepared. It’s also quite violent and you have to know what you’re going to see or experience…. It’s not uncommon for a secretary not to show up for work for a week because she was severely beaten by her husband or to be a victim of an armed car-jacking. It happens. It’s real. There’s only so much you can do. People need to know before they just sign up to come here. Too many people don’t realize the severity of the daily life here and leave.
11. When and why did you start your blog?
I started my blog when I was getting my Ph.D. in 2007. I thought I could bitch about students and faculty, but realized I couldn’t do that… and still graduate… So, the blog was pretty mundane for a while. I blogged, but not regularly. Once I got to PNG, I got into my blogging rhythm.
12. How has the blog been beneficial?
I write my blog for me. It’s cathartic and it’s my outlet in this crazy place. It’s really sarcastic and meant to be fun. There are so many devastating things in PNG – extreme violence, poverty, and corruption – but I can’t focus on those things. Instead, I look at the more humorous side of things, including drunken debacles and the insanity I call my life.
Wendy's blog, Educating Wendy