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  • On vulnerability and self-awareness as an American expat school counselor

    It was a typical Friday afternoon - I'd just come home from work and it was time to decompress from a long week. I find a stream of Grey's Anatomy and as the show progresses, I realize that one of the themes they were tackling in this episode is the history of racial violence against Black people at the hands of the police. I absolutely lost it during the scene above and I lose it every time I see similar scenes like it  (ie, Procter & Gamble's Ad). My husband asked me why I was crying and all I could muster at that time was, "we have friends who need to have this conversation with their kids - ALL THE TIME." 

    But that wasn't all of it.

    As I continue to reflect on my emotional response to this scene that is rooted in the realities of Black families across the United States - I am flooded by my own feelings of anger, sadness, and guilt. I have the freedom to be away. I have a physical break from the madness that the country of my birth is  experiencing. This madness precedes the current Oval Office. I left a job where I was working with mostly Black and Brown children who often experienced humanity's absolute worst face before they turned 5. And sometimes I was the person having "The Talk" with our students.

    Guilt, guilt, guilt.

    My calmer, reflective self knows that my past and present experiences don't exist in a vacuum. Intersectionality indicates that ALL of an individual's experience with race, class, gender, sexuality, etc. overlap.

    So how do I bridge that gap between two vastly different socioeconomic backgrounds? Reflection and self-awareness.

    Best practice approaches to counseling states that we are at our objective best, when we recognize how our own experiences impact our responses to our clientele and vice-versa. We call it transference and counter-transference. My time working with Black and Brown children who have faced life's worst curveballs, in addition to my own identity, informs my counseling/teaching practice even now. Just a few things I often remind myself are always in my subconscious in my counseling role now:

    • I am a Filipino American daughter (and oldest child) of immigrants and first in my immediate family to hold a college/master's degree
    • Due to my experience as a social worker, I can listen to my students/colleagues tell me some really stressful things without blinking. Sometimes I have to remind myself that not everybody is adept at separating their own feelings from difficult situations on the fly
    • I sometimes have little patience for what I see as #firstworldproblems in the classroom and I constantly remind myself of context and setting. 1) I am no longer in a Brooklyn public school 2) It's not only poor kids who have a hard time in school 3) teachers in urban settings are not the only ones who grapple with "real stuff" that happen in the classroom
    • That being said, and depending on the situation, it's sometimes necessary to point #firstworldproblems out so colleagues can learn, grow, and reflect on how they handle difficult situations in their classrooms differently
    • Modeling patience and tolerance as mentioned above helps my students/colleagues feel safe in coming to talk to me and that is one of the most important aspects of my role

    The scene where Doctors Bailey and Warren have "The Talk" with their son triggered a lot of feelings within me. Moving away from the United States does not equate to completely freeing oneself from the past, whatever that may be. These feelings will always be "there" for me. It is part of what helps keep my counseling practice real - and authentic.