Ready for a story about a filing cabinet?! I bet you’re on the edge of your seat already.
It’s month three of being in charge of the Academic Dept. at IvyPrep. There are moments where it is a major challenge – parents who want me to guarantee that their child get a particular TOEFL score, changing administrative rules from someone way above me in the hierarchy, Hanoi summer temperatures that make it impossible for me to get to work as anything other than a sweaty mess. There are also moments when I can see direct improvements to the curriculum, where a new protocol put in place changes something messy into something organized, when a class gets going without a hitch and the teacher and students are both happy. Transitioning to a 9-5 (really 10-6) job has been weird, but not unrewarding.
I won’t pretend, however, that the cultural differences are always easy to navigate, even for someone who has worked/researched/studied in this country for years. With different understandings of how to get things done, different ways of approaching people, and a super bureaucratic red-tape and paperwork filled office culture, sometimes I’m just excited when things work out. What follows is a tiny and hopefully amusing example of…my work life.
When I was promoted, the Academic Dept. of this small school (~100 students) had no discernable filing system. Teachers maintained their own records of student work, and any progress test administered by Teacher A was kept by that teacher. While the Sales Dept. maintained files about everyone, the Academic Dept. did not. I grew up working summers for my mom in HR, and one of the first things we needed – in my mind – was a filing system. Progress reports, student background data, test scores, everything. By name. In files. Alphabetically ordered. In a filing cabinet. We were instituting a IEP (individualized education plan) for each student anyway, so it was the perfect time.
Except filing cabinets aren’t particularly common here. Neither are manila folders. Manila envelopes are everywhere, as are these plastic envelopes with a snap closure that people carry important documents around in…but manila folders…rare. It took some convincing, but with samples from one shop that happens to source them and a lot of photos from the internet, the proposal for a 2-drawer locked filing cabinet was approved. Yes, my proposal, detailing what I needed, why I needed it, what it would help the office achieve, and the expected costs. After a week, I had a stack of beautiful manila folders and the labels we’d need to turn this into an exemplar of organization. Three weeks (and several follow up emails) later, and the set of drawers arrived at the office. This was yesterday, and I was thrilled.
Until I opened the drawer, only to realize that there’s no metal frame on which the hanging folders could…you know…hang. Just drawers. Back to the shop where I found the folders in the first place, sure they’d have the metal frame to set in each drawer. No go. So now I have student files stacked in a filing cabinet and several staff members who have no idea why I made such a big deal about this metal cabinet. And no clue where to buy the metal frame thing. Or what that’s called in Vietnamese. I feel entirely defeated, but have still spent about an hour mindlessly clicking through Vietnamese office supply websites, on the off chance that I’ll find what I’m looking for and end up able to prove the function of a filing cabinet.