A question I’ve been asked again and again since arriving in Taiwan over ten months ago is, “Are you used to Taiwan now? Have you gotten used to living here?” I’ve always found it to be a slightly odd question because I’m never quite sure how to answer it, so it’s been a thought on my mind throughout the year.
With less than a month remaining until I return to the states, I’ve started thinking about how life is going to be different four weeks from now. What about Taiwan will I miss? What about Taiwan will I be glad to leave behind? How will my everyday routine and lifestyle change? What changes will be easy, and which changes will be more difficult? Will acclimating back to life in the US be easy? Will it be what I expect?
I’ve lived abroad once before, when I spent six weeks in Wales during the summer following my sophomore year of college. At first thought, it’s easy to think, “okay, these experiences aren’t even remotely comparable.” Six weeks vs. a year, Wales vs. Taiwan, a program with a busy, well planned schedule vs. a job with a lot of free time, English speaking vs. Mandarin speaking, the list goes on and on. However, both required an adjustment to a new lifestyle in a new country, and both required me to re-acclimate to American culture afterwards. In both cases, I left/will leave a piece of my heart behind in another country. In both cases, I was/will be very excited to return to my family. And in both cases, my life in the US was drastically different from my life abroad.
There are certain things I’m ecstatic to leave behind in Taiwan. My molding, rat infested apartment, the streets full of crazy drivers who never follow the rules of the road, the constant smell of stinky tofu in the streets, and the stray dogs that seem to be everywhere I go here in Taidong. And then, there are the things I’m going to miss without question – the beautiful scenery, the presence of 7-11 on every street corner, the incredibly friendly people, my job, and of course, my students. These two categories are the first things that come to mind when I think about leaving in a few short weeks. But what about everything else? What about the routine I’ve established? What about the new culture I’ve become immersed in? What about the bilingual lifestyle I’ve been forced to adapt?
Many people discuss the idea of “reverse culture shock” – the struggle of readapting to one’s home after an extended period away. In fact, I’ve seen the exact same State Department created culture shock presentation on both my Fulbrights. However, this doesn’t mean I’m equipped to deal with what’s coming, it simply means I’m aware of it. To me, this reverse culture shock will manifest itself not by the lists above, but by the things that fall in between these categories, by the changes I’ve undergone this year that I’m less aware of.
A year is a long time. I’ll say it again, a year is a long time. A long time to not see my family, a long time to not step foot in my house, a long time not to see my friends. Sure, I’ve experienced a lot of change this year, but so have the people I’ve been away from for so long. So has the US. So has my hometown. Nothing has stayed static in my absence, yet my prior life’s static existence is all I know.
To answer the first question in this post, yes, I have gotten used to Taiwan. I’ve gotten used to the parts I like, and I’ve learned to tolerate what I don’t like. I’ve become a local at nearby breakfast stores, coffee shops, and restaurants. I’ve somehow managed to acclimate to driving a scooter everywhere I go. I’ve learned to navigate the local grocery stores. I’ve established a routine. When all this goes away, will it manifest itself in the form of reverse culture shock? Or will I be able to easily pick back up on my same routines back in the US, the routines I was accustomed to before coming to Taiwan?
I think experiences such as the one I’ve had this past year are important life experiences. The ability to adapt, and then readapt, is important. Experiencing being part of a minority in a new country has certainly been transformational. And forcing myself to be more independent than ever before has been a tremendous growing experience. Taiwan, you’ve become a home away from home, a place where I can feel comfortable, and a place I’ve learned to love. And ultimately, a place I’ve very much gotten used to over the past year.
Third grader, Sam, wearing my sunglasses on a field trip
View while biking in Guanshan a few weeks ago
Fifth grade boys on the field trip bus
Feeding fish with first grade!
Field trip with the first grade
Field trip with the first and second grade
Silly third graders on the field trip
With my school director and some students on our field trip
Arm wrestling competition with my fifth grade boys
My fourth grader placed second in Beinan Township and eighth in Taitung County for the English competition!
Fulbright Farewell dinner in Taipei
Last weekend’s trip to Sanxiantai Bridge!