It turns out Gabrielle and I share more in common besides being temporary-expats to Taiwan; not in the least is the fact that she is also from California. Beyond that, though, we share both a passion for travel (admittedly, she's much better at it than I), and a desire to give voice and face to the faceless.
We discussed life, and plans, and family, and God, and social justice issues, and the art that brings our attention to it, like the movies Crash and Blood Diamond and Hotel Rwanda.
She traveled with me by bus to my Mandarin class, and by bike to the school I teach at. We wound through the streets of Taichung not just discussing, but living life in a foreign land. At one point, we both hit our brakes hard, as a car cut through lanes from the left to make a right hand turn – a common practice in Taiwan.
“You get used to that sort of thing...” I said
“Well, T.I.T.” came her reply.
“...This is Taiwan” She smiled, and laughed a bit.
“Oh.. right” I returned the smile, sheepishly, a step behind her “Blood Diamond” movie reference.
Recently, Gabby and I got back in touch, and I was once again reminded of her insight and love for life abroad. I wrote her and asked if I could “interview” her about her time here. To all our delight, she accepted.
So here it is:
Could you tell us what brought you to Taiwan? When were you there, and how long did you stay?
I came to Taiwan to do an internship for my last year of university. One of my professors recommended me to stay and intern with the Atkins, a missionary family on the island with an Adult English teaching ministry. I stayed for three weeks, between Western New Year and Chinese New Year.
Was the experience all that it promised to be? (How did you do on your internship project?)
Once I got there, I ended up doing a lot fewer actual work hours than I had originally thought. It all worked out, though. Overall, I was glad to be able to experience a variety of different EFL styles and settings. This included observing in a CRAM school, guest teaching an adult English class and attending a couple classes with…Chase Andre, who is an awesome EFL teacher and great at navigating bicycle routes through cut-throat, sidewalkless streets, by the way! In a nutshell, it was not what I expected, but it worked.
(You're too kind.) So, it's been half a year since you've been to Taiwan. What do you remember as being your biggest Cultural Surprise?
I’ve traveled to many places, but this was the first place I’ve been where I could not understand any of the signs or literature. It really is a shock to step into a world where reading is hardly an option. This really gave me a renewed empathy for ESL learners who come to the USA for the first time and are struggling to understand their environment. Also, for anyone with latino friends or family, the non-touchy-feeliness of Taiwanese culture can come as quite a surprise. I was expecting it to be this way, but I still found myself wanting to give people hugs and handshakes.
Wait—I take all that back—I experienced the highest form of culture shock, by far, in my mouth, when I tried the stinky tofu. I really wish I was super worldly and could say that I loved it, but my gag reflexes totally betrayed me on this one.
Briefly fill us in with what you've done since Taiwan, and what you plan to do next.
I graduated from university (yay!) and earned a TESOL/TEFL certificate. As soon as I save the funds, it’s Spain or bust! I’d like to do a lot of things in the long term, but next on the agenda is getting some TESOL experience.
You said you've traveled before. What countries have you been to? What was your favorite, and what felt the most "foreign"?
I’ve been to Mexico (just Baja CA), Panama, France (1 day layover), Israel, Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe, and of course, Taiwan. It is way too hard to pick a favorite. The world is a beautiful place and I am always falling in love with new faces, food, languages, and landmarks. Most foreign—you know, when you’ve got the travel bug, you feel most foreign in your good ol’ hometown.
Your list is pretty diverse, but, what is one common thread you've found in each culture - including your own.
Love. Different cultures and individuals have different manners of expressing it, so you may have to look closely. All you have to do is open your eyes, be receptive and someone nearly everywhere you go is bound to light up your heart. I’m not talking about romantic love; I mean hospitality, sacrifice, appreciation—a gift given from the heart, helping those in need—these things represent love to me.
(Fantastic answer. Awesome)
Why do you go out of your way to learn about and experience other cultures?
I’m addicted! When you learn about other people and how they see the world, chances are your worldview is going to change, too. International addicts aren’t comfortable with one pair of bifocals.
If you had one piece of advice to someone (like me) who wants to travel as much as you have, what would it be?
Make it a priority. You may have to make material sacrifices to make it possible. Don’t go for the most expensive vacation trips. Go with a volunteer experience, an excursion, a study/work abroad program, or something like that. It will make it more reasonable cost-wise and, in my opinion, give you a richer experience.
And one last question: In one paragraph (3-5 Sentences, for the readers who aren't teaching English...), what does "The Journey is the Destination" mean to you?
I suppose it means that though we may have an idea of what we are working toward, we can’t just focus on the future because we will miss out on the present. Our lives aren’t like movies where we reach that one goal and then the sappy music plays and credits start rolling. It goes on and there are always multiple destinations we are headed toward, whether we are aware of them or not.