When I left home with a one way ticket to TPE in August of 2013, I had no idea when I would be home again. In the back of my head I figured it would only be a year (as did my friends and family) and I would come home and then do the next thing for a year, and then quit that, and move on to the next thing for a year, then quit that and find the next thing for a year, as has been the pattern since my college graduation.
Taiwan and I have had an on and off relationship. Like anyone who has lived abroad, sometimes you love it and sometimes you hate it. However, after a year I decided I was in love and was just starting to see what Taiwan had to offer. I took a “real job” in a private high school and decided to give Taiwan a real shot. I applied on a whim knowing I was extremely under qualified. However, being a young female in a predominately male dominated profession (ESL anywhere in Asia…) apparently I was in high demand. I have no formal educational training (though I am TEFL certified from ITEFL Academy http://www.internationalteflacademy.com/ a great program I highly recommend) I have various (random) experience in an educational setting; from teaching ESL to adult refugees in Rochester to a preventative course for teen dating violence in Bridgeport. But, nothing close to traditional teaching; lesson plans, grading, writing exams, choosing curricula material, etc. Since the first day walking into the classroom, to this day, I feel like a different person(in a good way.)
Mother’s Day Cards From My Students
Teaching ESL appealed to me for a few reasons. Firstly, I studied literature in university and quite frankly have no desire to return to the world of academia, so, on paper, I’m not qualified for much. Secondly, I can’t handle an office job. Before moving here, I worked in a customer service department where I was literally tied to my desk via phone cord. I have no idea how I lasted as long as I did without going insane. I like being on my feet, I like moving. I can’t sit and stare at a computer for eight hours a day. Thirdly, I have this wild special A.D.D. I want to go everywhere because this world is a disaster, and in that disaster there must be beauty somewhere, because one cannot exist without the other, I’ve never been an optimist, but, I want to find it.I can’t explain exactly what this feeling is, and maybe there is no English word for it, but it is a tugging at my heart almost like a lovesick yearning, when I find something new or something I want my whole body feels like it is overwhelmed with a need to move, a need to just sprint out the door to that new discovery.
When I was in university we had to take basic “core” classes. Since I went to a Franciscan university, many of these courses were philosophy and religion based. Most “core” classes at any university are just B.S that universities use as a marketing tool to say they provide a “well-rounded” curriculum. However, I remember one part of one lesson my freshman year, that still resonates with me in my daily life. In a philosophy based course called “The Good Journey” we read a piece about seven steps every life path follows, and equated it to climbing up a mountain. Once you are at the top, your journey is not over; it only means you begin again. Life is not one journey, but a series of adventures, repeated in vaguely the same pattern, there is no finish line, no completion you should always be striving for something more. Once you climb one mountain, you come back down and climb another. That’s what life is, a good journey, a “Bonaventure” (And here I am not advertising for my money sucking undergraduate university, but, I am glad that ideal stuck with me).
This brings me to the fourth good reason I love teaching ESL. Vacation; summers off, winter break, national holidays. Which allows me the time and location to continue on my good journey.
So, back to my original point. These past eight months of being a real teacher have given me the confidence of a real self-sustaining-society-contributing individual. I don’t need to rely on anyone but myself. It was tough, I was teaching (not including working) 30 plus hours a week, training for my first half, and taking Chinese classes. After the first semester, I was exhausted, physically, mentally and emotionally. I thought I needed to face “reality”, return home and “figure my life out”.
After a break, a solo excursion to Southeast Asia, I returned to work for the second semester with a whole new perspective. This “Reality” is whatever you make it to be. And the career I was so worried about creating, I was already in the process of. It occurred to me that this life I was living could be my reality. I am young with a lifestyle that I love and (almost) everything I need or want I can provide for myself, so why did I feel a pressure to change that, why was this in my head that living abroad was only temporary?( besides the huge factor of missing my family, and friends, and my life partner, like crazy.)
Recently, I read an interview from a modern-day arctic explorer in Discovery Magazine (possibly Nat Geo I don’t remember), I forget his name and I can’t find the issue number, but one thing he said really stood out. It was something along the lines of;
“The key to being an explorer is the love and support of a family that understands and will always take you back” I couldn’t agree more. I don’t think I could have been here for so long without the support of my family, I don’t think I would have the passion for the life I am living without the love of my partner. Knowing that someone is there to support you in the decisions you make along your journey can make a world of difference. That is why it was so hard to come to the conclusion to stay, and to inform my loved ones of my decision.
So, as I come upon the start of my third year living here; the question becomes; is this my home?
It is a home, certainly. But when do people that go abroad cross the line from travelers into ex-patriots? And where is home when you live in a country where you will forever be a Wàiguó rén? (literally meaning outside country person.) Even people that have lived abroad almost their whole lives, even my coworkers, who have homes and raised families here, will never be a real part of Taiwanese society. So where is their home? Some of them find it in their family, most ex-pats are generally in the same situation, and find that sense of community in each other. And some don’t ever really find a home anywhere.
I have not quite reached that point in thinking of a long-term relationship with Taiwan. I have thought each year; okay, one more, we’ll see how this one goes. Even purchasing a scooter is too much of a commitment for me. It took me two years to decide starting a garden wasn’t too much of a commitment.
My Garden Today
This way of thinking has held me back in certain ways. I haven’t really put in the effort to making a social life because I know my social life is at home. Id rather spend a Friday night Skyping with someone I miss in the U.S rather than trying to go out and meet new people. I have met some really great people here, but I know my friends and family are home, so most of the time I don’t bother. As for learning Chinese, I took a class, and I don’t think I have opened a book since. My excuse for the past few months has been, well I’m leaving in June so studying is pointless, but now, since I am staying, I need to start again. But Chinese is not something you can just study casually. It is a big commitment, if I knew this was my permanent home, I would definitely put more time and effort into studying, but on my year-by-year plan, it doesn’t really fit in. ( I am actually making steps to socialize and learn Chinese by doing language exchange with a girl I met through a coworker.)
Pizza Shaped Like Taiwan
So when I give up Friday night’s to talk to family, but I miss family weddings in the U.S, where is my home? I do not consider myself an ex-patriot, I still see myself living abroad as only temporary, but that leaves me in a murky gray area. Sometimes, I feel like I have two homes, and sometimes, I feel homeless.
I keep telling myself that life is not permanent, therefore this concept of “home” cannot be one fixated place;
“I am a part of all that I have met”
Ulysses by Tennyson
every “home” I have had has been a part of me (even my crappy New Haven apartment where I could hear gunshots at night, even the single bedroom my roommate and I shared as a flat in Thessaloniki, even the Honda Accord my four friends and I lived out of one summer) so is home ever-changing as our bon adventure continues? Or is home a constant like the polar star? I love Taiwan and it will always have a special place in my heart no matter how long or how short a time I end up here. I love Scottsville New York and I will always love it, and it took me so long to appreciate where I came from, and how it so greatly impacted who I am, who I am constantly becoming. But when you live abroad, when is it temporary and when is it forever, when is it just exploring, and when is it existing? and where do you find home?