Somehow, it is already June 5th. I only have 25 days left in my Fulbright grant and I am already feeling so torn about leaving. In the last few months I’ve been reflecting a lot on my experience, my emotions, and the things I’ve learned. Here are a few of my takeaways.
Before moving here, I felt a little numb. I had graduated from college, said goodbye to friends, moved across the country, tried to work and tried to envision living in Taiwan.
I’m not great with transitions. I love routine, am a recovering perfectionist, and I am admittedly a control freak. This does not really bode well with change.
So before moving to Taiwan I was sort of in denial.
Taiwan has a dog problem. Taiwanese people love having dogs, but spaying/neuturing them is only now becoming commonplace (the government is offering subsidies, I believe). Therefore, on the outskirts of town there exists several packs of semi-feral dogs.
Feral might be a strong word. Abused, neglected, and under weight are certainly accurate. Most of these dogs are kept as protection or guard dogs, or they don’t have a home and scavenge for food.
That’s terrible, I know. But in my first month of driving to school on my tiny putt-putt scooter, these packs of 3-6 dogs were TERRIFYING to me. The first time I tried to drive to one of my schools in the mountains, my scooter malfunctioned and quit working so I was standing on the side of the road helpless praying that the pack I passed 5 minutes earlier wouldn’t come looking for me. I had heard stories of these dogs attacking people. A few months later one of these dogs would chase me while I was on a long run (scared me pant-less).
So, I sort of hated them. I definitely feared them. They made me uncomfortable, and every time I had to pass a pack of them my heart rate would rapidly increase, and I was generally uncomfortable.
However as the year has gone on, I haven’t had another incident with these dogs. They stand in the street, roam in packs, and are still intimidating to me, but the more I’ve learned about animal cruelty here, the more I realize that they are scared and neglected, and relatively harmless.
That paradigm shift was really important to me.
When I am in a transition, I react to things sort of like how I did with the dogs- wary, and operating without as much heart.
This wariness probably limits me. What if I opened my heart up a bit sooner? How would my time here have been different? I don’t regret how I processed things, but I think it is important for me to consider in the future.
Will I have a closed fist, trying to keep control and stay safe, or have an open fist to lend a hand or take a new hand? I hope to be more open-handed.
Another thing I’ve learned here, could be the topic of one of my classes. “What is America’s Culture?”
It’s funny trying to explain the significance of baseball in America.
It’s funny realizing that what I consider to be “so American,” another American might not.
*The reasons why I only REALLY processed this when I came to Taiwan are 1) I had to teach American culture 2) I belong to the religious and ethnic majority in the U.S. so I haven’t had to ponder what about me is “different.” Fully acknowledge these privileges.*
America to me is strolls along the Plaza and summer nights at the K. America to me is Secret Santas and candlight services.
America to me is swimming lessons by the age of 2.
America to me is country music and cheesy grits from the Flying Biscuit.
America to me is riding horses and running and roadtrips to Colorado.
But that isn’t everyone’s America. I’ve met several people in the ETA program that don’t know how to swim. Most Americans haven’t even been to Kansas (hellllllo they’re missing out!). Many Americans don’t have dirty-blonde hair, blue eyes, and identify as a Christ follower.
And America’s complexities are wonderful, but it made explaining American culture infinitely more difficult, especially b/c I felt the need to explain how multi-faceted America truly is. I think I felt this pressure, or urgency, especially in light of all of the events that have occurred in America this year.
So it has been a journey, trying to explain different religions, different racial identities, and how we all mesh and make up the crazy that is America. I’m not sure if I nailed all of that, but I know I at least tried.