As I am approach the halfway point of my 5th year in Taiwan, I going to answer a question posted by one of my blogging friends. So, Bear, this blog post is for you, as I embark on a new series about where I’m headed as I enter 2014.
I can’t find her exact question, but it was basically about how I ended up teaching here in Taiwan. She’s not the first to ask, and she won’t be the last. Every time I get a new class of students, someone will ask the question. The short answer is: I was invited. The long answer is: it happened through a series of invitations culminating in the specific one that led to my move to Taiwan.
In this post, I will offer three narratives about the journey to Taiwan. Two of them are previous posts for this blog, which detail the series of invitations I refer to in my long answer. Interestingly, it was a year ago that I wrote these two posts. At that time, my blog was only a couple months old. Now that I have more followers, there may be others who are also interested in this story. So it makes sense to offer these posts again.
The third narrative is a piece I wrote for my undergrad college alumni magazine as I was beginning my second year in Taiwan.
Here we go!
In the first post, I detail the first seven invitations and one of the consequences.
Invitation 1: New Job Position
Invitation 2: Entering a Master’s Program
Consequence: Decision to Complete BA
Invitation 3: A Marriage Proposal
Invitation 4: Joining the Honors Program
Invitation 5: Becoming a Writing Center Mentor
Invitation 6: Taking a Second Major
Invitation 7: Considering Graduate School
In the second post, I continue with three more invitations and a couple more consequences. At one point, the invitations seem to compete, but we sometimes limit what we think is possible, as I would discover.
Invitations 8 and 9: Apply to the Roberts Fellowship Program
Consequence: Travel to Asia
Consequence: Shift in self-perceptions
Competing Possibilities: A Fork in the Road
Invitation 10: “Come to Taiwan to Teach!”
And now for my contribution to the alumni magazine.
If someone had asked me a year ago where I’d be today, Taiwan would not have made the list of possibilities. Leaving the US wasn’t even a consideration at that point. But life has a funny way of surprising us sometimes.
When I returned to SVSU in 2000 to finish a BA I had started nearly 30 years earlier, I did so because I wanted to enhance my credentials for my work in church ministry. During my first semester back, I took an Introduction to Sociology course both because it fit my work schedule and it met a general education requirement, but I was not looking forward to it. I didn’t think I would be interested in sociology. It turns out I didn’t have a very good understanding of what it was. But I had the good fortune to have a professor, Dr. Joni Boye-Beaman, who awakened in me a love for sociology that changed my life. Within two weeks of the semester’s beginning, I had changed my major to sociology and have never looked back.
Members of the English department faculty were also instrumental in helping me forge a new direction in my life. Judy Kerman approached me after my peer review work in one of her classes resulted in an improved paper for one of the students in my group. She asked if I had ever considered teaching and suggested that I think about graduate school. English would have remained a minor for me, but for Dave Gaskill. Although we lost his gifted teaching way too soon, I will always remember his advice both on my writing and on my approach to project management. He also talked me into majoring in Professional and Technical Writing. Diane Boehm welcomed me into the Writing Center and encouraged me to develop my twin loves of writing and teaching. Kay Harley, Janice Wolff, Phyllis Hastings, and Mary Harmon provided support and friendship as I completed my second major.
In the 2003-2004 year, I was accepted into the Roberts Fellows, and another round of surprises and experiences awaited me. In May of 2004, I visited Taiwan for the first time, and spent time at both Ming Chuan and Shih Hsin Universities. When we went to Tokashima University in Japan, I found myself feeling an urge to return to Japan for a year and teach English. I asked a few people about it while I was there and even mentioned it to my husband, who was also willing to join me in that endeavor. But there were many challenges. My youngest child was still in high school, my parents were recovering from a major car accident, and my age put me in a situation of having to choose between two competing goals–teaching overseas or going to grad school. At that time, it didn’t seem I could do both, so I went to graduate school.
But after graduate school, I began looking for a job teaching sociology in a community college. As I was preparing the materials for my applications, I emailed Dr. Robert Yien (former Vice-President of Academic Affairs) to ask him for a letter of recommendation. I did not realize that he was currently working at Ming Chuan University to assist them in working toward U.S. accreditation with the Middle States Commission on Higher Education in Philadelphia.
When Dr. Yien responded to my email, he not only agreed to write me a letter of recommendation, but he suggested that if I wanted to come to Ming Chuan and teach for a year or two, that I should let him know. I didn’t respond immediately, but over the next few weeks, I thought more and more about it–both the good and the bad. I knew I would like spending time in Taiwan, but it was a long way from my my family and friends. I knew I would make new friends in Taiwan, but I couldn’t just get on a plane and head home for the holidays. I discussed it with my friends and family, and eventually, I decided to pursue a position teaching English at MCU.
Some things made the decision easier. I had already visited here and had some sense of what I was getting into. I don’t think I would have been so willing to go to a place where I knew no one or nothing of the culture and environment. Also, Dr. Yien was here, so I had someone here that I knew. And most importantly, I knew that I could keep in touch with my family in ways that could not have been imagined even a few short years ago. With SKYPE, I am able to talk to my husband daily,* my parents a couple times a week, and my children with varying frequency. My mother even says she thinks she talks to me more in Taiwan than she did when I was in the States.
I love my work here. I enjoy my students–ok, most of them–and I am learning a lot about them, about their culture, and about myself. I feel very appreciated here, and I’m beginning to pick up a little bit of Chinese. Tonight when the clerk at the tea shop told me how much I owed, I understood the amount without having it translated to English! There have been many special moments–like when one of my students invited me to a student karoke competition because he was singing a Christmas song in English. After he sang, he spoke to me from the stage, thanked me for coming, and told me that even though I couldn’t be with my family for Christmas, that I wouldn’t be alone, that I would have them–my students. I couldn’t really ask for more than that.
*At the time I wrote this piece, my husband was still in the U.S. He joined me here in Taiwan as I began my third year here and has been with me since.
The opportunity to teach abroad has given me a new appreciation of my abilities and confirmed my love of teaching. It has taught me that some of our best laid plans don’t always work out the way we had hoped. Sometimes, flexibility and creativity are needed to find the path to satisfying life work. And to have a life that’s larger than what I might have imagined for myself.
If you have more questions about my Taiwanese adventure, please feel free to post them in the comments. I will try to respond, either there or in a supplemental post, depending on how many questions I get.
496 days to 60
This post is also part of JustJotItJanuary (JusJoJan)