Thoughts so far…

I can’t believe I’ve been in Taiwan for almost two weeks!  Now that I’m finally starting to get settled, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts since arriving.  Everything here is so new and different from what I’m used to at home. I keep trying to take notes on my phone of things that stand out to me.  Sometimes I get frustrated because there is so much of this experience I want to remember and share, but I know it’s impossible to take note of everything that I have seen and done here.  There’s so much to see and do and take in that I bet if you asked five different people what stood out to them the most about being in a new country, they would come up with five different answers.  I know I won’t be able to articulate all the thoughts and experiences I’ve had since coming here, but I want to share some of the experiences that stand out to me.

First off, the fifteen hour flight from Chicago to Taipei was a bit long.  I didn’t sleep very well, probably because of nerves, and the jet lag hit me hard for the first few days.  We got off the plane, met our awesome coordinator for Yilan county, Kelly, who herded us all onto a bus, and off we were to Yilan county where we will be teaching for the next year.  As we drove past Taipei, I caught a glimpse of Taipei 101 from a distance.  Can’t wait to go visit the city properly!

IMG_1368

Our plane was Hello Kitty themed!

IMG_1396

Taipei 101 in the distance

The first few days were a flurry of paperwork, unpacking, visiting schools, and scooter practices.  Walking around in a new city, I felt like I was having sensory overload.  I’m not used to living in an urban area, and I couldn’t read any of the signs because they are all in Mandarin.  However, after walking around town for the past two weeks, everything is starting to become more familiar, and I’ve become a pro at dodging people on scooters.

IMG_1449

Yilan City street scene

IMG_1417

The view from the second floor of the Teacher’s Center where we are having orientation.

Although Yilan is a county with a lot of rural area, two of its main cities, Yilan City and Luodong, have urban vibes.  These are the two cities in Yilan County where the ETA’s are living. As Ross, a former Yilan ETA explained to me, Taiwan is a small island the size of Maryland, and a lot of that area is inhabitable mountains. There are 23 million people living in Taiwan. Because of that, even in more rural counties people congregate in small, dense areas, and cities pop up.

This year there are 8 ETAs in Yilan county. We are split between 3 apartments in Yilan City and Luodong, which are a short train ride from each other.  Right now I am in Yilan City for orientation, but people are potentially moving once we get our school locations.  We will live in the apartment closest to the school we are teaching at.  Below is the street where I’m currently living!

It seems like most people here dress casually and loosely because of the heat.  However, even in the summer it seems some people dress a little more conservatively than we do in America.

One thing I was not prepared for was the heat. Everyone told me it would be hot when I got here, but I didn’t realize just HOW hot they meant.  Many days its 90 degrees with humidity by 9am.  But hey, I’m adjusting!

IMG_1504

You thought I was kidding, didn’t you?

Taiwan is also a big small business place. The Taiwanese take their food seriously, and small restaurants and food shops are found on every corner. Which is good, because it seems like most people here eat out for a lot of their meals, ourselves included! There is a breakfast place I found about a block away from our apartment where I can get this omelette/pancake thing for less than one American dollar.  It’s delicious!  And, I’ve rarely seen forks and spoons here, so I’ve been getting a lot better at using chopsticks.

Highlights of the last few weeks have included visiting both the Luodong and Yilan City night markets, surfing at Wai’ao beach, and finding some good American-style pizza and margaritas at Drifters.

IMG_1627

Darn my eyes are closed. But you can see Turtle Island in the background!

Well, those are some of my first impressions of Taiwan! I find out my school placement tomorrow (or today, depending on when this gets posted), and can then finally begin getting ready to teach. I’m sure I’ll have lots of exciting stories to share once I start my job!

Clockwise from top-left below: A yummy Korean restaurant, Drifter’s Pizza, Yilan City train station, my first glimpse of a night market in Asia, selfies with the other ETA’s, experimenting with night market food, and pizza at the beach.

Puerto Rico

Hey friends! As I slowly get ready to leave for Taiwan, I wanted to make a post about the most recent trip I took.  Another one of my friends and I are both leaving to teach English for the year (he’s going to South Korea), so before we all went our separate ways some of my friends and I decided to take a vacation together. A few brainstorming sessions later and we had our tickets booked to Puerto Rico!

We spent 7 nights in the Caribbean in June.  There were a lot of firsts during this trip. First time planning a big trip with friends, and a (semi) international one at that. First time renting an Airbnb that wasn’t with my parents. First time renting a car. And it actually all went pretty smoothly!

IMG_1052

IMG_1071

Two photos of the San Felipe del Morro fort

 

 

I know that Puerto Rico is a United States territory, but to me it felt like taking an international trip.  In a lot of ways Puerto Rico feels like another country, with the four hour flight, language differences, and new cultural experiences.  My friends and I stayed in an Airbnb in the Calle Loiza neighborhood of San Juan.  Calle Loiza is the “hipster neighborhood” of San Juan.  Our hosts were incredibly hospitable.  One of our hosts even came over to check on us one afternoon when the power went out in our part of San Juan, and asked us if we needed candles or anything else.  We didn’t get the chance to talk to too many locals aside from our hosts and Uber drivers, but I still think staying in an Airbnb was a good way to get a feel for local life in San Juan. We probably had a different experience than people who stayed in a resort, but I liked the trip we took.

Tourism is the main industry in Puerto Rico, and outside the tourist-y zones, the country was poorer than I expected it to be.  One of my friends commented that middle class in Puerto Rico is probably very different from middle class on the mainland. I think because I knew P.R. was a U.S. territory, I was expecting it to feel similar to the rest of the country, and I actually had a bit of culture shock during the trip. Now, that being said, at no point did I ever feel unsafe in Puerto Rico. Everyone we talked to was extremely helpful, and the language barrier wasn’t an issue because most people, especially in San Juan and on guided tours, spoke English.  Most people would start conversations in English with us because we obviously looked like tourists.  Pics below: driving through El Yunque.

It was interesting to see the way the area where we were staying was beginning to be gentrified. Upscale boutiques the likes of which you would see on the North side of Chicago, staffed by millennials in fashionable clothing, stood next door to older, more run down shops and bars that looked like they had been there for decades. I wonder how the people in the neighborhood feel about that? It was an interesting process to see in action, and made me reflect on the ways economies change.

I was surprised by just HOW hot it was when we were there. The first few days I was drinking water constantly.  I think though, that part of the reason it felt so hot was that we were outside for most of the day. I’m hoping though that the hot weather I experienced will help train me for Taiwan!

IMG_1190

Beautiful tree-lined streets in Old San Juan.

Also, driving in Puerto Rico is crazy! We rented a car (complete with the under 25 driver fee), and because I chickened out, our friend Michael had to drive the entire time.  We drove on roads with two-lane traffic that were clearly not wide enough for two cars, went up and down steep hills in the dark, and once had to get out of the way of a semi-truck that was so filled with material that the side of the truck was starting to buckle outward. That being said, I think if you have a willing driver, renting a car is a great way to see the island! There’s not much public transport besides Uber that we noticed, so renting a car was a really good option for us, because we wanted to take day trips.

They say that there are no rules on the road as long as you don’t hit anyone (true), although it also seemed like hitting people wasn’t a huge deal, because we saw a lot of cars with dents in them. Thankfully, we managed to return the rental car in one piece and dent free.

IMG_1030

Empanadas. Because they’re delicious, that’s why.

We had a few beach days and also did day trips. My favorite thing we did was definitely the bio-luminescent bay tour in Fajardo.  At night, the water lights up blue because of bacteria that react when the water is disturbed. We paddled from the oceanfront through a river in a mangrove forest to an inland lake where we watched the sunset, and then paddled back in the dark as we saw the bacteria light up.

Other highlights included eating at Pinky’s breakfast cafe, going to the San Felipe del Morro Fort, hiking La Mina Trail in El Yunque, and seeing the Arecibo Observatory. One night we went to La Placita, an outdoor area with bars and clubs, that seemed to be filled with locals and tourists alike.

Puerto Rico was a great experience, and now I’m looking forward to my next adventure (Taiwan!).

Below: Old San Juan showing off.

IMG_1111IMG_1110IMG_1095

The Adventure Begins!

Note: This is not an official Department of State website or blog, and the views and information presented are my own and do not represent the Fulbright Program of the U.S. Department of State.

Hello everyone! I can’t believe how fast the time has flown.  In a little less than a month I will be embarking on my very own personal odyssey. On July 31 I will fly out of O’Hare Airport at 12:30 am for a 15 hour flight to Taipei, Taiwan. From there I will travel to Yilan to begin my year as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant. Yilan is a county on the northeast side of the island, and I will be working with elementary and middle school students while I am there. I can’t wait to get started!

Now, you might be thinking something along the lines of “Wait, what!? Yilan? Fulbright English teaching assistant?!”

Let’s back up a bit.  If you saw this blog post on my Facebook feed (hi mom!), then you might know what I’ve been up to recently. If you are a potential Fulbright-er who came across this blog on Google, let me give a little background information.

I graduated from Notre Dame in 2016 with a bachelor’s in History. The year after I graduated I worked part-time while I studied Mandarin, volunteered, took improv classes in Chicago, and applied for a Fulbright. Some people apply for Fulbright scholarships while they are in their senior year of college, and travel abroad pretty soon after graduation.  However, some people apply as recent graduates, which is what I did. This meant that I had a year after graduating to think about what my next steps would be. I liked having a year after college to get organized and to plan what I wanted to do next.

I want to teach English abroad for many reasons, but two stand out. It’s always been on my bucket list to live abroad. I want to fully immerse myself in a culture, and attempt to understand it as the locals do. I studied abroad in Ireland during college, and have gone to England and France with my family, all of which were wonderful experiences. However, I never thought there would be a feasible way to make living abroad for the long-term a reality.

IMG_1223

Shameless tourist in London

Teaching is also an interest of mine. Helping students to grow academically and in confidence is fulfilling.  If only there were some way to combine my two goals…  At some point during my senior year of college, I came across the idea of teaching English abroad. One of my TA’s had taught in Taiwan, and my roommate’s cousin did the same in Thailand. Then, all of a sudden, it was everywhere.  Everyone seemed to know someone who had taught English across the globe, from Spain to South Korea.  Suddenly, my dreams didn’t seem quite so unrealistic.

10419981_796880136988780_8446279445372296166_n

Hey look, I found a castle in Ireland

I researched programs, and decided to apply for a Fulbright Scholarship to Taiwan. Prior to applying, I had heard of the Fulbright Program, but didn’t know much about it. The Fulbright U.S. Student Program offers research, study and teaching opportunities in over 140 countries to recent graduates and graduate students and is the largest U.S. exchange program.  Also, there’s an episode of The West Wing where Josh Lyman says that he’s a Fulbright scholar. My desire to learn Mandarin Chinese and travel somewhere where I have never been were big factors in choosing Taiwan. As an English teaching assistant (ETA) I will help with language classes and serve as a cultural ambassador.

Taiwan is an island off the south-east coast of China, and part of its climate is subtropical. I’ve heard from people who have been there that when you step off the plane, you are greeted with a wall of heat. As someone who has always grown up with Midwest winters, I’m hoping I adjust well to this change! Yilan county where I will be placed is about an hour outside of Taipei, the capital city. I think I will be in a good position to do lots of exploring around the country.

My goal is to start a blog (or at least attempt to) in order to reflect on my experiences abroad and keep my family and friends at home up to date.

I’m hoping to blog about teaching, living abroad, and any other ideas that pop into my head! I love to try new foods and see new horizons, so I will do my best to post pictures of all the new experiences I have.

Come along for the ride! More to follow soon…