Why questions about life abroad make me panic

August 23, 2017 — Leave a comment

It’s been more than two years since I sat in a cobwebby, shared cubicle surrounded by extroverts and introverts, music – lovers and sports fanatics shooting ideas across the aisles of our student-run newspaper– making shit happen. I loved it. This past weekend brought all of that to the forefront of my mind as we met for a couple IPAs and life updates.

It’s been a month since I’ve moved back to California from Taiwan, where I spent a year teaching English. But everyday, I find my mind wandering back there to the food, the crowded streets, my friends and the vast green canopy and humidity always pressing in around me.

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Taipei City from Elephant Mountain Trail.  (Credit : Karl Kachele)

So if it’s something that I think about every day, it shouldn’t be too hard to articulate when someone asks about my trip … right?

Instead, I feel my body tense up with the enormity of the question and the emotions I’ve attached to that tiny island, an island that awakened my soul. Living abroad was terrifying, fantastic, mobilizing and, of course, life-changing. I’m a different person.

I lived in a tiny 400-sq ft space with my boyfriend and thrived — washing dishes in our bathroom sink and hanging our clothes out to dry on the balcony. I adapted to the smell of mildew and sour looks from my sleepy students. I learned what makes them laugh, inspires them … and what inspires me. I learned that my immunity is no match for sticky kid fingers. I got used to sweating through my shirts within minutes, going through the day with a clean face and wearing clothes I could sprint up our narrow school stairs in.

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I adored stir-fried sweet potato leaves with garlic and sesame noodles, curry, bamboo, stinky tofu and steamed fish. I inhaled incense, dust, polluted air, cigarette smoke and the calming aroma of oolong tea. I found peace in the chaos and in the power of my body carrying me miles and miles up and down escalators, through the streets with grocery bags in hand, up and down stairs at my English school. I walked and it became an afterthought — no more stinging muscles but a conscious meditation. A reflection of a city on the move, molded by its inhabitants into a clash of businesses, apartments … spilling out onto the sidewalks and into the streets. I bought a dress on a worn-down sidewalk days before we left. A garbage man driving by to pick up last night’s discards complimented me, urging me to make the purchase.

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Daily breakfast at our AirBnB– a traditional Chinese house on the outskirts of Sun Moon Lake.

Tiny moments like these fill my mind with color and urge me back … back 14 hours on a plane, back to endless swollen, scarring mosquito bites, sweat-soaked clothes and running to catch the bus. Back to our daily breakfast spot, baby-blue lukewarm waters and crowded subway rides. Walks in the middle of the night and shopping in the neon glow of night markets. And so, so much more.

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Night walk through Shida night market in our neighborhood near National Taiwan University of Science & Technology. (Credit: Karl Kachele)

So, how do I even begin to articulate that? I feel myself struggling internally now, and then — back in the corner of that brewery as we swapped stories. Now I’m realizing though, in some shape or form, we’re all asking ourselves that same question. How do I begin? And once I begin, what’s next? What’s my story and who am I telling it for?

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A temple a short gondola ride away at Maokong, a village surrounded by hills and tea farms. (Credit: Karl Kachele)

We’re all struggling, but we all also have so much to be proud of. It’s ok to not have all the answers. No one does.

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❤ Yours, truly.

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