It’s been a while since I’ve made a personal post, and so much has changed. I moved to Taiwan!
I’m taking a gap year to freelance write and work. The plan is to stay until at least May, and I’ll relocate to wherever my summer internship takes me.
Since the mission of dearyall is to give a window into my experiences away from Arkansas, I’ll still be blogging. The content will just be a little less college-y than I anticipated.
14 days of people watching
For the 14 days of quarantine, I sat in my aunt’s apartment and waited for my life in Taiwan to begin. Surprisingly, it wasn’t as mind-numbing as I imagined it would be. On day 5, I realized that I was basically doing what I’d done for 7 months in the states anyway. The main differences were:
1) the government here was keeping tabs on me to make sure I followed the rules
2) there was a definite end date to my quarantine.
Between my thrilling LINE messages with my quarantine accountability officer and Zoom calls with people back home, I did a lot of people watching from my 5th floor window. I quickly realized that people here are still wearing masks, even outdoors.
I thought that getting to Taiwan would mean returning to a life that resembled my pre-Covid existence. But during my 14-day quarantine, when my aunt was refused service at a store because she forgot to bring a mask, it was apparent that this wasn’t the case. Taiwan is open, but they (we?) are still exercising caution. Masks are required on all public transit and in indoor, enclosed spaces. Even though Taiwan has only had about 600 cases total, people are still moving plans around because of the pandemic. As more people are getting COVID-19 internationally, more stringent regulations will be put in place.
Back to normal?
Over the past seven months, the “normal life” I missed had become altogether foreign to me. The first day I got out of quarantine, I realized that I was freaked out by being near people. Being in a crowd was once such a familiar experience, but it felt wrong. I felt like I was doing something illegal. And I kept waiting for someone to call me out on it.
In March, I thought that “normal” was something that would come back with a vaccine or with a proper handling of the coronavirus. I longed for a moment when someone would say “Serena, you don’t have to stay home anymore!”
I’ve come as close to that as I can by moving. While it’s not quite what I expected, I’m seeing the other side of what could have been if America had handled COVID-19 differently.
In Taiwan, the experience I’ve had in the last 7 months is very novel. Most people around me have never quarantined for more than 2 weeks, don’t personally know anyone who’s gotten COVID, and almost no one has been subjected to Zoom University (the ones who have are going to schools abroad).
When I was in America, it seemed like all the coronavirus developments were inevitable. The pandemic as it was in America was just a universal experience we’d have the misfortune of enduring because we were alive in 2020. It was only after I took a step back (or rather, 3 plane rides), that I realized how strange the state of America is.
As I’m attempting to make friends and settle into this new country, I’m struck by how American I feel. It’s almost like I’m retroactively getting all the culture shock I missed since I studied “abroad” online this summer. In the US, my friends make fun of me for getting cold very easily, and I always blamed it on my Taiwanese heritage. But now, I’m in Taiwan, and people are wearing down jackets in 75-degree weather. My grandma tells me nearly every day that I am dressed for the wrong season and asks me to grab a jacket on my way out the door.
I feel just a little bit misunderstood every time I meet new people. It’s given me a new appreciation for what it must have been like for my parents when they moved to America. It’s hard to explain the very basic things of who I am/what I’m doing here. The answers don’t fit into the preconceived notions that people have for what someone my age should be doing.
What is normal for me now?
The official answer is that I’ve been working as a research assistant at the University of Taipei in the Special Education department. I’m doing a project comparing the assessment process for special education in the US and Taiwan. On the weekends, I teach English to local Taiwanese students. I have a class with 3 junior high boys. They STILL don’t know that I speak Chinese fluently because they are too busy being nervous to notice that I laugh at them when I’m not supposed to (I have no poker face). I have two pet turtles, and I go to church with my mom’s friend’s family.
Those are the things that people understand. While it’s not normal to be taking a gap year, a lot of Americans teach English here, and research assisting isn’t too far off the beaten path. What people don’t understand is that I’m freelance writing. This means that I’m coming up with article ideas and trying to get editors to publish them. And it’s working! You can be on the lookout for my words in Teen Vogue, Arkansas Soul, and hopefully other publications soon.
“Normal” isn’t a default we’ll return to. It’s something we’re all actively creating. Please stay safe out there y’all!