Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Reverse Culture Shock- zai nali? Wo meiyou.

It's been a month that I've been home, back on the "East Coast" of the USA. This time around I don't know if I've had any real "reverse culture shock". In terms of coming home -I've tried to take it easy, not be too hard on myself, just "go with the flow" and take it one task at a time. Get to JFK. Get my bags. Exchange my Taiwan dollars back into US dollars at the airport. Get in car. Go home with parents.

Jet lag was a familiar little bastard .... I had about a week of going to bed at 6pm, waking up at 3am. Going to bed at 3pm waking up at 11am, etc. etc. all crazy combination. But I was more forgiving of myself, more understanding of the situation this time around.

I brought my Mandarin Chinese workbook and textbook home with me - so I've been keeping up with my studies like a good xiao xuesheng- practicing my writing, speaking, reading. But other than that - and missing MINK terribly- I haven't been shocked being home or feeling like I'm missing anything from Taiwan. Maybe it's because I know that I'm going BACK there.

Looking back now, after my first year in China, I really pushed myself to "get back" over to Asia ASAP. I was home for a month last year and immediately while I was home I was sending out my resume and trying to find ways to get back to Asia ..... because everything was up in the air with Lisa. I thought that she would start taking English classes in Guangzhou and join me in Taiwan. It was a little of my anxiety and desperation mixed in with a lot of denial. I went to Taiwan. Lisa stayed in Guangzhou. Wo juede ta hai bu hui shuo yingwen .... and even though I can speak more Chinese now, I'm not doing it to try to communicate with her. The relationship is over.

But it took a good 6 months of my first year in Taiwan to come to terms with that. Feeling -first-rushed. Then jet lagged. Heartbroken. Insomnia. It was a difficult transition. Luckily, I was NOT alone in Taipei and I made some wonderful friends and new memories.

There are several wonderful things about RETURNING to Taiwan, and Taipei specifically.

#1. The "Visa-Waiver Program" between the US and Taiwan. It was just very recently put in place- last year - in November I think. It was after I was already in Taiwan. Before that, for me, getting to Taiwan, had involved much more paperwork and letters and a trip to the TECO office - "Taiwan's Embassy" in New York City. BUT now any US citizen can book a flight to Taiwan and once you land, you are automatically issued a "LANDING VISA" and can stay in the country for 90 days without any additional paperwork needed.

#2.  My friends Romona, Emilia, and Avivi run a wonderful, warm, hostel called "Taipei Fun House" where you can stay for 600 NTD per night - about $22 USD per night. They also host events - dumpling making, hiking trips, etc. and they are all a lot of fun and very sweet. Romona should run for "Mayor of Taipei City" because she knows EVERYONE. So, this time, upon returning, after I book my flight and land in Taipei - I intend to crash at the Fun House for a few weeks. Romona told me I just have to let her know my arrival date about 3 weeks in advance. So, this time I won't feel "rushed" to find a new apartment once I land in Taiwan. Last year I was put up in a hotel during my orientation with my new school, but it was only for a week. So I felt pressure to find a place. This time around I know the area better, I know the Fun House - we had Thanksgiving there, and I have friends in the city. I can take my time to get over my jet lag. The only real big reason for leaving the fun house and finding a place ASAP is MINK. I want to get her back from the shelter as soon as possible.

BUT if you are a new teacher to Taipei - book your flight - land and get your landing visa to stay for 90 days and in that time ... look for teaching jobs.

#3. It seems to me that a lot of schools in Taiwan - both public schools and buxibans - prefer to interview potential teachers in person. If you have landed, you've got a cell phone with a Taiwanese number, you've decided to crash at Taipei Fun House and/or maybe with a friend already in Taipei, the next thing you can do is start looking for a jobhttp://www.tealit.com has a variety of both Full-Time and Part-Time ESL teaching positions at different schools around Taiwan. They usually list a phone contact and/or email contacts. Bottom line - after doing your own research on the school, I would ask to have the email address for a current teacher at the school - so you can get some honest feedback. I did that with my school last year. Although not having two consecutive days off and not having paid holidays was annoying - at least everything was said up front and my paperwork was legitimate. I obtained my Taiwan Residence Permit and was legally allowed to work in Taiwan. BUT in hindsight I think I could have done more research and waited it out a bit to get/find a better deal. There are plenty of schools that offer  Saturdays/Sundays off and some that offer paid holidays. But again, regarding last year, I was "rushing" to "get back to Asia" to save my pseudo-relationship and in my desperation I took whatever was available. In addtion to exploring tealit, I would also recommend"Reach To Teach" http://www.reachtoteachrecruiting.com as a great resource. Carrie Kellenberger and her husband John run the company and they are based in Taiwan - they live in Taipei. They've lived in Asia- Taiwan specifically- for so long now that they've got permanent residence status in Taiwan. Great people - a lot of fun and very helpful and sympathetic toward expats with all of the initial culture shock that goes along with being a newbie in Asia. So, check them out on the website or on Facebook and they can help you find a school as well.

Even though half the "fun" of living in a foreign country should be about "getting lost" and "living on the edge" .... I'm glad to have some of the "comforts of home" waiting for me this time around - friends, a familiar place to crash, my cat ...

Being home now I'm trying to just get everything as organized as possible here .... because I feel like this is my last BIG TRIP home for awhile.  When I return to Taipei, I want to find a school that I really like and I hope to work there for the next 2 years. Even if I do get a break between contracts,  I'm pretty sure I won't be able to just come home for three whole months in between. So now,  I've been cleaning out my closet. Cleaning out the basement. Organizing old photos and old family VHS video tapes that I want to turn into DVD's. My parents are getting older - in their mid to late 60 's - and they want to sell their house and move into a retirement community within the next 2-3 years. So I'm trying to do my part to help them.

The one scary thing that has happened during my two years away is that each year I've lost somebody. The first year I actually lost 3 somebodies. One month after I went to China my 21 yr old family cat "Pumpkin" died and my 18 yr old cockatiel bird "Cheery" died one month after that. When I came home - about 2 weeks after I came home from China, my Uncle Frank - who never officially married my Aunt Joan but they've been living next door to each other and "dating" each other since 1989... so he's pretty much been my uncle- died very suddenly of liver cancer.  He was a wonderful guy - very technical - he used to work at IBM. He loved tractors and fixing things and farming the plot of land that he and my Aunt Joan shared in Ulster County. He travelled with Aunt Joan to places in the US - like Cape Cod and Florida and around the world - to Peru. He helped my mom and dad figure out how to SKYPE with me. He had been following me on FB and commenting and sharing my pictures with Aunt Joan. He was only about 73 yrs old, so in my book that's still young. When I left for Taiwan, I was scared for Aunt Joan. As independent as she is, I wanted to make sure that she would be OK. But now one year later, she seems to be doing well. Still going out with her social group. Still gardening but only in her yard- she sold the bigger plot of land. The second person that I lost was another "uncle" - my Aunt Mary's boyfriend of 14 years "Joe". He also died of cancer - and he was about 73-74 yrs old too. He passed away while I was in Taiwan. In/around January.  He was another wonderful guy. A real "port in the storm" a wonderful companion and support for my Aunt Mary. My Uncle Howard, her first husband, died of cancer in 1994. SO ... I'm just trying to make some good memories here and cherish the good times.... because I don't know - god forbid- who's leaving next.

But in order to stay, I ALSO need money - aka a summer job - to support myself and get me back to Taiwan. I have a bank account in Taipei with money in it. Definitely enough for a 3 week stay at the Fun House and to start me off on my 2nd year .... but I need airfare to Taipei and also just some more money to play with while I'm home here. So ... after putting in a few applications, just today, I got a phone call telling me that I got a job .... at my old company in NYC. It's Monday to Friday. I really like the company and I've kept in touch with my old boss on FB. I'm going to be working in a different department this time around .... so she won't be my boss. But she - my old boss- knows that I'm only here temporarily. However, the company doesn't. I wasn't finding any jobs that were hiring only for the summer ..... so I lied and said that I'm back in NY full time. I feel like, when it finally comes time to go back to Taiwan, I can just say that I found a better paying position/needed more money because I'm moving back into NYC. But it sucks to have to do that. I feel bad. I've never worked at any job for less than a year ..... so yeah, I hate having to leave so early. But of course I'll give them plenty of notice.

Realistically, I feel like I won't be back in Taiwan until October. I don't want friends in Taiwan to think that I'm not coming back... because I AM ... I'm just being more... responsible about it. I'm not going to "rush". I want to have enough money to rent a bigger apartment - with a kitchen this time. :P ... and more space for Mink to run around. I still read the "Taipei Times" online so I'm trying to stay connected to what's going on over there. It's also helpful to have so many Taiwanese friends on FB. I guess that's it. I don't have "reverse culture shock" this time around .... because I'm used to the process and I'm still connected. As far as being home, it's so good to see NYC again The city is BEAUTIFUL and people-strangers actually seem very friendly and outgoing- more than I remember!

I wonder if there's any correlation between years going between one/the same "foreign country" and your "home country" and the "strength/weakness of reverse culture shock/culture shock". I would think it would become weaker with time. When both places become familiar to you,  it seems like eventually there is would be no culture shock or reverse. Like a child who can easily navigate between speaking two different languages - English and Chinese for example- depending on his/her audience.

Anyway, it's 11:39pm NY time now. I am well past any jet lag and legitimately, reasonably tired at this point in the night and will be going to bed SOON. Goodnight. Happy-belated- LGBT PRIDE! More later.

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