Packing was one difficult task. It never is easy, but it becomes especially hard when you have to fit your entire life in one suitcase and a carry-on. Saying goodbye to friends was even more difficult. I didn’t shed tears though. I know that one day I will go visit them in their home countries, so its not so depressing saying au revoir. Before I knew it my new friends were behind me and I was on a plane destination Sweet Home Chicago. I remember leaving for Taiwan like it was yesterday. The streets were cold and covered in a slimy layer of old snow and freshly frozen rain. The only difference between my ride to the airport and my ride home was that we could have the windows rolled down because the freezing temperatures were swapped for sweltering hot ones. My sister greeted me at the baggage check along with one of my best friends and my older cousin. I quickly said goodbye to my fellow Illinois State University study abroad friend Jacquie, with whom I waited as storms delayed our flights and plane rides stretched hours to add up to an over 24 hour return trip home. We waited as suitcase after suitcase went by on the belt. A grey suitcase that looked really beat up peeked out from behind a huge red one. That was mine! I was sad to say it had seen better days, but without further ado I grabbed my ruffed-up suitcase by its broken handle and made my way home.
It has been a long week of adaptation and comparison. As the days pass I realize that this country without a doubt is crazier than when I left it. With gay marriage, murder, and kidnapping cases dominating the news I wonder to myself if I somehow missed the insanity before or if through the years became desensitized to it all. At every turn I am confronted with the people, food, and places with which I grew up. It seems everyone has something new to say and the world is filled with unfamiliar smells and taste. Or maybe I am just looking at the United States differently than before I left. Everywhere I look there are no new stores or buildings, the prairie across the street from my neighborhood is exactly as it was in my childhood, the airport hasn’t changed with its’ rough workers offering no smiles, even my family and friends are surprisingly the same. The last week has showed me that acclimation isn’t just hard in a foreign country. I never knew travelers faced such a reverse-culture shock. Before I left for my trip, I had never left the country and had only been to a handful of states. Now after five months in Taiwan and trips to three other countries, I can’t shake the feeling that I am supposed to be boarding a bus or a plane to zip off to some other destination. Even when accidentally bumping into someone walking down the street I sometimes let out a 不好意思Bù hǎoyìsi, instead of an excuse me. But of course there is nothing like the comforts of home to ease you into the living at home again. I made multiple runs to my favorite Mexican restaurant down the street on dollar taco day, spent time at my Aunt’s pool relaxing in the sun with family, and made sure to see all my friends before moving back down to Central Illinois where I will start school in a few weeks.
Adjusting to my school town is a little bit harder. At first I even put off writing this journal because I was afraid it will solidify the end of my study abroad semester. After realizing it was finally over I buckled down and wrote it. The funniest part about it all is that while I was in Taiwan I was forever looking at the mountains as breathtaking. Illinois has nothing to compare to them. The majestic view of those mountains was a constant reminder of how far away I really was from home. As I drove down I-55 toward Bloomington-Normal I whizzed past acres of corn that roll in the wind like waves in the ocean and splendid wind turbines that spin lazily on even the windiest of days. Without thinking I find myself looking for the mountains that while abroad were the constant reminder that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. Somehow their ever-looming presence had become so familiar. I couldn’t believe that when I looked up there were no mountains in the distance. Nevertheless I eagerly walked the streets of this corn surrounded town. Making stops at cafes and restaurants to inquire about jobs. I know I need one to keep busy and pay off my college bills. It’s increasingly eye-opening to the fact that my study abroad time is over for now and I have to get back into gear for the start of the new school year. It makes me nervous looking around imagining all the students flooding my campus like they do each year. Even so I am ecstatic to see my university friends this August and am even more excited for classes to begin so I can continue to learn and spread knowledge that I discovered while abroad.
I would like to thank the Gilman Scholarship for giving me this unique opportunity to travel to Taiwan to study Chinese; also I’d like to point out that I learned much more than how to communicate in Mandarin. This world is everyday growing smaller with the gears of globalization grinding. By spending time abroad I was not only exposed to the culture of Taiwan, but those cultures of my fellow expats. The memories I have made will last a lifetime. Along with that exposure I am amazed by how it has helped me understand myself and how it helped me grow into a more mature adult. I think without this trip I wouldn’t be the person I am today. Thank You to the Gilman Scholarship and those who made my trip possible.