Kenya W: Family Is Not Only Blood; Home Is Not Simply A Place.
When I first began learning a foreign language in middle school, I had no idea how that simple Spanish class, which eventually got the axe due to budget cuts, would change my life. I have always been fascinated by studying languages. Many years of study and many languages later that fascination still holds. To learn another language is to open up the door to the possibility of a community and family that transcends the boundaries of blood and borders. It can force you, if you let it, to think about people and the world in ways that we usually don’t when we stick to our corner of the world. Through learning languages I have learned just as much about myself and the cultures that I belong to as I have about others.
Currently, I am halfway through my second year of living in Taiwan. I also spent two months in Tianjin, China in 2012 and two weeks in Oaxaca, Mexico in 2008. Taiwan, however, aside from my native Michigan, is the first place that I have actually lived in. I came here as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in 2014 and was placed in two village schools in the mountains in Nanao township in Yilan County which is home to a significant population of indigenous people from the Atayal ethnic group. I initially complained about the remoteness of my teaching placement as my daily commute was among the longest in our group. However, as the year progressed, I began, with much reluctance, counting down the days until I had to leave the place that had become my home and the people who had become very dear to me, like family. I would make that commute even now if it meant that I could spend more time there with my babies ^^.
Before coming to Taiwan, I knew very little about any of its 16 officially recognized indigenous peoples. I quickly learned though, that I, a Black American girl from a small, predominantly Black city in Michigan, had more in common with my indigenous students than I could have imagined. As I learned about their history, I learned just how far the tendrils of colonization and cultural hegemony spread. I saw that my students and other members of their community faced very similar challenges to those that Africans all across the diaspora and indigenous people all around the world face. Honestly, being placed in schools that serve indigenous communities was a multilayered blessing that I had no idea I would receive when I accepted the position.
The first time I met my students, my babies, some shyly watched me from afar while others sauntered right up to me and directed a barrage of questions at me. I was thankful to have learned Chinese in that moment! We all experienced a lot of “firsts” that day. In fact, that year was my first “official” year teaching after completing a year-long teaching internship. The makes the experience even more special in my eyes. Spending all day at school, staying late to lesson plan and play outside with the kids, sometimes barely making the last train home, our relationships slowly blossomed and flourished. Together we navigated the waters of cross cultural communication and built something that, even if one day I can’t recall their faces without looking at a picture, or I forget their laughs and their quirky little ways will stay with me forever. We had to figure out how to learn together, work together, play together, and communicate and connect with each other across linguistic and cultural lines. It was not easy but it was worth it!
Teaching is already filled with many goodbyes and I don’t do very well with those. So, I don’t know how I will handle it when I finally leave Taiwan; not knowing if the next time I will be able to come back will be for a student’s graduation or maybe even a wedding! However, I’m so glad I made the decision to come! If you have the chance and the means to go somewhere different, no matter for how long, go! The world isn’t perfect but it is beautiful. You never know what kind of memories and experiences are waiting for you at the end of a plane ride.
“You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart always will be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.”