[Guest Post] From EIU to Taiwan

Hello, everyone! I’m an EIU alumna and current employee at HESS International Educational Group in Taiwan.

Overall, my experience teaching and living abroad has been filled with incredible moments and opportunities. I taught children’s English classes for a couple of years before moving into the human resources department at our company’s corporate office. I’ve lived in Taiwan for almost five years, and while I could go on and on about my experiences here, I will try to keep it to just a brief snapshot.

EIU alumna Amy Simpson accepts a 2013 Employee of the Year award from the CEO of HESS International Educational Group at the company’s year-end banquet in Taipei, Taiwan.

EIU alumna Amy Simpson accepts a 2013 Employee of the Year award from the CEO of HESS International Educational Group at the company’s year-end banquet in Taipei, Taiwan.

The first thing that stands out is something frequently mentioned about Taiwan: the people. The locals are unbelievably welcoming and helpful, and the foreigners come from all over with their own little piece of the world to share.

It’s not unusual for Taiwanese people to go out of their way to personally escort you to a gas station across town or chase you down the street to return the wallet you’ve left in a restaurant. Likewise, it’s commonplace for foreigners to strike up a conversation about which neighboring country is best to visit or invite you to join them at a dinner table. The people I’ve met have helped me to embrace Taiwan and enjoy all the things it has to offer.

When you live in a different place, you also start to re-evaluate the way you look at everything around you–and the way you look at yourself. You start to realize both how big and how small the world is.

Last Thanksgiving, HESS asked teachers what they were thankful for. We made videos depicting what we loved about Taiwan, teaching, children, friends, family, etc. It was an open-ended invitation to capture the truly enjoyable parts of life. We compiled those videos and called it “The Thank You Project.” (You can view the whole project here)

In my HESS Thank You Project video, I talked about a former teacher who used to say, “The more you know, the more you know the less you know.” This is definitely true of my time in Taiwan. There’s always something new to learn, always a challenge to be faced, always an opportunity to learn and grow as a person. For better or worse, as soon as you feel like you have something all figured out, you’re reminded you that you don’t. This can be a frustrating thing, but it can also keep you fresh and open-minded. If you can embrace those opportunities to grow, there’s always something new and exciting to experience.

It’s interesting to hear about perspectives, and there are plenty to be found all around us. If you haven’t already, definitely consider living, teaching, or traveling abroad to experience things that you might not get to at home. If you’re thinking about teaching abroad, I would recommend Taiwan as a great starting point.

New teachers strike a pose during their July 2014 initial training at the Main Office of HESS International Educational Group in Taipei, Taiwan. HESS provides all the support and guidance newcomers need to settle in and start their journey abroad successfully.

New teachers strike a pose during their July 2014 initial training at the Main Office of HESS International Educational Group in Taipei, Taiwan. HESS provides all the support and guidance newcomers need to settle in and start their journey abroad successfully.

Lastly, to everyone, I would encourage you to step outside your comfort zone and be willing to embrace the good as well as the difficult. Given the change, it will broaden the way you look at just about everything.

I’m happy to discuss any of these topics further, so feel free to email me at amy.simpson@hess.com.tw. Thanks for reading!

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Why we travel: Seeking a new lens.

Why do you travel?

For me, one of the more enticing lures of any foreign destination is a fresh perspective, and some of my most memorable experiences abroad came after my perceptions were turned upside down. Potentially life-changing, sometimes just entertaining, these interactions offer a raw glimpse of culture and difference. Below is humorous example of when culture meets culture, taken from my experiences in Vietnam.

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The ice cream truck song, in Vietnam.
I lived in the middle of nowhere when I was a kid. The family farm rested approximately eleven miles from civilization, if you can call a town of no stop lights and a single gas station civilization. Nevertheless, I rarely had any complaints growing up. I had a hundred and seventy acres to run around on, which was like a hundred and seventy times bigger than the school playground, and included a swimming hole and fishing rods. It was a kid’s paradise. But it did have one particular downside. Apparently, eleven miles was just too far for the ice cream truck. And I would’ve killed something for Fred Flintstone Orange Push-Pop.

ice cream truck

You know the ice cream truck. It’s heaven on wheels and driven by an ice cream angel. It’s little and white and covered in pictures of different popsicles and ice creams. It has a side window and a roll down, red and white-striped sun awning. And it never stops playing that song. Pavlov couldn’t have created a better experiment if he tried. It’s more than just salivation. When that song hits the airwaves, kids freeze. Their ears twitch and their eyes dilate as they identify and confirm what they’re hearing. Adrenaline kicks in and then it’s an all out, half mile sprint across three neighborhoods for a rainbow popsicle. And you don’t wanna be around if little Joey is short a quarter when gets there, either. S*** gets real.

I hadn’t thought of the ice cream truck in ages until a few weeks ago. I was sitting at a street side cafe, sipping a late morning coffee in Hoi An, Vietnam. I was chatting with the owner of the cafe when I heard the song. It took just three notes and I had already frozen in place. All I could think about was Fred Flintstone and push-pops. The cafe owner said something in Vietnamese and disappeared in to the back of the kitchen. I assumed she was thinking the same thing I was. As I looked around for the little white truck with the fold down awning, I noticed all the nearby Vietnamese restaurant owners running out of their storefronts. At first I was amused. I had never seen an ice cream truck garner such reaction from the older generations, especially at ten-thirty in the morning. But then I noticed that everyone was carrying bags. I was completely confused until I saw the truck. And then I almost cried.

In Vietnam, or at least in Hoi An, the garbage truck plays the ice cream truck song. As I sipped my coffee in utter misery, I watched as the garbage truck slowly made its way down the street playing the song. Just as kids run out for an ice cream, shop owners ran out to throw their trash in the back of the truck. Everything I had been conditioned to understand had just been lit on fire and my dreams of push-pops began to crumble. As I tried to swallow my dismay, the owner of the cafe I had been talking to came sprinting back out of the kitchen with two bags of trash. The truck was already a block away and the song was beginning to fade. Nevertheless, just as any eight-year-old, or I, would go the extra distance for a Fred Flintstone Orange Push-Pop, she sprinted after the garbage truck yelling and laughing, praying it would slow down.

I’ve traveled half way around the world and still the ice cream truck eludes me. Some day. Some day I’ll get my Fred Flintstone Orange Push-Pop. And it’s going to be glorious. For now, I’ll enjoy my coffee in Hoi An.

Home Away from Home: Living Abroad

January 5, 2004. I sit back in my chair, exhausted. Lunch has been a veritable tennis match. My new host family is crowding around the table, peeling apples and gesturing with their hands, speaking at top volume. They’re speaking Spanish. Thickly accented, rapid fire, Andalucian Spanish. I can’t translate fast enough. I thought I spoke this language?

March 5, 2004. I sit back in my chair, laughing. After telling a story about my day at school, my señora has called me out. “Do you remember the day you arrived?” she asks. “When I asked you if you spoke Spanish, you said si, un poquito. You were lying!” And there I am, with my own thick accent and rapid fire Spanish, gesturing to emphasize my every word. I’ve stopped translating; I speak this language.

May 31, 2004. I sit back in the cab, exhausted. The cab driver keeps an eye on me in the rearview mirror as we circle the block. I can hardly see, my eyes are nearly swollen shut from crying so hard. My breath is hitching and I am apologizing, stumbling over the words. As I take a deep breath and try to steady myself to unfold myself from the car, he turns to me and says, “Don’t worry, hija, you’ll come back. They always do.”

And he’s right.

Where will I live? This is one of the most popular questions from students when deciding where to study abroad. The answer: It depends. Many programs offer both on and off-campus housing: residence halls, shared apartments or host family placement, while other traveling programs may include lodging in hotels or hostels.

While in the US, students often choose to live off-campus for the freedom it provides, bypassing on-campus living for an apartment with friends. Some may skip the host family option out of concern for that same freedom. You moved out of your parent’s house on purpose, after all.

In my position, I have yet to see the “end result” of my choice to live with a host family. The relationship that started at that table in 2004 continues today, through Facebook and emails, right up to my host sister’s wedding this past June. When I left the U.S. as a 20-year old, I was hoping for a chance to practice my Spanish, a comfortable place to rest my head and maybe a recipe or two from my señora. What I received far exceeded those expectations, and shaped my interactions with Spain in an immeasurable way.