Kristine also asked, “Is there anything you don’t like about living abroad?”
To be honest, I’ve been putting this question off because even though there are days when I complain about living here, I do my best not to focus on the negatives, especially when I get to the point in which I am really missing home, friends, and family. So, for starters, that would be number one. I’ve met some wonderful people here – ones that I hope to always be able to visit and/or keep in touch with, but obviously one of the things that sucks about being abroad is not being near to those I care about.
In relation to this, I also feel that I’ve missed out on things throughout my time here, including important moments in my friends’ and family’s lives, pop culture, and, of course, the chance to shop at Target for wonderfully priced colored skinny jeans, which I cannot find in my size here. 😉
However, if I were to discuss Taiwan/Asia in general, it would have to be the ingrained ideas about saving face and how important it is to always make sure that embarrassment stays at bay. While there are things I absolutely love and will miss, this will not be one of them. I can’t find it in myself to accept this cultural idea about always needing to preserve one’s honor and pride in relation to losing face. (And this coming from someone who makes up pseudo-scientific facts just to win an argument! ^.~) Even though there are times when I am so stubborn that it hurts, I do know (eventually) when to apologize and give in, admitting defeat. (And in turn, realizing that this is how to grow and learn in order to move forward in life and on projects. Here, though, if you’re at the top, there’s no arguing about who is in the wrong. This is the same for foreigners; if you are not from here, you are obviously wrong. (Just ask the Taiwanese man we gave directions to, who then drove another 10 feet to ask another Taiwanese person…who didn’t know!)
But more than that, this happens all the time in business politics. I realize that saving face happens in America, too, and pretty much all over the world, but in this country, it’s so much more prevalent in daily life. If you are at a lower level, it’s your fault, no room for argument. The boss/teacher/elder is always correct and rarely ever open to any sort of discussion about what could be better or what may have actually happened. (Ask our older neighbor who, when leaving the store, found out we bought meat there and wouldn’t leave the store entrance until Jeremy got on our scooter and left that store to go to the other one. Jeremy then drove in a circle and went back to the closer store because it wasn’t worth the extra kilometers, or the lecture we would have gotten later. Or ask every cram school boss who has had a complaint from a parent saying that their child doesn’t like the teacher’s class because the games “aren’t fun” even though all the other kids are having a blast. On second thought, maybe don’t because then you’ll probably get berated, too. Maybe instead, ask teachers, like my friend Jamie, who were fired because the kids “weren’t having fun,” or just “didn’t like the teachers.”) None of these situations were open to discussion, and often there’s not much of a reason either; it’s “just the way it is.”
I have had to say my fair share of “I’m sorry,” statements throughout my three years here, and it’s not fun, nor always necessary, unless you actually want to be fired for “insubordination,” and while it’s taught me [even more] patience and humility (to an extent), I believe that these types of situations do in fact have a trickle-down effect. Having to do this constantly causes any victim to harbor either hostility and hate or fear, which I’m pretty sure is then taken out on other drivers, neighbors, common passersby, or maybe even themselves – whomever seems in the way – especially if that person is at a “lower level” than they are. It’s one of those things that is considered, well, like I said, “the way it is.” It’s the reason my students never speak up in class and sometimes have no reason for why they think the way they do about something. It’s the reason my friend Jamie lost her job. It’s the reason people here feel the need to give you advice about anything and everything – from where to buy meat to medical advice to how to raise our dog, and I think it would take generations to change that. I have tried so long to figure out why things can’t be discussed or worked on or accepted as a difference of opinion, but I have yet to find a true answer that makes me want to accept this cultural aspect, so I keep questioning as often as I can. And while on the opposite end of the spectrum I sometimes think the U.S. can be a bit too outspoken, I am thankful that saving face not something I will have to continue dealing with/doing (to the extent it’s experienced here) for the rest of my life.
So in a [large] nutshell, those are the few things that I do not enjoy about living abroad. But none of these truly outweigh those things that I do love. I just do my best to deal with them as they come along.