USA: Phoenix, Arizona

I landed in Phoenix last Saturday with most of my belongings packed in two very heavy suitcases, a carry-on bag, and a purse (a giant purse stuffed full of things). I keep saying that I want to get rid of more things, but I really want all of the things in these bags. I am not a very good vagabond.

The week was filled with training sessions for my new position, good meals that caused me to gain a few unwanted pounds, and networking opportunities to make new friends. It was much more interesting than I anticipated, and I didn’t meet one person I didn’t like. On top of that, downtown Phoenix is a really cool city with a big heart!

The training – the training was almost all very targeted so I was able to learn more about the company I’ll be working for, the philosophy of education, the educational goals, and the expectations for my position. They also included some sessions to prepare us for moving to China which was very helpful, and I was able to meet people whom I’ll be working with. This was probably the best part because I made connections with a few people, and, I will admit, I’m a bit nervous about the move. Knowing I’ll have a few friends already helps immensely.

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Although I spent most of my time in the Phoenix Convention Center, I did have an opportunity to wander around here and there for a few hours, eat at a few of the restaurants, and go to the symphony. It was interesting that most of the waiters had tattoos and that graffiti art was everywhere – even on the side of a credit union, advertising the building. Something about the tattoos and the graffiti art go together, as though art is a part of showcasing everything and everyone to their best advantage.

The art, the symphony, and the buildings revealed what kind of city Phoenix wants to be.

The graffiti art – the murals were amazing! There was a skeleton with a black hood holding a sign that said, “Love Life.” There was an area with a wall of kindness for encouraging messages with a mural behind it that honored the homeless who had died in the city. The messages were mostly positive and life-affirming which made my heart happy.

 

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The symphony – the music was BEAUTIFUL! It wasn’t a full symphony, but a quartet just for us as the symphony has the summer off. If you have a chance to go, there is some serious talent in Phoenix. They only played for about 45 minutes, playing music from old to new, ending with Jimmy Hendrix! Corinna, one of my new co-workers, and I both cried during several of the songs, including “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Granted, we were both jet-lagged and emotional but, still, they were good!

The symphony has also done a study that shows that listening to music improves Alzheimer’s. They are the only symphony that has promoted and participated in a medical study of this sort and have published a paper on it. In addition, they have created a school program for elementary students that pairs music with learning. They also did a study on their school program which showed increased scores in the classes that used it and the students’ scores remained higher beyond the classes they took using the music program. Bottom line: music is good for the brain and the Phoenix Symphony is out to prove it.

The buildings – I took a picture of a building with Westward Ho on the top and had to look it up because it also had ASU on the side. I learned that it was a low-income apartment building and ASU decided to partner up with Westward Ho and use students to offer services to the tenants – social services, nutrition services, medical services, etc. Arizona State University wants their students to be part of the community rather than an isolated institution of learning and they are acting on their words. That’s why we educate and get educated – to make the world a better place.

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I enjoyed my time learning about the city and my new company, but, after a little less than a week in Phoenix that was packed full and just when I was recovering from my jet lag, I left the most comfortable bed in the world at the Renaissance Hotel and hopped on a plane to head East to see my mom.

See ya again one day, Phoenix, but I’m moving on to something else for now.

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Reflections on Taiwan

Lately I have been focused on endings: the end of a relationship, the end of the school year, the end of my time in Taiwan, and a sick grandmother at home whom I can’t visit because I am halfway around the world. I’ve been tearing up at every little thing. This happened last year around this same time even though I had far fewer changes happening.

That’s the downside of this life – there are lots of endings and lots of good-byes at the end of every year.

But I started randomly reading journals entries from the past few years, and I realized something. I’d forgotten the impetus that brought me to Taiwan to begin with.

Man, I was in a bad place. I was unhappy, and I felt stuck. And, worst of all, I couldn’t see a way out or anything better in my future. So I quit my job.

When I quit my job, I had no idea what I was going to do. I just knew I had to make a change. It took me three months to figure out that I didn’t want to teach in the U.S. and that there were opportunities to teach abroad. It took me another four months to get here.

But I did it.

And the first few months here were hard. I was exhausted and overwhelmed and there were times when I didn’t think I could stick it out, that I could live this life that was so different from what I had at home.

  • I was living in a country where I didn’t speak the language and was at the mercy of people who spoke English or asking for help from people I’d just met at work.
  • I was living in a studio apartment with no kitchen, one tiny window, and a mattress that was hard as a rock.
  • Without a car, I found it hard to shop for anything more than what I could carry plus I had to figure out where to shop. There are very few big box stores here that sell everything.
  • I had a mold issue in my apartment and my shoes were growing mold and I didn’t know if that was normal in Taiwan or what I could do about it and it made me feel dirty.
  • I had baby roaches that woke up at night and crawled around on the floor and I would see them every time I would get up to go to the bathroom and I would lie in bed at night and pretend they didn’t exist. I felt like a little kid again who was afraid that her hands would fall over the edge of the bed and get grabbed by a monster only it was a baby roach that might crawl up my arm and into my ear and lay eggs.
  • I had trouble sleeping at night because that’s when everyone at home was awake, and I was afraid someone would need me and I’d be asleep.
  • I was teaching students who barely spoke English, and I had no Mandarin language skills so getting to know them was impossible and teaching was a challenge.

Yes, these were the crazy and real things that, by month three, were making me wonder if I could do this.

But the idea of going home and leading the life that had been slowly strangling me was far worse.

So I stayed. I spent my weekends literally wandering around and seeing this new world I was living in and taking pictures and reveling in the strangeness that gradually became familiarity. And I got to know people who became close friends who were amazing when I was hospitalized and who went on trips with me and were there for me when I needed them.

And it’s two years later, and I have to say good-bye to a city I have come to love and people I have come to think of as another family and it’s hard. But I am so grateful that I have had these experiences and met all of these people who will forever be in my heart and have memories that will last a lifetime.

On top of that, I now see three or four different futures that all seem equally as good. I wish I had more than one lifetime to do all the things I dream of and now believe possible.

I couldn’t have known where I would be today when I got on that plane two years ago, but I am so glad I didn’t allow that to hold me back. I honestly have no idea where I’ll be in five years, but I know I’ll be in China for the next two – and I can’t wait to see what happens next!