Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Reflection Eternal


I mentioned in my last post that there would be more ‘headspace’ and casual blogging on here, at least until I get my bearings. And I mean that — it’s been a couple weeks but I still feel like I’ve just stepped off a Gravitron or a Tilt-a-Whirl, and all I can do is roll with that. I’ve done a lot of sleeping, and teacher training has picked up (ask me someday about my Kaohsiung Hell Week conducting EMI/EML training for university professors just before the dissertation was due; I used my incidentals’ allowance to buy a bottle of whiskey that I drained over several evenings of editing after full days of training. At least the hotel was pretty nice). I still haven’t gotten back into my normal rhythms; the research tabs I closed when I hit ‘submit’ have not been supplanted by the news tabs I used to open every day. Mostly, I rest. 

In the meantime, I just turned 40, and we celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary. For Lao Ren Cha, this means I’ve been blogging for the full measure of my 30s. I do expect that will stretch to my 40s, but what that will look like remains to be seen. Generally I don’t put much stock in life changing much just because one celebrates a milestone birthday, but I have to admit that for me, it seems to have been the case every time. I turned 20 in India, on a semester abroad that changed the trajectory of my life. I celebrated 30 in Costa Rica, on our honeymoon. We were just passing through; in fact we did a one-month bus trip from Panama to Guatemala, and it’s a testament to how long this blog has been running that I wrote about it! I celebrated 40 right here in Taiwan, 10 years married, dissertation just submitted, living a good life with far more stability than I’d ever imagined possible. The road ahead once again looks different on the other side of that Big 0 birthday.

That brings me to the real point: what’s been going on in my headspace. A few years ago I toyed with the idea of taking my writing in a more serious direction. I even wrote about it, though I can’t find that post now. It seemed like a good idea at the time, though being in grad school, I didn’t have much time to actually pursue that, though I did take steps to raise the overall level of discourse here, though I made a few exceptions when I was especially infuriated. 

Now, I honestly must say I’m happy I never went in that direction. That work matters, but there are plenty of people already doing that, many of them are quite good. There’s not much more I can add as yet another voice. Even when it comes to blogging, I do it because I enjoy it, but I don’t pretend it has a major impact beyond the relatively small bubble of people who already care about Taiwan. That’s not to say I think I’ve had no impact; perhaps there's been a small amount.

That said, over the past few years, I’ve watched Taiwan smash more soft power wins in everything from health care to music. Attention to Taiwan’s situation has even been raised in birdwatching communities. These successes in telling Taiwan’s story to the world came from people working in their respective fields who also happen to care about Taiwan. 

And what do I do as a profession, not a hobby? Teacher training. Over the past few years, I’ve come to realize that I’ve had more impact helping my students to tell their own stories - and the story of Taiwan - and in raising the skill level of Taiwanese teachers of English so that they can do the same, if they wish than I could ever have through writing alone. In short, in most places where I feel I’ve made a positive contribution, it’s been behind the scenes, helping to elevate Taiwanese voices. While I have no issue using my own to speak out as well, I’ve come to realize that it’s not where my most meaningful work lies. 

Nothing clarified this more than writing my dissertation. I interviewed six teacher trainers, a mix of Taiwanese or foreign, and the foreign ones mostly develop local teachers. I focused specifically on intercultural communication, looking at the extent and methods that these teacher educators reported using if/when they incorporated intercultural communicative competence (ICC) in their teacher development work. Within that, I took a critical look at what ICC means, or might mean, for Taiwan in terms of Taiwan’s political situation as well as critical cultural issues and awareness. In short, what is Taiwan’s story and how do teacher educators here contribute to helping people to tell it to the world? 

Through this, I came to appreciate the extent to which both Taiwanese and long-term resident foreign teacher educators truly care about Taiwan, and contribute in their own ways to advocating for this country. Most of them had something to say about Taiwan, what it stands for, and what it has to contribute — and how the world would be better off knowing more about it. It’s something I have also been involved in, in a professional capacity, and it’s clear that’s where I can have the biggest impact in the years ahead. 

I will still blog, of course. I’ll still cover Taiwanese politics and issues from my perspective. I enjoy it, and it will continue to be a hobby -- I'm writing something about the US WeChat ban now, though it's neither as fun nor as true to what's actually in my head as this post. Perhaps I will have a few more moments of making small differences through it. Who knows? Writing is important too, but I’ve come to realize through completing a graduate program that I can contribute more in different ways. 

That’s good though - it means that I can use this space to be more creative rather than just straight politics all the time; in fact, I’ve always thought of myself as more a creative non-fiction writer than any sort of journalist or analyst. And, of course, I hope to elevate more Taiwanese voices. I enjoyed editing the two guest posts I had the opportunity to put up, and would like to do more of that.

So, if the general tenor in this space seems different, there’s a reason for that.

This is also a call to all of you, my readers (yes, all twelve of you). Look at what you already do — your life, your career, your field — and figure out how you can contribute to Taiwan that way. What soft power impact can you have, in your respective fields?

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