Untitled As part of Shimelle Laine’s Learn Something New Every Day online class, we were recently prompted to make a “10 things I have learned…” list. Last month was the fifth year anniversary of my move to Taiwan. I wanted to write something about it, but there are so many things percolating in my head right now and it was difficult to put together anything coherent. But I sat down a couple nights ago, started a list—and, really, I could have written forever. Here is my condensed version…

1. Mandarin Chinese! Of course. 我每次上中文課真的傷腦子,但是我覺得有機會來台灣學我長輩的母語是滿載而歸!!!

2. I’m more enterprising than I thought I was. You see, I come from a family of entrepreneurs. My brother, my parents and both grandfathers each started their own business. I thought perhaps that particular gene had bypassed me, but then I realized I was mistaking being entrepreneurial with being enterprising. I decided that I had a goal I wanted to accomplish (reporting in Mandarin), I persuaded investors to give me financial backing (my scholarship) and I made a business plan (I had to be fluent enough to conduct fairly complex interviews within nine months). I left New York City to pursue this venture. Though I had plenty of doubts about the wisdom of my plan, it worked out.

3. Accepting responsibility leads to freedom. I recently read a great blog post by an American expat living in Kenya about why she calls herself a “trailing spouse.” It really struck me because I am also a trailing spouse, even though I didn’t call myself that. I told everyone that I moved to Taiwan because I had received a scholarship to study Mandarin—but really, I would not have applied for that scholarship if I had not wanted to join my husband. I realize now that part of me felt very ashamed I was leaving my job and my friends in New York City to pursue a relationship. I felt like I was conforming to gender stereotypes and maybe even being a bit too emotional and impulsive by “following my man.” But the blog post by Emily talks about claiming the title of “trailing spouse” because it fully recognizes the challenges and sacrifices that come with the experience.

Maybe one of the reasons I feel comfortable calling myself a trailing spouse now is because I’ve established my own career and circle of friends in Taiwan. I am no longer defined solely in relation to my husband. But I also now realize that the healthiest thing is to take responsibility for all the decisions I make and own it from the beginning. If I could go back in time now, I would tell people that I came to Taiwan to be with the person I love. I wouldn’t try to keep justifying a very personal decision. Honestly, I don’t think other people really cared why I moved to Taiwan—all I ended up doing was making myself feel insecure. That’s something I really want to keep in my mind as I move forward: wholeheartedly accepting responsibility for the decisions I make means I can also truly take credit for them.

4. The way Taiwanese society is moving forward mirrors a lot of what I feel inside. Yes, even the less pleasant stuff. It’s so exciting to watch the design industry grow and see creative professionals, many of whom are my age, with the power to shape Taiwan’s own distinctive aesthetic voice. They have the potential to leave a powerful legacy. I find it inspiring and though I will always be American through and through, it constantly amazes me how in sync I feel with Taiwan.

5. I’ve developed a deeper level of respect for my Mom and Dad. My parents and I went in opposite directions—they immigrated to the US in the late 1970s and I popped over to Taiwan in 2007. The culture shock we experienced and the resources we had available are completely different of course. But I have so much awe for what my parents accomplished in their adopted country: starting their own residential architecture business, helping my brother and me navigate the spaces between our two cultures and being awesome cat parents, to list just a few!

6. Culture is a framework. It gives you a sense of continuity and a moral guideline. But it should never, ever be used as an excuse. To do so is in bad faith. I’m so tired of hearing people explain away whatever kind of bad behavior with “It’s what we do in America!” or “Here in Taiwan we blah blah blah.” No. Though all of us are shaped by our cultural backgrounds, I’ve found that jerks come in the same flavor no matter where they grew up.

7. I am better at making friends than I thought I was. I’ve always been introverted and a bit shy and awkward, so when I moved to Taiwan I panicked and assumed that it would take forever for me to find any friends. But that wasn’t true. I’ve surprised myself with how good I am at opening myself up to people and humbled by how amazing my new friends are. It’s not like every person I’ve tried to become friends with here has been awesome (in fact, a couple have turned out to be downright batshit), but I’m so grateful for the connections I’ve made.

8. I am just like Jeremy Lin! Oh boy, so many people have told me that since Linsanity took off. It’s because of my American-accented Mandarin. Sometimes Taiwanese people had a hard time figuring out why someone who looked like them “sounded like a foreigner.” Then they heard Jeremy Lin talk. Now all I need to do to explain my accent is say “oh, I’m a little bit like Jeremy Lin.” Thanks Jeremy Lin for making me feel like a real human being!

9. I don’t have to pick one culture over the other. When I was growing up, part of me felt like I had to reject my Taiwanese/Asian identity in order to fit into American culture. It was hard. Sometimes I didn’t even want to speak Mandarin in public with my family, because I didn’t want strangers to think I was “other.” I wanted them to see me as me and in my myopic, adolescent way of thinking, that meant I had to speak in English. But now I live in a country that I tried to push away for a long time, and I realize how lucky I am to have fluidity between two places.

10. I’ve lived here for five years already, but in many ways, I feel like I’m just getting started…