A friend of mine has this posted on her Facebook profile:
"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes." - Marcel ProustI have learnt the difference between traveling abroad and living abroad -- I enjoy them both, and can say that the first made the second possible, as tasting other cultures whetted a serious appetite in me. Traveling made me see my home with new eyes: what did I take for granted? what did I like better about other places, and what seemed unnecessarily hard or frustrating? how could I integrate my experiences abroad once I returned to a pretty comfortable existence back on American soil?
At first, living abroad was the same. Every new thing was examined for its comparison, which is really the only way to learn something new, whether a language or skill or culture: "What do I already know? How does it work in this new place? What do I need to do differently now?" I was busy discovering this new landscape. The standard, the referent, was always home, but that word quickly became burdened with two distinct and distant meanings, Washington and Taiwan.
We lived in Taiwan for two years before returning to the States in 2003. I had a baby, started homeschooling our son, and waited for life to get "normal" again, but it was hard -- hard getting back into step financially and culturally as well as personally. After the challenges of life in Asia, America seemed so boring. Not bad, per se, just so lackluster. I felt as if the river, the constant flow of difference, had started to shape me. Then the river changed course and I was out of the stream, missing the rush that was sometimes overwhelming but, apparently, also addicting.
After two years in Washington and not a lot on the horizon, we returned to Taiwan. I was eager to make the move, but it wasn't easy -- I knew we'd be here for a longer commitment, at least five years and probably six. But as hard as it was to leave friends and family again, I was able to jump back into the river with some understanding of what was in store, to appreciate the constant challenges. I made closer friendships, took on more responsibilities, enjoyed the culture and shed a lot of the self-consciousness that had hindered me before. I made myself smile and make eye contact with people who would then ask me questions I couldn't understand, or at least couldn't answer without sounding like an idiot. But I was happier. To say, "Sorry, wo ting bu dong" with an apologetic grin is far more satisfying than to avoid the whole encounter.
This has been home for my children for most of their lives. It has been my home for most of the last decade. It's not an easy place to love, but it does grow on you -- in you -- and now that our time here is coming to an end I am acutely aware of how much my concepts of home, normal, healthy, satisfying, and happy are shaped by this place. Certain people have made my time in Taiwan bearable, some even more than bearable. I will miss my Ladies English Club students, my Bible study group (my sisters!), my private students (who taught me at least as much as I taught them), and all the friends and almost-family who have shared their lives, troubles, hopes, adventures, and accomplishments with me and helped me feel so connected here. Thank you to everyone who made me different, better, shaped into something that I wear proudly. You have given me new eyes, not just for seeing Taiwan but for seeing myself, where we all fit in the order of God's creation, and the beauty that is sometimes hidden in plain sight.
I'm usually pretty good at looking at clouds and seeing silver linings; this move is different, and I am struggling more than I ever have in my life. It's not the move, although the move doesn't help. It's life, and changes, and brokenness, and not knowing how to make better what you can hardly even wrap your brain around. I don't lead with my emotions, so most of this year I've been holed up in my own head, trying to mentally sort through something that defies a cognitive approach. I guess I put that out there so I can then say, No matter what comes next I will be glad I was here. I will be sad I left. And I will always have two homes.