A Conversation about Anthropology on the PS Podcast

Hi all,

Andrew GardnerSOAN alumnus Elena Becker has recently taken on the responsibility of leading Puget Sound’s new, revitalized podcast PS: The Puget Sound Podcast. She already had an opportunity to interview Lee Nelson, one of SOAN’s current seniors. Last week she invited me on the podcast for a chat about anthropology — and teaching anthropology — here at Puget Sound.

Elena’s interview skills are readily apparent in the podcast, and I suppose the SOAN department can at least take credit for helping her to hone those skills during her time as an undergraduate in our department. In our conversation, we talk about a variety of topics, including anthropology’s footprint here at the university, my own academic research trajectory and how it fits with my penchant for teaching, the immersive nature of the ethnographic method, how anthropology compels us to cross thresholds of difference with empathy and understanding, how experiential learning relates to the ethnographic tradition, my recent trip with students to Qatar, and a lot more!

Have a listen here if you’re interested.



Alena McIntosh’s AHSS Summer Research Project

Hello again,


Alena McIntosh in her natural environment

As noted in the previous post, students at the University of Puget Sound can compete for funding to support their summer research endeavors. Our department’s students were particularly successful in past years, and again this year we’ve had numerous proposals successfully funded. This is the second of three we intend to showcase here on the blog. In short, the AHSS Summer Research Awards, varying from $3250 to $3750, allow students to pursue an in-depth research project over the summer months. I’ve asked each of this year’s batch of students to tell us a little bit about what they’ll be doing with their time, energy, and grant monies in the coming summer. Here’s what Alena McIntosh had to say about her new project:

This summer I will be conducting research in Kathmandu, Nepal on the urban infrastructure of transnational labor migration. International labor migration has increasingly become a central component of economic stability and growth within Nepal and I am curious to see how out-migration has impacted the built landscape of the city of Kathmandu. We live in an interconnected world unlike any time in human history. Today, transnational labor migration is both a common and essential component for the survival of many people around the world. I am aiming to gain a better understanding of a side of transnational labor migration that is relatively understudied by anthropologists. I am fascinated by how the landscape of the city can be built to reflect social and cultural beliefs and values. I want to uncover the ways in which labor migration has been etched into the built environment of Kathmandu.


The bustling streets of Kathmandu, where the proliferation of migration infrastructure is visible in the sorts of businesses that accumulate in many neighborhoods of the city

I am planning on conducting community level analysis by performing semi-structured interviews, photo ethnography, and engaging in participant observation with residents and business owners in certain areas of Kathmandu that serve as migration hubs within the city. The broad questions that frame this research are as follows: How has internal migration impacted existing communities? How is community reflected and constructed in these new urban spaces? Who is responsible for the development of migration infrastructure and what purposes does this infrastructure serve? How is gender understood within migration infrastructure? How has the experience of return migrants and the influx of international culture shaped the built landscape of Nepal?

The goal of this project is to help add further nuance to the ongoing scholarly debate regarding the impacts of transnational labor migration systems on sending countries. Additionally, I hope to compile an oral history of the neighborhoods of the city most affected and help to document the change that has occurred and is currently occurring within these spaces.

This is a fascinating research agenda, Alena, and we look forward to hearing more from you as the project gets underway. Good luck!


Mariana Sanchez Castillo’s AHSS Summer Research Project

Hi all,

Students at the University of Puget Sound can compete for funding to support their summer research endeavors. Our department’s students were particularly successful in past years, and again this year we’ve had numerous proposals successfully funded. In short, the AHSS Summer Research Awards, varying from $3250 to $3750, allow students to pursue an in-depth research project over the summer months. I’ve asked each of this year’s batch of students to tell us a little bit about what they’ll be doing with their time, energy, and grant monies in the coming summer. Here’s what Mariana Sanchez Castillo had to say about her new project:

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Mariana at the Church of Santo Domingo in Oaxaca, Mexico

This past February, American movie-lovers witnessed the award nomination and recognition of the Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron for his film “Roma” at the Oscars ceremony. For the first time in the history of the awards, a foreign movie centered around the life of an indigenous woman was nominated for the best picture award. In Mexico, the conversation brought to light the controversial classist and colourist views of the Mexican elite towards indigenous domestic workers as well as their invisibility in modern Mexican life. While rural indigenous communities and traditions have been essential in the creation of the Mexican national identity, when it comes to policy-making their needs are very rarely considered, and they have not been given the agency they deserve to predict their own futures.

In the rise of a global environmental crisis and sociopolitical barriers to indigenous community development, there is a high demand for research that can illuminate how indigenous artisanal practices have developed in relationship to their rural environmental contexts and how those practices might influence national policies to promote the social and environmental prosperity of indigenous communities.

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Mariana during her semester abroad in Jaipur, India

Over the course of the summer, I will be visiting my home country of Mexico and living in Oaxaca City, near three different communities of artesanos. I will be conducting interviews with artisans, their families, and non-profit advocates of Oaxacan folk art production in order to gain a deeper understanding of their perspectives surrounding indigenous folk art and its cultural meaning as well as how environmental degradation could impact the preservation of this art and way of life. My research project will research the relationship between the ecological and cultural dimensions of indigenous craft production through a qualitative study on specific communities of Oaxacan artesanos. ​

Mariana, I think I speak for all of my colleagues when I say that this is really a fascinating project, and we look forward to seeing where your thinking ends up on this after your research. We’ll be in touch later in the summer to obtain an update from you after your project is underway. Good luck!


Catching Up with Adam Chong, SOAN class of 2018

In a recent conversation with Adam Chong, I was excited to hear about some of the impressive and meaningful work he was able to find upon his return to Los Angeles. I asked Adam to tell us a bit about his position and responsibilities, and here’s what he had to say.


2018 SOAN graduate Adam Chong

Hey everyone! Since graduating this past May I have been back home in Southern California working as the Program Coordinator for the Korean American Coalition-Los Angeles (KAC). KAC is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization established in 1983 to promote the civic interests and civil rights of the Korean American community through education, community organization, leadership development, and coalition-building with diverse communities. As Program Coordinator I am responsible for developing,updating, and improving project plans for various KAC programs!

Post-graduation I was experiencing the typical post-college graduate pressures of getting a job, but I knew I didn’t want to rush into something I wasn’t interested in or passionate about. It took an entire summer full of cover letters and interviews to finally come across KAC on Idealist, a job search engine for careers with a social impact.


A group shot of Adam and students at the Berkeley MUN Conference

Fast forward eight months and I have learned so much about myself, the community we serve, and the work we do as a nonprofit. One program that has been near and dear to my heart is our Model United Nations (MUN) program. KAC MUN is a program intended to give inner-city youth insight into the world at large. Students act as delegates from different United Nations member states and compete at simulated UN conferences. At these conferences, students discuss, analyze, and solve international issues, ranging from North Korea’s nuclear proliferation to providing children in developing nations with access to healthcare and education.

I recently took my students to the Berkeley Model United Nations Conference earlier this month — an international MUN conference that is one of the largest in the world. I would say teaching MUN is my favorite part of what I do at KAC. Having the privilege to guide and witness a student’s individual growth is an extremely rewarding experience. For example, I’ve had very shy students who had trouble participating in class, but through the MUN, I’ve been able to see those same students deliver speeches in front of a 200-person audience!

Another project I took on early in the job was organizing a grassroots community meeting for the Vote Center Placement Project (VCPP), a project that’s introducing a new voting model that allows voters to cast a ballot at any vote center location within Los Angeles County over an 11-day period. Not only was KAC able to educate members of the community regarding these massive changes in the voting system, but also allowed them to give their own input as to where the County should identify and place vote centers here in Koreatown, Los Angeles. Check out this article by The Korea Times regarding our meeting and the voting system changes!

VCPP article photo

Adam leading a discussion of possible vote center locations in the Koreatown area

There are many valuable lessons I have learned in my studies in the SOAN department, and much of what I learned there helped prepare me for what I’m doing now. A specific class that sticks out to me was the Ethnographic Methods class I took in the Fall of 2015. In that course, I conducted an independent research project on Korean American business owners in the greater Tacoma area. I chose this topic because it hit close to home: both of my grandparents were small-business owners when they first immigrated to Los Angeles in the late 70’s, and I wanted to know if the Korean-Americans in Tacoma shared similar experiences to those of my family. That class was a very eye-opening experience for me! It was the first time in a classroom setting where I was given creative freedom to really decide the issues and topics I was interested in and that I wanted to explore. Not only did the outcome of my project give me insight into my own cultural identity and Korean-Americanness, it also taught me valuable ethnographic techniques that I now teach my MUN students in our community advocacy project!

Every year after the MUN competitive season ends, as a class we engage in a community advocacy project. As I was crafting lesson plans a few weeks ago, I immediately thought of the ethnographic project I completed my sophomore year and the similarities that I see in our current community advocacy project. For the past few weeks I have been introducing my students to topics and methods like “participant observation,” and I’ve had them interview both family members and friends using the “semi-structured interview guide” they developed. We are still in the beginning stages of this project, but I hope that it proves to be the transformative experience that I envision for them. I hope my students gain valuable insight into their cultural identity and Korean-Americanness through this community advocacy project, just as my project in SOAN 299: Ethnographic Methods did for me.

So, those are just a few highlights from my work at the Korean American Coalition. Peace everyone!


Adam, thanks so much for sharing this fascinating portrait of your work, and we definitely hope to hear more in the coming year about how your work with KAC evolves. Good luck in the coming months, and please stay in touch!

An Overview of Our Recent Trip to Doha, Qatar

qatar bannerHi all,


Our entire group — CONN 397 in Souq Waqif, on our 2019 maiden voyage to Qatar over Spring Break

So it’s an odd juncture in an anthropologist’s life to take students to the field. For most ethnographers, fieldwork and immersion in an unfamiliar culture is a solitary experience. Indeed, Malinowski captured the essence of that trepidation a century ago, when he suggested to readers: “Imagine yourself suddenly set down surrounded by all your gear, alone on a tropical beach close to a native village, while the launch or dinghy which has brought you sails away out of sight.” Anthropologists seek empathetic understanding — to grasp as best we can the insider’s perspective on different ways of being in this world. But the pathway to that goal is oftentimes a solitary one. We are professional strangers, as Michael Agar phrased it long ago. 


Drifting through the back alleys and passageways of the oldest quarters in a very modern city

For the past two decades, I’ve been solitarily exploring the complicated urban spaces of the Arabian Peninsula, focusing first on the transnational migrants who build and service these astonishing modern cities, and then later in my academic trajectory, on the cities, spaces and urban landscapes in which they toil, dwell, and interact with each other, with the native citizens, and with the cosmopolitan diversity of others who pass through these busy urban entrepôts. The city itself fascinates me, and it’s a vantage point that I’ve increasingly sought to share with students. 

Over Spring Break, I took seventeen Puget Sound students to Doha, Qatar. Our field excursion was part of an experiential and investigative sojourn woven into the fabric of a new course entitled Migration and the Global City. In its first iteration this semester, I co-taught this course with professor Robin Jacobson (Politics and Government). The course coalesces my interests in the interface between migrants and urban space, in the archaeology of social relations we can discern and read in the built landscape of the city itself, and in the new and unprecedented ways that diverse peoples fit together in cities outside the ambit of the west. 


Students meeting with Dr. Ali Alshawi, one of Qatar’s leading sociologists

For students, I hoped to cultivate an experience that would de-provincialize their understandings of how people can fit together, to raise their eyes from our American preoccupations and frustrations, and to experientially engage these bright young Americans with the cosmopolitan diversities one encounters in Arabia and in the Indian Ocean World. In helping to forge the global citizens we’ve long sought to develop at Puget Sound, these sorts of cross-cultural explorations can prove to be integral experiences that expand students’ horizons. And along the way, I hoped that students’ perceptions of the Middle East would be reshaped by the peoples they encountered in Doha, as my own perceptions have been via the encounters and lifelong friendships I’ve established there.


A musical procession of Qatari women, revitalizing some of the peninsula’s musical traditions in the contemporary era

I planned students’ experiences in Doha around a series of interrelated excursions and activities which, together, punctuated the ample free time preprogrammed in students’ schedules. That free time was intended to help accommodate the taxes of jet lag, foremost, but it also allowed for students to explore the city as they saw fit. With only a week on the ground, I hoped to turn students into their own guides — to stoke their curiosities, to encourage them to draw on as much intrepidness as they might muster, and to thereby replicate the ethnographic experience in the short window of time available to us. 

A sequence of planned activities put students in several of the numerous museums now blooming like mushrooms in the urban landscape of Doha. In those various museums, students explored how the foreign and the indigenous populations were framed and, sometimes, woven together in the narratives presented by the museums. Students also learned about the complexities of the hierarchies and relations behind these museum exhibits, and considered how the state and the legion of foreign consultants were involved in articulating the stories and narratives they encountered in these public exhibits and displays.  


Puget Sound students drifting through the towering trophy case of skyscrapers that coagulate in Doha’s West Bay

And in small groups, we mimicked the post-war Paris-based Situationists and their engagement with the Parisian urban landscape: together, students ventured off into the alleys and the byzantine winding streets of the oldest neighborhoods of Doha with their camera-phones in hand. There, they sought to encounter the unforeseen, to meet the unexpected, to wander beyond the touristed and quotidian spaces of the city’s front stage. This technique — the dérive, as the Situationists called it, or the urban drift in our translation — yielded all sorts of observational and ethnographic treasures: chickens in the center of the city; rooftop vistas of the setting sun; empty floors of skyscrapers built for forthcoming occupants, the forgotten and eroding modernisms of yesteryear, and more. 


SOAN junior Alena McIntosh talking with a South Asian transnational migrants over lunch

Students also had the opportunity to meet and interview a variety of Qatari citizens and residents, including my close friend, colleague and sociologist Dr. Ali Al Shawi; my friend, former student and Education Officer at the Msheireb Museums Moza Abdulaziz Al Thani; a host of students in Dr. Jocelyn Sage Mitchell’s course at Northwestern University – Qatar; urban planner (and now Oxford graduate student) Yaseen Raad; and my friend and colleague Zahra Babar (CIRS-Georgetown-Qatar). 

But perhaps most unprecedentedly, as a class we grabbed a couple Ubers and ventured out to Asian Town, one of the new satellite enclave-developments configured to house the transnational proletariat at work on the peninsula. There, in the heart of Asian Town, we met a group of workers, shared a lunch, and reached across the many differences that distinguish us — differences that oftentimes preoccupy Americans. In hesitant English, students heard from Bengali, Nepali, and Indian workers who described their lives and their experiences in Qatar, the places they call home in South Asia, and their aspirations for the future. Likewise, these migrants asked many questions of their new American friends, and some remain in contact with the students to this day. 


SOAN students Elly, Dean and Zephy grab an after-lunch selfie with their new Nepali friend Rakesh

In spite of my initial trepidations, in the final accounting I found the experience of bringing students into the field to be a fascinating one. Indeed, guiding students through the world I study in Doha helped me see it anew — I basked in the experience of revisiting these places together, and I grew to value how our conversations jogged my understandings via students’ insightful perspectives and observations. And perhaps much of that had to do with the serendipitous quality of the group we assembled — Puget Sound students are great cultural ambassadors. I felt both happy and fulfilled seeing and (re)exploring Doha together, and proud of each and every one of these seventeen students.

SOAN senior Elly French compiled this brief video that, in my estimation, captures the ethos and camaraderie that we established as a group exploring Doha together. Anyone with further interest in this course or our trip can certainly contact me, or see quite a few more images on Instagram at the hashtags #SOANUPS and #CONN397.


Conference on Environmental Issues in China: Coming Up!


The University of Puget Sound Program in Asian Studies is pleased to announce an upcoming symposium on environment in China: Resilience, Response, and Reclamation in the Ecology and Environment of Greater China, to be held on April 5 (evening) and April 6 (all day), 2019.

Recent years have seen both extreme environmental degradation and diverse efforts at mitigation and adaptation all over the Sinophone world.  As air pollution dominates headlines, the Chinese government shuts down steel and cement mills and launches huge renewable-energy projects.  In a land that was severely deforested in mid-century, China has doubled its forest cover in the past three decades. Protests and local environmental movements put constant pressure on governments in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. Green becomes fashionable among urbanites.

Presentations in the symposium will capture the trajectory of environmental degradation and remediation, and assess just how resilient the varied environments of Greater China are. There will be a particular focus on the theories of Resilience in Social-Ecological systems, founded by C.S. Holling and developed by a large number of researchers, as embodied in the Resilience Alliance and its online journal, Ecology and Society.  How has whirlwind modernization and urbanization affected the ability of ecosystems to respond to disturbances and continue functioning?  What is recoverable and what is irrevocably lost in the land, air, and water of the Sinophone world?

List of presenters and titles can be found on the conference website:


There will be an opening reception on the evening of Friday, April 5, open to all of the campus community. Saturday, April 6 will consist of morning presentations (open to the campus community), as well as afternoon workshops for presenters (and by invitation).

For further information please contact Professor Glover (dglover@pugetsound.edu)

Conference organizers:

Denise M. Glover, University of Puget Sound
Jack Patrick Hayes, Kwantlen Polytechnic University
Stevan Harrell, University of Washington

China conference flyer FINALforREALrescheduled

SoAn Senior Lee Nelson Interviewed for Puget Sound Podcast

Hi folks,

If you have a moment, check out this interview of graduating SoAn senior Lee Nelson, conducted by recent SoAn graduate, Elena Becker (’17) for PS: The Puget Sound Podcast.

In it, Lee talks with Elena about what drew him to anthropology and sociology, his experiences in the department, and his time as a participant in the Pacific Rim Study Abroad Program. Worth a listen:




Lee in Mongolia, on PacRim

Internship Opportunity for SOAN Students

Hi students,

Here’s an internship opportunity directly pertinent to many SOAN students’ interests. The Colibri Center for Human Rights is highly regarded, and director (and anthropologist) Robin Reineke spoke on our campus a few years ago. If you have an interest in pursuing this opportunity, please drop by and talk with me as well!



Dear Colibrí Community,
The Colibí Center for Human Rights is excited to announce our Summer 2019 internship opportunities! If you’re passionate about defending human rights and have skills that will help us fulfill our missing, we invite you to apply!
Querida Comunidad Colibrí,
El Centro Colibrí de Derechos Humanos esta emocionado por anunciar nuestras pasantías para el verano de 2019! Si sientes pasión por la defensa de los derechos humanos y tienes habilidades que nos ayudaran a cumplir con nuestra misión, te invitamos a entregar una solicitud!

Colibrí Center for Human Rights
Summer 2019 Internships

(Español abajo)

The Colibrí Center for Human Rights is a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization that seeks truth and justice for families of those who have died or disappeared along the U.S.-Mexico border. We are a committed and compassionate community comprised of people dedicated to defending the human rights of immigrants and their families.

Colibrí has hosted an internship program since it was founded in 2013, and we are seeking several interns for the summer of 2019. All internships will last at least eight weeks, though we will consider shorter internship on a case-by-case basis. We welcome applications from people from all walks of life. Those interested in social sciences, human rights, Latin American studies, Mexican American studies, anthropology, social work, art, and public administration are especially encouraged to apply.

Please note: All interns must work in person at one of Colibrí’s two offices in Tucson, Arizona. Colibrí is unable to accept remote interns, and all internships are unpaid. We are happy to coordinate so that the internships can count for academic credit.

For the summer of 2019, Colibrí is seeking interns for the following 8-10 positions:

  1. Missing Migrant Project Intern (3-5 people)
  2. Communications & Social Media Intern (1-2 people)
  3. Business Development Intern (1 person)
  4. Fundraising Intern (1 person)
  5. Family Network Intern (1 person)
Please read the brief internship descriptions for each position linked below. To apply, please fill out this application form by March 25, 2019. Please do not email Colibrí separately unless you are unable to use the form.
Click here for internship job descriptions.

Centro Colibrí de Derechos Humanos.
Pasantías para verano 2019

El Centro Colibrí de Derechos Humanos es una organización no gubernamental sin fines de lucro que busca la verdad y la justicia para las familias de migrantes quienes murieron o desaparecieron a lo largo de la frontera de EE. UU. y México. Somos personas dedicadas a defender los derecho humanos de los inmigrantes y sus familias que creamos una comunidad comprometida y compasiva.

Colibrí ha organizado un programa de pasantía desde que se fundó en el 2013, y estamos buscando varios pasantes para el verano de 2019. Todas las pasantías durarán al menos ocho semanas, aunque consideraremos pasantías más cortas según cada caso. Aceptamos solicitudes de personas de todos los ámbitos de la vida. Los interesados ​​en las ciencias sociales, los derechos humanos, los estudios latinoamericanos, estudios mexico-americanos, antropología, obra social, el arte y la administración pública son especialmente alentados a entregar una solicitud.

Tenga en cuenta: Todos los pasantes deben trabajar en persona en una de las dos oficinas de Colibrí en Tucson, Arizona. Colibrí no puede aceptar pasantes remotos, y todas las pasantías no son remuneradas. Estamos dispuestos a coordinar para que las pasantías puedan contar para obtener créditos académicos.

Para el verano de 2019, Colibrí está buscando pasantes para los siguientes 8-10 puestos:

  1. Pasante del Proyecto de Migrantes Desaparecidos (3-5 personas)

  2. Pasante de Comunicaciones y Redes Sociales (1-2 personas)

  3. Pasante de Desarrollo de Negocios (1 persona)

  4. Pasante de Recaudación de Fondos (1 persona)

  5. Pasante de la Red de Familiares (1 persona)

Lea las breves descripciones de trabajo para cada puesto en el link abajo. Para aplicar, complete este formulario de solicitud antes del 25 de marzo de 2019. No envíe correo electrónico con su solicitud a Colibrí a menos que no pueda utilizar el formulario.

Collier Interdisciplinary and Pleneurethic Scholarships

SoAn students, please take a look at these scholarship opportunities that may overlap with your research interests. Applications are due March 31.

Interdisciplinary scholarships are for students pursuing interdisciplinary studies drawing on both the sciences and non-science disciplines. Pleneurethic scholarships are for students pursuing studies of the relationship between the Mind, Body, and Environment. More information available on their poster below, and here.Capture

For more information, visit http://www.pugetsound.edu/scholarships/currentstudents

Catching up with Charlotte Parker, Fulbright Scholar, SOAN Class of 2018

Figure 1

The founding of the all-female Changhua ETA program

Hi all,

Charlotte Parker, SOAN class of 2018, received a Fulbright ETA scholarship that carried her to Taiwan. The Fulbright award is an extraordinary honor, and we’re so very proud of her. I recently contacted Charlotte and asked her to tell us a little bit about how things have been going so far. In response, I received this extraordinary missive. Read on:

Greetings everyone! For the last 6 months I have been living and working in Taiwan as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant. While the Fulbright organization has a number of different opportunities in Taiwan, including research and scholarship, the particular program I am involved with is the English teaching initiative. The program’s motto is “A world with a little more knowledge, and a little less conflict.” The Fulbright ETA program tries to achieve this by bringing recent college graduates from the United States to live in Taiwan and teach in local elementary and junior high schools. However, we are not called “teachers,” but rather “teaching assistants.” We are trained to be “co-teachers,” so that in the classroom, students receive instruction from both their local English teacher and their Fulbright teaching assistant. The goal behind co-teaching is to provide students with a more well-rounded and intimate educational experience. Additionally, it provides an environment in which the two teachers can learn from each other, not just as teachers, but also – for the Fulbright ETAs – as guests in a new culture. 

Figure 2

A glimpse of the hustle and bustle (or lack thereof) in Yuanin

Within Fulbright’s Taiwan ETA program there are eight possible locations to which teaching assistants are placed. Though the program started out with just one location, with time the number of ETA placements grew, and more locations began to receive ETAs. Upon receiving my Fulbright grant, I had some flexibility in with my placement request, but for the most part placement is random and is carried out by the Fulbright staff. I am currently placed in the program’s newest location: Changhua, an agricultural county on the west side of Taiwan. With a population of 1.289 million people, the county is a combination of rural agricultural towns and small cities with manufacturing and factory jobs. A significant quantity of Taiwan’s crops are grown in Changhua, and it also happens to contain one of the largest sock factories in the world! (Seriously, socks are a big deal in Changhua – there’s even a sock festival every year). 

Figure 3

School placement reveal day!

Changhua is also a rapidly developing region in Taiwan. Unlike the hustle and bustle of Taiwan’s biggest city, Taipei, or the picturesque mountains and beaches found in eastern Taiwan, Changhua is definitely industrial, and the region’s population has been growing quickly to fill expanding job opportunities. Despite the rather pleasant weather in Changhua, I also face the recurring problems with the region’s air pollution. Because winter in Changhua is much drier than other parts of the island, air pollution builds up and often sticks around, as there isn’t much rain to clear things out. Most days I wear a face mask when walking outside, and the air quality is usually not suitable for running or biking.  That’s been one of the most difficult aspects of my transition to Taiwan, because I do enjoy being outside.

I and a few other ETAs live in a small city called Yuanlin. This is the first year that Fulbright has introduced American English teachers to this location. And so, unlike other locations, which have had a few years-worth of ETAs working in the local schools, the 8 ETAs placed in Changhua were the first cohort to establish connections in the local community and in the schools. Being the first Fulbrighters in Changhua brings its own set of unique opportunities, as well as challenges. Though we do have the opportunity to set a good example on behalf of the U.S. State Department, we also have to find a balance with the expectations the local schools might have had for their prospective foreign English teachers. We also must deal with any and all hiccups that come with doing something for the first time. 

Figure 4

Haze as seen from the Ershui train station

Because I am just one of over 100 English Teaching Assistants in Taiwan, my experience isn’t really indicative of the program as a whole. But with that being said, my daily routine goes a bit like this: each morning I take two different trains, and then I walk to get to the school where I teach. That journey alone takes about an hour and a half each way! And unlike other areas of Taiwan, ETAs in Changhua are not allowed to ride scooters to work. This, we’ve been told, is because of the high number of traffic accidents that take place in the area. Because Changhua does not attract a lot of young adults, the majority of the population is made up of the elderly and the young. We’ve been told that the elderly of Changhua often disregard traffic laws, and as a result, it’s unsafe for foreigners to ride scooters in the region. As a result, I find myself dreaming about being able to ride a scooter with my hair blowing in the wind … someday, I hope! 

But to continue with my daily routine: once at school I finish up my lesson plans and discuss with my four co-teachers our plan for the day. My school is called Ershui Junior High School, and is located in a very rural farming town. Of the 200 students at the school, most are the children of local farmers. I was particularly excited about getting to work at this school because instead of speaking Mandarin Chinese, most students prefer to speak in Taiwanese, a dialect not commonly spoken in the larger cities. In the classroom, I am also a bit limited in what I am allowed to teach, as the students are on a strict exam schedule. In Taiwan, students take a series of exams between grades 7 and 9. Their final score on these exams determine which senior high schools will accept them. Not only do the students’ futures depend on those scores, but the teachers and administrators also face punishments or rewards based on student test scores. With so much pressure on the students to perform well, I stick closely to the material in the textbook. 

Figure 5

Face mask fashion

Although much of my teaching involves using this textbook, I think there are a few things the U.S. education system could nonetheless learn from Taiwan. For example, students in Taiwan are required to take care of their school. Instead of janitors, Taiwanese students are the ones taking out trash, cleaning windows, and sweeping the halls. Because the students are involved in the maintenance of the school, they hopefully learn to respect their learning environment. My other favorite element about the Taiwanese education system is napping! All students are required to take naps after lunch, and most teachers at the school take a nap at some point throughout the day as well! It’s a common sight to see a teacher pull out their own personal pillow and put their head down for a twenty minute nap during their break. I’m still getting used to the idea of sleeping in public, at work, but being encouraging sleep seems like a pretty good idea for the U.S. to emulate.

Figure 6

Lots of love from my students on Teacher’s Day

Some of my favorite teaching moments so far have taken place when I’ve been able to engage my students in meaningful conversations about their culture and their heritage. In trying to seek a balance between incorporating my students’ cultural heritage and my own cultural background into my teaching efforts, the curriculum I try to present aims to both introduce new concepts while also affirming and recognizing their experiences. 

Figure 7

Changed Rest Point in Taroko National Park, Hualien

And when I’m not in the classroom, I take advantage of the natural beauty of Taiwan! The east coast of Taiwan has piercing blue waters and some of the best hiking on the island. Southern Taiwan is known for its beaches and warm weather. The best trip I’ve made so far is to Taroko National Park in Hualien!

Figure 8

Yanzikou Train in Taroko National Park, Hualien

If anyone is considering a trip to Taiwan, here are a few tips. First, try to befriend as many locals as possible! The Taiwanese people are incredibly friendly and will show you tremendous hospitality. And as one of the safest places in the world, Taiwan is ideal for solo travelers. Second, take advantage of 7/11. In Taiwan, 7/11 is the place to go for almost anything you’d ever need. Not only can you get actually decent quality foods there (like tea eggs, noodles, and bubble tea), but you can also do things like buy train tickets, refill your phone data, and pick up your mail. Third, if you hear peppy music in the distance, don’t be fooled. It’s not the sound of an ice cream truck! Instead, that sound is actually the trash truck coming to collect garbage. In Taiwan, people

Figure 9

The bliss of trying a basil chicken scallion pancake in Fengjia night market in Taichung

dispose of trash by waiting to hear that music, and then come outside as the truck passes so they can hand it off. I’ve had too many experiences of just barely missing that truck, and then being stuck with trash for another week … no fun. My final tip is to go to Fengjia Night Market (逢甲夜市) in Taichung. There you will find a heavenly basil chicken scallion pancake (蔥油餅), and you will not regret it. Here is a picture of me enjoying this delectable treat with the face of what can only be described as pure bliss.

So that’s just a peek into my life in Taiwan so far! Cheers everyone!

It’s so great to hear from you, Charlotte, and thanks so much for providing such an insightful vantage point on your experience. Good luck with the remaining months of your time there!