This blog is an archive for my research, interviews with designers and museum staff, and travel experiences as I explore multilingual design practices in Taiwan.
Fulbright research abroad in Taipei, Taiwan began in March 2021.   




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“scenes of normal life in Taiwan remind me of what I lost”

Language: English
Date: April 11, 2021
Listening to: “Shangri-la” by EOD
The normal progression of culture shock has some unexpected twists thanks to the effects of traveling post COVID. The original structures of old comfort and new strangeness that drive the culture shock bell chart have been flipped upside down by the fact that life at home isn’t even normal. Since this is my fourth time visiting East Asia, I thought I was ready for the homesickness. Instead, it has been the worst its ever been…which is strange because if you’ve been living the same socially distanced American life that I have been the past year, you know it’s not enviable at all. So why is my homesickness so overpowering?

Homesickness is a funny thing. In my experience, it never manifests itself the same way twice. One day it can be an intense urge to call your annoying little brother when it’s 4am in his time zone, the next day it is smelling something that reminds you of your elementary school, and then ten minutes later it could be a wild hunger for waffles. You can tell I’m homesick when I start telling remarkably banal stories about my dad while everyone else politely smiles. Interestingly, I’ve noticed that a lot of my learned Chinese vocabulary relates to funny stories that I want to tell about my childhood or school life because that’s what is constantly on my mind in a new place.

My theory is that my homesickness is particularly strong not because I desperately want to return to current American life, but because scenes of normal life in Taiwan remind me of what I lost in the past year. In particular I suspect I haven’t fully dealt with the loss of my senior year of college and a graduation ceremony. At the time I was too Zoom fatigued to really be upset about losing the ceremony and, thinking back to May, I’m sure we can all remember that it was in vogue to try your best to look on the bright side. But now, being on a beautiful college campus with plenty of students but no friends to eat lunch with has made me desperately sad for college parties, late nights at the library, and being unable to walk 50 feet on VCU campus without running into a friend.

I’m writing this not to make others worried for me, but to express something in writing that is hard to say over the phone or in an Instagram post. Traveling abroad isn’t an escape from your problems, no matter what the carefully curated pictures of sunsets from an airplane window might suggest. Emotions demand to be felt. The coping habits that we all built during our emergency response are still habits and they will not magically disappear when it is safe to shake hands with a stranger again.

I sometimes refrain from sharing my true feelings with people from home, because honestly it seems cheap and not relatable to sit in a busy Taiwanese cafe with a coffee that the American taxpayer paid for and complain about my life abroad. But recently I have seen a growth of excitement from friends and family about traveling this summer and I want to honestly share my experience as part of the vanguard group of dealing with post-COVID stress.

Some symptoms of Post COVID Travel:
-initially overwhelmed in crowds
-paranoia that you shouldn’t be there, or are not welcome in these spaces
-confusion using public transport or reading directions
-spacing out or lethargy in public
-physical sickness (mostly due to lowered immunity after a year in isolation)
-hesitancy to leave hotel or apartment, especially immediately following two weeks of isolation
-a craving to always be around crowds
-easily exhausted by tasks or talking to strangers

To everyone preparing to leave their COVID bunkers this summer, I would like to gently remind you: traveling and escaping are not necessarily the same thing. Please do not be disappointed in yourself, as I was, to find that the new normal is not instantaneous as soon as you step off the airplane. Travel safe, and reach out to friends and family while processing feelings of loss in the middle of fun experiences. Oh, and send me lots of pictures!!



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