Title: Reflections on a Journey
Throughout my time here in Taiwan, I have learned many things about myself and about Chinese culture. I have learned to speak better Chinese. I have learned to drive a scooter and to plan English lessons for elementary school students. I have learned patience and humility. I have grown and developed in so many ways, and can honestly say I am a better person than when I arrived.
During my time here, I have also thought a lot about the future. The people who inspired me in the past and my experiences throughout my life have led me on a journey to discovering my true passion in life—advocacy and public policy. The area I am most connected to is the empowerment of women. My future plans are all geared toward a career in public policy and advocacy, with a concentration on Asia. I would like to share how this experience and others have led me to pursue this path, and to honor the women who have inspired me throughout my life to tap into my inner strength and achieve my dreams. Lastly, I’d like to share my “top ten” list of things learned while abroad, to help inspire my young readers to go out and seek international experiences.
My journey with Fulbright has been one of the most profound experiences of my life. I have pushed myself in ways I never would have thought possible, to achieve things I could never have imagined. Growing up in a tiny farming community in rural Louisiana, it was difficult then to imagine that I would one day be living and working half a world away. I had help and inspiration along the way.
Growing up, the person who inspired me the most was my older sister, and she inspires me to this very day. 14 years ago she was diagnosed with MS, a disease that has made her life very difficult. However, her affliction has only made her a more compassionate, iron-willed person. She sees the value and dignity in every human being she comes across, and she has touched so many people’s lives. She is a spiritual titan, and she is the template for how I want to relate to the world and the people in my life.
She has shown me, by her example, how to possess the inner strength necessary to get through life’s trials with grace and openness. To this day, when I am faced with a problem or difficult situation, I ask myself, “What would Chanelle do?” Seeing the way she has dealt with life’s difficulties made me realize that I, too, was strong enough to do whatever I needed to do to achieve my dreams and overcome obstacles. Her strength helped me to achieve my dreams, and ultimately led me here to Taiwan.
As I become more experienced and more educated in international relations and public policy—the fields I want to study in graduate school—my eyes have been opened to the special obstacles and struggles that many women face all over the world. I realized how lucky I am to be born in a country like the United States, where a woman has access to education and to opportunities like studying abroad.
Some women in the world are not so lucky—they face struggles simply because they are women. Many women face additional barriers as women of color. When I studied abroad in Chengdu, China my junior year of college I became friends with a young woman named Meimei. Meimei who grew up in an orphanage in rural Sichuan, and did not have many opportunities for education growing up. Meimei’s life had always been difficult, and she had to work very hard just to take care of herself. Despite her circumstances, however, Meimei was a strong, generous, and fiercely loyal friend. She had built up a support system around her of people who cared about her very deeply, and together they helped each other get through the many difficulties they faced.
Examples of strong women like Meimei and my sister have made me realize that despite the obstacles in our way, women have special things to offer the world and deserve the power to make choices for themselves. This is why I want to work in international relations and public policy. In the future, I want to work as an advocate for women who may not have the resources available to determine the outcomes of their own lives. I have come to learn that advocacy and education are powerful tools that can help women use the power within themselves to take control of their lives and give them the freedom to make the choices they want.
After my Fulbright ends, I will stay in Taiwan for another year on a fellowship I received from the US. After, I will either enter graduate school to receive my phD in international relations and public policy or get my masters in foreign service, whichever will be best for me in the position I want to work. Ultimately, I want to work in a think tank that influences policy on women’s issues, especially in the Asia region. I want to be an advocate for change, to make women’s lives better. I believe influencing policy can help create a world with a little more knowledge and a little less conflict, which makes it a better place to live for everyone. I hope in my own way I can contribute to better conditions for women in the world, and act as an example of strength like the women in my life have always been for me. I feel that by empowering women, I do honor to the women who have inspired me to pursue a purpose-driven and meaningful life.
I hope to inspire my young readers by showing them that there is a whole other world outside of the US where people live, work, and love according to a different set of rules than what we are accustomed to. I hope to illustrate through my articles that this culture is no less valid than our own, and that the world’s differences in cultures are what makes human life such an amazing and complicated thing. I also hope that my articles can help get kids interested in travel, and can make them aware of the scholarships and opportunities available to people who might not otherwise be able to afford travel. The idea of available resources is just as critical as getting people interested, in my opinion!
In closing, I’d like to include a “top ten” list of things I have learned while abroad here in Taiwan. Some of them are funny, some of them are serious, but the most important thing is all of them are true!
So, here is my “top ten list of things learned while abroad:”
- Your experience abroad is what you make it.
- If you are scared or uncomfortable to try something because it isn’t what you are used to, that usually means doing it will make you grow in ways you never thought possible.
- Every person in the world wants to be loved.
- Rules about how boys and girls should act have everything to do with culture, and little to do with biology.
- Stinky tofu is actually very tasty.
- The US takes traffic rules a lot more seriously than a lot of other countries.
- Humility can go a very long way when engaging with someone outside of your culture.
- Viewing cultural differences with an open mind is the best way to discover how we are the same.
- Everyone wants justice, but not everyone has the resources to demand it for themselves.
- And most importantly: “The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experiences.”
― Eleanor Roosevelt
I want to thank everyone who followed my journey. It has been an amazing experience, and has led me to grow in ways I never thought possible. If you have the opportunity to study abroad, seize the chance. Seek out education; learn, grow, evolve, and become a better, more understanding person in the process. This is something I not only believe, I have lived it, and you can too!