I find, as I begin to put words to my experience in Taiwan, that words often fail. As an English major and a writer, this is not a problem I am particularly familiar with. It isn’t that the words don’t come, they certainly do; I wonder, however, whether words will ever be enough to convey the significance Taiwan holds in my heart. The research we conducted with female entrepreneurs did impact me in all of the traditional ways one hopes to be impacted from an educational research excursion. I know a little Mandarin, I am a far better communicator in various mediums, I feel compelled to do international work for the rest of my life, and I learned a staggering amount about entrepreneurship and Taiwanese culture in just one month. The difficult thing to explain however, the thing that I seem to have trouble putting into words, is the part inside of me that is forever changed.
I came home to Pittsburgh, after a month in Taiwan, and was startled to realize that I was a completely different person. I constantly wanted more for my life—more conversation, more work, more knowledge, more thinking on my feet, more questions sparred from intellectual conversation, more challenge, more complete upheaval of perception. I wanted less structured logic and systems. I wanted to feel like I was back in it, the messy real world, the way I felt in Taiwan. It is bizarre to think that when I was the furthest I’ve ever been from home, things started to feel real, as though life finally started happening.
In that chunk of intensity, we talked to restaurant owners, shop owners, professors, taxi drivers, street vendors, students and so many other groups of people. I realized that all of their stories, while vastly different, were fascinating and important, all of their stories influenced my understanding of the world. We stopped, listened, and learned. We pulled over on the highway one afternoon to eat hot peppers that an elderly couple had made and were selling. While they generously shared the delicious fruits of their labor, free of charge, their grandchildren played around their feet. The husband cut peppers into a marinating bucket as the wife offered us all of their other specialties. We found people like this everywhere in Taiwan: small time entrepreneurs who were using their skill set to make people happy, to co-exist in a symbiotic way.
Each entrepreneur that we spent time with treated us in a similar manner, as though there were mutual gains to be had from every interaction. I feel particularly nostalgic for a moment I shared with Mindy Tseng, owner of Tunghai Land House. We spent our ten days in Taichung in her youth hostel; thus, we grew to know Mindy and her manager, Rebecca, better than many of our other interviewees. At the end of our time together, I gave Mindy Chatham’s literary magazine, The Minor Bird, which my work was published in; she cherished it like it was the work of a famous author. The entrepreneurs in Taiwan not only taught us, they saw us, and in turn, taught us how to truly see people, how to listen, and how to give and take from every experience. I will carry this to every job, plan, class, and relationship I have for the rest of my life
And as for the rest of my life? I now have the internship of my dreams with Global Solutions Pittsburgh, working on educational programs for teenage girls to engage leadership and advocacy skills. I gained this internship, designed for political science graduate students, because of the skills and experiences I gained from Taiwan—communication, global understanding, and a sense of what makes a strong female leader. Additionally, I was recommended for a program called CORO Leadership after telling a CORO alumnus about the research I collaborated on and conducted in Taiwan. The things that take precedence however, are the lessons the female entrepreneurs taught me in our conversations: family is the most important thing, every person’s success is based on the effort of many others, and being a woman gives you a special set of skills that no one can take away.