Unexpected Journey

Unexpected Journey

If you’d asked me a year ago or five years ago if I’d like to travel to Taiwan, I’d have told you it’s not something I’d thought about. In the past decade, my travel fantasies have increasingly turned toward Asia, but until this autumn, the tiny island of Taiwan was nothing more than that – an island I could identify, thanks to many years of geography bees, and something I mention once each year in my classroom.

Despite all this, I ended 2019 and began 2020 with a journey to Taiwan – an unexpected journey that began several years ago.

The First Leg: Understanding East Asian History

Asian history never interested me until I became a teacher. Suddenly I found my 20th century Cold War history very incomplete, centered as I was on Europe, the U.S., and even African history. As I began teaching 20th Century World History (and now, The World Since 1900), I quickly realized I needed to learn a lot more about East Asia.

I don’t know how I discovered the National Consortium for Teaching About Asia (NCTA), but somehow I found it, and about four years ago, I began taking their free online courses. First there was a course on Mao, then one on Japan after World War II. These courses, and others, led to a chance to write for a special issue of Education about Asia , and since one thing leads to something more, I’ve continued to enroll in NCTA courses periodically, including this past fall (and one that starts next week).

The Second Leg: A Surprise Study Tour Opportunity

I’ve been dreaming of NCTA and other study tours for awhile, to be honest, but hadn’t yet had the opportunity for one. This one came to me out of the blue, with an email in October: for the second year in a row, the Republic of China (Taiwan government) wanted to sponsor American teachers for a study tour of Taiwan. Was I interested in this opportunity?

Was I interested? Was I ever! The next week was a flurry of paperwork, with the proviso that things might not work out. I braced myself against hope at the idea of getting to travel to Asia for the first time, and bemoaned how little I knew about Taiwan. (It was a little embarrassing to write that my teaching about Taiwan literally begins and ends with “And then the Nationalists fled to Taiwan when Mao declared the People’s Republic of China”.)

Despite – or perhaps because of – my glaring ignorance of Taiwanese history, everything came together. By mid-November I had plane tickets that would take me out of my home city on Christmas night, with a return on January 2. My first trip to Asia and my first trans-Pacific flight were really going to happen.

The Trip: Adventures, Discoveries, and Kindred Spirits

The goal of a study tour is only partially to sight-see. In this trip to Taiwan, we traveled up and down the island nation, visiting as many places as we could, but it’s also about experiencing the place and the people and expanding your knowledge in the process. At least, that’s how I experienced this study tour. Everything we did helped me understand Taiwan and its history and people a bit more, and left me eager to go further.

For six days, we traveled up and down Taiwan, beginning in Taipei, spending new year’s eve in Kaohsiung, and returning to Taipei before we went home. In the weeks ahead, I hope to put together a story map that more accurately captures all these great experiences, but for now I’ll share some highlights.

Day 1: Arrival in Taipei, call at Ministry of Foreign Affairs to learn about US-Taiwan relationship, and visit Affiliated High School to speak with students. Dinner: Din Tai Fung dumplings

Day 2 to Day 3: high speed train to Taichung, bus to Sun Moon Lake. We spent the day touring the lake and visiting the Formosa Aboriginal Cultural Village (not pictured). On the morning of Day 3, I walked with several others to the Wen Wu temple (in the dark before dawn, in the rain) and we all went to Hugosum Tea Garden.

Day 3-5: Our time at Sun Moon Lake seemed far too short, but new adventures awaited in Tainan: we spent two nights there exploring the city and its history, which has ties to the Dutch, the Japanese, and the Chinese.

From there, we traveled to Kaohsiung, where we finished 2019 with a visit to the (former) British Consulate, the National Kaohsiung Performing Arts Center (where I got to play the piano), a visit to a night market, and watching fireworks from the hotel window with new friends.

The only bad thing about this trip was that it ended too soon. Just as we adjusted to the jet lag (14-hour time change for me!), and really began feeling like we were getting to know this beautiful country, it was time to fly home.

From start to finish, it was an amazing experience. I’m only starting to mentally unpack all I saw and learned and felt, partly the consequence of coming back and jumping back into my life here.

After trips like this, things are never really quite the same again – they’ve changed because you change, usually for the better, or so I like to think. Moving into 2020, I’m excited to learn more about how this unexpected journey changed me and how I see the world.

Smart Women Write about 2020

Dear Readers,

Welcome to a new decade! To celebrate this transition, we are looking back on 2019 and sharing our hopes and goals for 2020. We’ve enjoyed writing for you this year, and look forward to continue thinking together about career transitions, the pursuit of health, teaching, parenting … and how writing overlaps with all of these.

Warmly,

SWW

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2019 Reflection

Angela: I learned how to switch my focus from global to local through my work with the Fort Negley Descendants Project. This saved me from burnout and helped me to use my skills as a historian and digital humanist make a positive difference in my community. I also facilitated a huge number of deserving projects through the Mellon Collaboration Grants at work, published an article, and developed process-based goals for regular writing and exercise. 

Lynn: 2019 was filled with some unexpected challenges and because of that I became good at finding silver linings this year. I traveled, I turned 40, I read amazing books, and I spent quality time with friends and family.  There was a lot to complain about, but even more to be thankful for. All in all, it was a good year.

Raquelle: I felt energized by the relationships I created with students. I also published two academic articles on topics from or inspired by my dissertation, and it felt satisfying to get that work out there. I’ve also had some healthy emotional shifts in the way I hold the job search, and am feeling excited to see how the next chapter of my career-life unfolds. This summer I got to travel a lot — and I also celebrated turning 30 with a trip to Mexico City, which sparked my desire to keep pursuing language learning!  

Tanya: While I’ve been seeing a lot of commentary online about 2019 not being a great year, I don’t think mine was half-bad. I turned 40, got to make the trip to NYC that I wanted to have to celebrate, and won an award for my book manuscript. I also finished out the year with a trip to Taiwan as part of a teacher delegation (more on that soon).

Our Hopes for 2020

Angela: I hope that I can figure out the right balance between my work and my life while keeping up with the research that interests me

Lynn: 2020 is shaping up to be another challenging year, health-wise, but it also offers hope for new opportunities and experiences.  My hope is to heal, to run a road race, and to travel.

Raquelle: To find a way to contribute to my local and global community that allows me to think deeply and to use my strengths and skills as a humanist, mentor, reader, and writer. 

Tanya: I hope 2020 will be the year I finally get a book contract and get my book revisions to the publisher. I don’t expect the book to come out in 2020, but these steps will feel like major milestones after so long. I also hope to continue in my wellness habits that I began working on this year. Beyond that, I’d say world peace, but I’ll settle for seeing some good progress on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

 

Personal Goals for 2020

Angela: Maintain regular exercise and writing while undergoing a job transition

Lynn: Make art and continue seeing silver linings

Raquelle: Continue pursuing a healthy life/work balance that allows me to exercise, meditate, and work in a way that doesn’t feel like each of those activities are so separate

Tanya: Breathe more. Balance better.

 

Professional Goals for 2020

Angela: The grant I’m working on comes to an end this summer, so my goal is to figure out my career while keeping a toe in the exciting research part of academia. I want to work in academic administration and will be working hard to do my research and figure out the best fit. 

Lynn: My professional goals for this year are: 1.) to return the writing projects I put on the back-burner in 2019 and to pursue the new ideas that have come to light and 2.) to upgrade my online courses by incorporating new technology to improve student experience.

Raquelle: To enjoy and be present for this last semester of my postdoc before transitioning into a new phase of my career. In the next few months, I’ll: (1) wrap up the final semester of the French language requirement at Fisk–in a way that’s both fun and rewarding; (2) finish a digital exhibit that I’ll co-present with my team at an annual campus research symposium in April; (3 & 4) present personal research at two national conferences. So, I want to focus on these 4 major goals while leaving time to figure out the role that I’ll step into next. 

Tanya: Keep writing, and don’t let my teaching and teaching preparations consume me. 

 

Writing We’d Love to Read in 2020

Lynn

Raquelle 

 

Process-based Goals Create Progress

“But what are you going to do with that?”

Every time I write something, a well-meaning friend asks me that.

It makes sense: audience is key. To help critique someone’s work, it’s best to know who the intended audience is. But implicit in this question of “what are you going to do with that?” are issues of final product. It implies that if you’re going to bother going through the hard work of writing something, then you had better do something with it. I don’t disagree with that notion (though I will say, sometimes writing for its own sake is a worthwhile process), but I do think it can lead to some unhealthy thinking when it comes to writing. Namely, it promotes thinking of your writing in terms of products, and that leads to product-based goals.

We’ve all made those before: I want to write two dissertation chapters this semester. I will have finished my novel by September. I will write an article each month this year.

I used to set goals like that for myself at the end of each year. I’m pretty driven, so I achieved most of them, but when I didn’t, I felt like I let myself down.

So last year, I didn’t make any product-based goals at all. Instead, I switched to process-based goals. Instead of having a goal of x number of pages written, I asked myself if I could make a commitment to show up to the page for an hour 5 days per week. Rather than running that 7 minute mile, I wanted to see if I could commit to physically changing into exercise clothing and moving in some way four times per week. They were very low-stakes goals, great for not provoking anxiety.

Continue reading “Process-based Goals Create Progress”

Year End Reflections: What I’ve Learned

by Lynn Clement


In a prior post I wrote about my dedication to reading this year and I am happy to announce that I did reach my goal of completing 40 books.  I ended on a high note by reading Tara Westover’s memoir entitled Educated.  I greatly enjoyed this elegantly written reflection on the author’s unique upbringing and the tough choices she was forced to make as her academic quest conflicted with her family’s beliefs. I read a lot of memoirs this year, which is ironic since I spent most of the year refusing to think too deeply about my own life. (There were many quotes from Westover’s book that resonated with me and I’ve interspersed some here where I felt they summarize my feelings better than I ever could.)

I think this is one of the reasons I asked for a hiatus from my contributions to this blog when I was diagnosed with cancer is March.  Much of the year was spent actively avoiding reflection for mental self-preservation. “…I closed my journal and put it away. Journaling is contemplative, and I didn’t want to contemplate anything.”  However, my ultimate return to writing was for the same reason.

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Despite my apprehension about contemplation in 2019, I learned more this year than I’d like to admit.  I learned how to live my life when I was told I might lose it.

When I first met my oncologist, on a sunny day, in April, I was ridiculously optimistic, almost flippant, about what I was about to undergo.  The disease had just been found but I’d had no symptoms.  I assumed, falsely, that they’d caught it early and that I’d be training for another marathon in no-time.  When, instead, I heard the words “stage IV” and “aggressive treatment” and that if I chose to forego treatment I’d likely be gone in “3 to 6 months” the floor went out from under me.  I don’t know if he was looking at the wrong file (sometimes I still wonder) or if he was exaggerating to make sure I was listening (terrible yet effective), but either way I knew things were going to change.

“The decisions I made after that moment were not the ones she would have made. They were the choices of a changed person, a new self.

You could call this selfhood many things. Transformation. Metamorphosis. Falsity. Betrayal.

I call it an education.”

The first transformation, perhaps obviously, was my relationship with time.  My daily life changed very little this year: I still get my kid ready for school, I still go to work, I still watch tv and play games on my phone, I still talk to my husband about the major (and minor) plot points of our favorite TV shows.  However, I am much more protective of how I spend my time.

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Photo by Enikő Tóth on Pexels.com

Being an adjunct means always hustling. Finding new places to teach and expanding one’s contact list is essential for cobbling together enough classes to make ends meet, and this continues to be my reality despite cancer.  Recently I was stood up for an interview by a department head, twice. Prior to this years’ experience I would have agreed to a third, fourth, maybe even fifth chance at an interview. I’m an adjunct and having my time devalued is part of the game, but not this year. I knew it meant giving up a chance at more income, but more importantly, my new consciousness of time has manifest in a deeper respect for myself and a demand that my time be respected. “It has never occurred to you, he said, that you might have as much right to be here as anyone.”  It does now. I’m happy to say that I’ve also become more respectful of other people’s time and priorities.  This has not just be a reflection inward, but also outward.

In Raquelle’s most recent post she recounts a beautiful experience at a silent retreat.  That time of self-examination allowed her to reflect on how she is not entirely defined by her work and how she is able to find fulfillment in other areas of her life.  My own experiences this year have led me to a similar conclusion.  The problem with this new approach to time is the horrible pressured to live life to the fullest, while simultaneously acting like you’re totally fine. I don’t enjoy roller coasters so jumping out a plane was always out of the question, but prioritizing fulfillment was necessary. I realized that those mundane daily activities were what I wanted and needed: both the normalcy and the contentment of teaching students, but also reading and spending time with myself, my family, and my friends.  These are things I would never regret devoting precious time to.

My relationship with my body and exercise has also changed. Like the wisdom written in Angela’s post it’s now less about numbers and crazy goals and more about getting it done to stay happy with body and mind. I continue to be amazed that despite poisoning it for 4 months and then bombarding it with beams for 2 that I remain strong and well. I get on the elliptical almost every day.  I don’t go as fast or as far as I used to, but I can feel my muscles strengthen, my heart pump, my lungs expand, and that is enough. To do it at all is a success.

My relationship with people has perhaps been the largest transformation. “All my life those instincts had been instructing me in this single doctrine—that the odds are better if you rely only on yourself.” Independent, self-sufficient, and private were words I lived by, but triumphing treatment truly took a village. Tanya, in her timely Thanksgivng post, wrote about gratitude and I, too, reflect upon this greatly this year. Recently a doctor asked how I was able to maintain such a good attitude through all this and the answer came easily; I am surrounded by the most amazing people.  Family and friends took care of me: they dropped off dinners, sent care packages, and sent me words and music of encouragement. Nurses watched over me and doctors healed me. My students brought me ginger candies to help with the nausea and my co-workers supported me in countless ways. To say that I am grateful is an understatement and there aren’t enough days in this year or the next 20 for me to show how thankful I am, but I still try and am much more open with my words and my gratitude.

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For 2020 I have a lot of hopes: to be cancer free, to be done with this journey, and to finally be able to write about something other than my illness! I also want to take what I’ve learned from this experience and build upon it rather than avoid it like I tried to do this year.  Despite the scare, I know I’ll be well. I still don’t have any symptoms aside from those caused by treatment, I still feel strong, and the same oncologist that had once warned of my demise now expects full remission.   On Dec. 20th I will undergo the last phase of my journey: surgery.  Recovery will be difficult, but I plan on beating the odds.

“To admit uncertainty is to admit to weakness, to powerlessness, and to believe in yourself despite both.  It is a frailty, but in this frailty there is strength: the conviction to live in your own mind, and not in someone else’s.”

Onward and Upward.

End-of-Semester Retreat & Reflection

I recently went on a four-day silent retreat at an abbey in Kentucky. Retreatants are given a simply furnished room to sleep in, and every day monks prepare three humble, plentiful meals for the guests. What excited me most about this abbey retreat is that guests have access to hundreds of acres where they can roam the beautiful hiking trails (right after I left, the grounds were officially designated a “Registered Natural Area”). Because of the abbey’s philosophy of hospitality, stays are completely donation-based. 

Earlier in the semester, I had imagined that late November/early December might be a paradoxical period of relief and anxiety, so I decided to schedule some self-care in advance. By the time the retreat dates arrived, the semester had just ended and I had also just submitted all of my academic job applications for Fall 2019. This is how I wound up celebrating the end of the semester by taking a break all by myself in the middle of nowhere to reflect and recalibrate. Continue reading “End-of-Semester Retreat & Reflection”

Gratitude and Giving Back

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Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.

-A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

My son is in first grade this year, and just last week I realized how much he’s into Santa Claus right now. This is not unexpected: I have always been a Christmas aficionado and used to love reminding people of such classics as Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. Even so, in recent years I’ve struggled to embrace the holiday spirit fully: I still don’t have good traditions with my son such as baking holiday cookies, or Christmas movies we have to watch (correction: he will watch various versions of The Grinch on repeat for the next 4 months, but I’m afraid that doesn’t really count). There are moments each holiday season when the thought of getting the tree out, putting it up, and then having to put it away again just feels exhausting. (And that doesn’t include the gift giving part of the season, which is a whole ‘nother element.)

But the holidays have always been important to me, and I want him to love them as much as I do. The tricky part is helping him to understand that we can love the holidays not just because ooh, PRESENTS! but also because it’s a time of year to give to others.

I feel very fortunate to have a child who is kind and caring. Still, that doesn’t mean the thought of giving – or giving back in some way – comes naturally. As he gets older, I find myself thinking more and more about how we can foster that idea. How do you help your child learn to give and give back?

Continue reading “Gratitude and Giving Back”

The Best Workout is a Done Workout

The best dissertation is a done dissertation. When you turn it into a book, “Good enough” is good enough. Your work is never finished, it is merely abandoned. Every writer has heard this, and has experienced it. Once you’ve experienced it, you know that it’s true. Fitness works in exactly the same way. Tanya’s last post here was about her fitness goals and inspired me to share with you a bit about how and why I move my body, and why the best workout is a done workout.

Continue reading “The Best Workout is a Done Workout”