my expat story: year 1

// yehliu geopark, taiwan

this July 27th marks the 5th anniversary of our Taiwan expat adventure. [yeah, I can't believe it either.] in honor of this, I am going to be sharing a short series of posts reviewing each of those five years abroad. it's crazy to see how much we have done and how much we have changed over these years.

these posts will be full of my favorite photos, memories, and lots of links if you're inclined to explore.

technically, our journey to Taiwan began in Feburary of 2012 - when husband was hired by our first school in Hsinchu. I began this blog in May, but the date of our arrival in Taiwan was July 27th. you can read my first post from Taiwan to check out some phone photos of our weird little apartment [before I decked the walls out in chevron patterns, chalkboard paint, and washi tape.]

// hualien and hsinchu, taiwan

our first few months in Taiwan were spent half in honeymoon wonder, and half in culture shock. I became obsessed with the dragon-topped temples and delicious little xiao long bao immediately. we made friends with both new and veteran expats. we visited Taroko Gorge and fell in love with Taiwan's natural beauty [nevermind that we accidentally ended up in a love motel.] each day was a challenge - what can I eat, how can I communicate, what if I get lost - but I did my best to be brave.

we bought a scooter. and then we had an accident in which I fell off the scooter and busted up my knee pretty bad. I was embarrassed and afraid to share how hurt I was and how depressed I became after not really being able to walk for 6 weeks. so I've never written the details of it on the blog, though I think it started to show in my writing.

we took a Chinese class, which didn't really teach us much. I was [and still am] able to get around easily with mostly just smiles and nods. I figured out a grocery routine and which stores to buy what things at, and what had to be ordered online. we survived our first holidays abroad - Thanksgiving and Christmas - by starting new traditions and not letting homesickness overwhelm. by the end of the year I started to accept that while I had learned a lot, I still had a ways to go:

"I had a lot of expectations about where 2012 would take me. Taiwan... was definitely not on that list. from the moment we arrived here, it has been a learning experience. eyes opened. fears faced. stereotypes smashed. more than I had imagined, and sometimes less. it hasn't all been pleasant or comfortable, and at times was downright terrifying. but that's life. progress. growth."

// thailand, philippines, hong kong

2013 kicked off with our Chinese New Year break - and some eye opening travel experiences. learning to travel light [or lighter] and carrying a backpack, allowing myself to unwind and let go of planning every. last. second. was a challenge. but I made improvement with every trip. we spent a lovely 10 days falling in love with Thailand's gorgeous beaches and sparkling temples, a week sunning on the stunning island of Boracay, and a long weekend adventuring in Hong Kong.

it was during that spring I joined a blogging challenge, and really started to connect with other people online. I realized that travel and expat blogs were a thing and it gave me a bit more focus to my writing. [anyone remember when I used to post nail art tutorials?] I started writing more and more, from blog posts to keeping a journal. and I started thinking about writing a book.

I struggled for a while with the whole transition from being the primary breadwinner to "intentionally unemployed." I cycled through several schemes, conversational tutoring, and casual substitute teaching but still struggled to figure out what it was I actually wanted to do with my life. [spoiler: I still haven't officially figured that out.] despite all that, I had a lot of fun testing out the possibilities.

// thailand, michigan, chicago

summer brought both trials and triumphs. my grandfather passed away, and I wasn't there because I was in Taiwan. our bedroom ceiling started leaking the same day our hard-fought new mattress was delivered. we survived our first typhoon. my mother-in-law came to visit and we got out to explore a bit more of Taiwan, and then we flew to meet a good friend for a second trip to Thailand. [full of beaches and ruins and kittens and temples, oh my!]

and then, we went back to America. let me tell you - reverse culture shock is a real thing. but being able to see our friends and family again, and gorge ourselves on baby spinach, bacon, and avocado was amazing. Luke flew back to Taiwan after a few weeks, and I actually stayed in the US until October [to meet new babies and attend weddings and such.]

I went through some rough patches, but I did the best I could. I think the biggest lesson I learned in year one was this: some days expat life is full of excitement and adventure, and other days its crying in the grocery store because you can't find tortilla chips and all you want is comfort food nachos.

year 1 milestones

riding a scooter
not having a dishwasher
surviving accidental shellfish
mastering chopsticks
shopping at local markets
killing a cockroach
giving directions to a cab driver
traveling with a backpack
not wearing mascara on vacation
using a squat toilet
a million other things

5 countries traveled

Hong Kong
Thailand [again]

a few favorite posts

our city
Boracay: ten words or less
intentional unemployment
48 hours in Hong Kong
a tale of two mattresses
Taipei, the beautiful
Michigan sunrise
10 things about life in Taiwan


Little Sable Point Light

it's no secret that I have a thing for lighthouses. so a few weeks ago when Husband and I biked the Hart to Montague trail in west Michigan - we had to take a detour to Silver Lake to visit Little Sable Point Light. [especially given that we had already seen the other 3 major lights in the region: White River, Big Sable Point, and Ludington North Breakwater.]

side note: over the course of this summer, I have visited 12 lighthouses in 3 states. no joke.

the draw of lighthouses for me is multifaceted: something historical, situated on the water, and with [usually] stunning views. even though we had already biked 23 miles that morning, I convinced Luke to climb the tower with me. Little Sable Point is 107 feet tall. but... my legs were already going to be sore the next day. so why not?

the views were totally worth the climb. I could wax poetic about third order Fresnel lenses and exposed brick. but mostly... I'm in it for the views.

as my time in Michigan winds down, this day stands out as one of my favorites from the summer. the trees, the sand dunes, and the blues of Lake Michigan - even the burn in my legs from climbing those stairs. I know I'm biased about my home state, but to me, this coastline is one of the most beautiful places on earth.

visiting the light

Little Sable Point Light is inside a Michigan State Park so you will need a recreation passport [$11] to enter. to climb the lighthouse is a $5 charge, which goes to restoration and upkeep.
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