A Small Town Girl in a Taiwanese World: How Taiwan Changed Me

Small Town Girl

~~ I wrote this post in June of this year and only now feel comfortable enough to post it.  It is a little personal but I feel that it gives insight into why I am a little ‘private’ on my blog!  However, there are going to be some big changes happening here at Foreign Sanctuary in the near future and I can’t wait to get it all started!!  ~~

Growing Up In a Small Town

Growing up in a small town is quite different from living and functioning in Taiwan. Of course, a small town has a sense of community and togetherness – people are willing to lend a helping hand to a neighbor in need. There is a sense of freedom – you don’t need to worry about crime or criminal activity because people in a small town are a close-knit community. Also, you can breathe the fresh clean air and be surrounded by the untouched natural beauty. And it is easy to connect with people because most people know each other or at least, heard of each other.

However, living in a small town also presents its own set of unspoken social rules which members of the community indirectly learn from an early age. People are quick to comment, quick to judge, and quick to gossip. You constantly have to have your guard up and only supply the amount of information deemed necessary and appropriate (by the unspoken social rules). Provide too much information and people will label you a ‘bragger’ and know-it-all. Provide too little information and people will think that you are hiding something and will automatically add their own details.

So, needless to say, living in a small town has its perks but also has its ‘privacy issues’ as well.

How Taiwan Changed Me

When I arrived in Taiwan over 15 years ago, I was that guarded individual described in the previous paragraphs. I found it hard talking about myself and letting people know the real me on the inside. I am not saying that I resorted to lying or anything, but I found it hard discussing certain aspects of my life, especially the moments of ‘achievement and success.’

However, I quickly came to realize that people wanted to know me, not judge me. Taiwanese wanted a better understanding of me and where I came from. Foreigners and other fellow expats wanted to connect with me because we shared a common language and we were on a similar journey.

And after living here for more than 15 years, I can now easily talk about myself, discuss my adventures, and express my thoughts with other people without hesitation. I learned to let my guard down and let people know ‘me,’ not a version of me.  I am more content with the person I have become – a more vocal person willing to share all her thoughts and ideas with the rest of the world and to even write a book about her adventures in Taiwan.

And it is my hope that one day I will become fully comfortable with sharing every aspect of my life on this blog, including personal photos. But I guess there is still a little piece of that small town girl in me reeling me in and holding me back.

~~ NOTE: I am not saying anything about small town living and I am not generalizing that every small town is the way I described it. This is purely my experience of growing up in a small town. I understand things change and time changes things, so I hope no one is offended by this post. That is not my intention. My intention is to reflect on how much I have changed and grown while embracing expat life in Taiwan.

Did you grow up in a small town or a big city?  What are your experiences growing up?  I would love to hear from you so be sure to share your experiences in the comment box below!

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57 thoughts on “A Small Town Girl in a Taiwanese World: How Taiwan Changed Me

  1. Hi constance
    This is a very strange experience to share and thank you for granting me this opportunity,
    I was born and raised in Taipei, 20 years old because of work reasons, I left the city to the nearby countryside.
    I often think of child scenarios, such as the lively traditional market and familiar neighborhood and school.
    But I lived in the country for 20 years, every time I go back to Taipei, traditional markets into a supermarket, neighbors know each other and indifference.
    I want to get back memories of the past, of course, does not exist, but now I can be found in rural surroundings childhood memories.
    Sometimes relocation is not memory disappear, but the emotional transfer, do you think?
    Sorry! Words fail to convey the idea.
    sophia

    1. Thanks so much for commenting, Sophia, and I know exactly what you mean. Time changes everything and nothing ever remains the same for a long time. Taipei has changed a lot, even since I arrived 15 years ago. I am glad that you are enjoying life in the countryside and I can see from the contents of your blog that you love nature as much as I do. I hope you had a great weekend and your week is off to a great start!

  2. I love this post, Constance. It sounds like you have learnt a lot not only about yourself but about the others around you for the last 15 years in in Taiwan. You got to experience the best of big and small worlds. When we’re in a new place, we are generally on our own to settle down and find our way around in a sea of unfamiliar faces…which is probably one reason why we don’t like opening up to others when we’re moving around.

    This post inspired me to think a bit more of myself, thank you for that 🙂 I grew up in a small eastern suburb in Melbourne and then later in big cities in Malaysia and Singapore. I’ve always been a private person from a very young age and I think it boils down to a personality thing for me. I’ve always chosen to share who I am, what I love doing and my time with very selective people in person who rarely judge. It’s not that I’m not afraid of people judging me, no. I don’t care what people say about me as an Asian Australian who fits stereotypes and the opposite of that…I feel some things the world don’t need to know. Which is why I don’t blog about certain things on my blog: my love life, where I’ve worked, who I hang out with and so on. It adds a bit of mystery to who I really am too 😀 However, what I do share about myself (e.g. racism, the Asian parents) that is all true.

    I am very much looking forward to your book, I can’t wait. You know it.

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Mabel. From you comment, you actually made me realize that maybe teaching has also had a big influence on me and has also made me a more open person. I am constantly sharing stories, asking questions, and leading class conversations and discussions. It is basically my job to encourage people to be more open and express themselves. And maybe that is the reason why I could discuss my experiences in the bar that night – one of the reasons why I started to write my book.

      I think we are all private people in one way or another. There are things I will never share on my blog as well. However, I admire you for the topics you raise on your blog. They are very important issues that should be addressed. You breakdown topics and analyze them and try to get to the bottom of the issue. I am actually publishing a post on Friday (half written by me and half written by my husband) which is going to make me step out of my comfort zone but I feel that it is a story which shows how people’s thoughts and ideas change with time, how we are more accepting these days.

      Hope your week is off to a great start!!

      1. It is interesting to hear you are constantly engaging others and giving them the confidence to speak up. It’s like you have to set an example to the people whom you engage with 😀 The more we talk to others, the more we gain their trust and the more compelled we feel to share our stories so as to teach and educate.

        Thank you for the nice words, Constance. Looking forward to your next post! I am sure I will be able to take something meaningful away from it, as usual 😉

  3. I was raised in a small country town and my family is a lot like what you described. Safety is a plus, but you have to worry about gossip, and everyone knowing things about you that you might not want them to. I am a little more open and I love sharing things, but until I went to high school I was really reserved. I think doing theater really helped me break out of my shell and learn how to tell stories. Thank you for opening up and sharing your thoughts!

  4. I think any experience outside outside your known surroundings will change a person. I also grew up in a relatively small town and ever since I moved to different cities and countries a lot changed for me and with myself. I am sure that I am a very different person than 12 years ago when everything started for me 🙂

    1. Thanks for sharing your ideas! Yes, I agree that traveling and being exposed to different cultures will change a person. It makes you realize what it is important in life as well. Also, it will make you step out of your comfort zone and try things that you probably wouldn’t have the nerve to do in the comfort of familiar surroundings.

  5. I grew up in a small city, but not small enough as in knowing everybody. I didn’t have to worry much about gossip, but I was shy in real life. On the internet, I have been telling people about my life since I was 13, haha. So I am comfortable posting pictures, talking about myself, etc.

    After learning Chinese and moving to China I realized that when I speak in Chinese I am not shy at all! I read an article somewhere about how people who speak more than one language have different personalities for every language they speak. I thought it was very interesting and, in my case, completely true!

    Enjoy your weekend, Constance!

    1. You raise some interesting facts about speaking another language. I know some of my students who are better at expressing their true feelings and emotions in English than in Chinese. It is so great to hear that are very comfortable at expressing yourself in Chinese. Also, I hear you about blogging and I feel that I am getting better at expressing myself on the web. 🙂 Hope your week is off to a great start!

  6. Don’t worry, I think I understand what you mean.

    My town wasn’t so small, but the collection of people that I found myself was. Everyone knew each other and as soon as one thing happened the gossip would find its way around the community before the end of the day. That just seems to be the small town mentality. Part of me loves that closeness and openness, the other wants my privacy.

    Clearly I’m never happy 🙂

    1. I know what you mean. I have to say that growing up in a small town made me a friendly person which proved to be great when I moved to Taiwan but not that open and giving of personal information. However, I now feel that I have the best of both worlds. The place I live is not too big and not too small and I am more open than I ever was.

      I think in some situations, balance is key!

  7. I don’t think anyone will be offended by this post – but then people are odd so you never know 😉
    I’m always me wherever I go – it’s got me into trouble on more than one occasion 🙂 Great post Constance!

  8. I grew up in a small village community in England, and went to college in the big city of Birmingham. It was quite a culture shock, especially arriving at the train station on my own, and being in such a crowd of people. I really had a job finding my way and learning how the bus service worked. I got off at the wrong stop on many occasions. 🙂 I think once one settles down and finds a few friends, everything becomes clearer and we adjust to our new life and surroundings. Also, moving to a city, one has to become street-wise, and learn that sadly not everyone can be trusted. I think I was quite naive at first, but I soon learned the ropes. 🙂

    1. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences about moving to the city from a small town. I agree that the city will make you street wise and it is a very big adjustment. I also had to get use to functioning in Taipei where Chinese is the primary language but I did it and it seem like every little thing was a major accomplishment.

  9. I totally understand what you mean, I grew up right outside of Oslo, Norway, but it’s a small community here. I would always meet someone I knew in the supermarket, or even if I was just outside for a walk. And we would always greet each other. When I was 13/14 I moved to Beijing, which was a huge change for me. Big city, busy city, strange city, “strange” people. I didn’t like it in the beginning, but once I started to “understand” they way of living there, it was amazing being there 🙂 I think if I never moved to Beijing in 2008, I would still be that “not so outspoken girl, from a small community.” But now, I call Beijing home.

    1. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. It is great that Beijing was such a positive experience for you. It is amazing how we step out of our comfort zone when we travel and how we learn to become more open when expressing ourselves when we live abroad.

  10. I’ve grown up a little bit of everywhereーand that experience made me more open in some ways, and more guarded in others. Moving around all the time means having to “explain” every time, which I sometimes still find quite uncomfortable. That may be because of an ingrained Swedish trait (you shouldn’t present yourself as too different/better than anyone else), but it’s still firmly there in many respects.

    I think Marta hit the nail on the head about having different personalities in different languages! I can certainly agree with that. 😀

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience, Ri! I can understand how moving from place to place and having to explain yourself each time can be uncomfortable.

      And yes, like I told Marta, many of my students find it easier to express their feelings and emotions in English. It’s great that another language can boost one’s confidence

      1. Absolutely! (Re: the confidence boost)
        And it’s interesting you mention it being easier to express emotions in English etc… I never really thought about it, but it’s true! I’ve heard a few of my Japanese friends (who are fluent in English) say the same thing, but it never really “clicked”. I thought it was more about their experiences living abroad that helped them, but on further reflection that’s not necessarily the case. Great point! ^^

  11. I really enjoyed this post. It helped me understand you better, and it also set me thinking. I’m also from a small town. Growing up, I was vaguely aware that people might gossip, but somehow they didn’t gossip much around me. I seldom knew what was going on. And, like you said, I understood that bragging and showing off were objectionable–which suited me fine. I’m naturally quite a private person.

    Then I wrote a book, and I learned that authors need to have a blog. But blogs are essentially a way to reveal something about yourself and your life. In my case, since my novel was inspired by my late husband, I also reveal things about him and his life. It’s hard. If the blogger is too impersonal, why read her blog? You might as well read wikipedia. If we want to be bloggers, I guess we have to share at least some aspects of ourselves and our lives.

    1. Thanks, Nicki for sharing your thoughts about small town living.
      And I agree – writing a blog is putting yourself out there – sharing your thoughts, your emotions, and aspects of your life. I guess that is probably why it took me 5 months to post this.

  12. I think this doesn’t only hold true for moving from a small town to a small city, but also for moving to a country far away from your home country. Social norms you grew up with don’t apply in the new country and for a foreigner, local social norms don’t apply as much as they would back home.

  13. I think living in a bigger city has made me more guarded, not less. I grew up in a very friendly community and big cities tend to make people more faceless. Now that I have lived in Shanghai so long I am trying to recultivate that small town feel and know that it is ok to smile and say thank you. I don’t want that faceless feel anymore. I will never blend in in Shanghai and that’s ok.

    1. I don’t think I have ever lost my friendliness even when I moved to Taipei – I only became more open at expressing myself. I find that if you are friendly to others, people will respond. I think that this aspect of small town living really helped me when I started teaching – everyone feels a little more comfortable when entering a classroom to a smile. I really hope you can reclaim it back and I am sure it will come back naturally.

  14. impressive and emotional post, you did touch my heart… ❤ I got to Paris, France from an "average" Romanian city, so I do understand you and I do relate to your story… 🙂
    * * *
    @"I am more content with the person I have become…" – same here and it's our precious treasure… wish you galaxies of inspiration & my very best… friendly & heartfelt thoughts, Mélanie
    * * *
    I do miss Taiwan… ❤
    http://myvirtualplayground.wordpress.com/2014/11/15/nous-ne-voyons-pas-les-choses-comme-elles-sont-mais-comme-nous-sommes-anais-nin/

  15. Have you ever been back to your “small town” over the past 15 years? I grew up in a big city myself, the biggest city in Malaysia in fact, then moved to a not so big city for work. In the beginning I was shocked with how different things were. It’s been 6 years now, I am starting to embrace my new environment, but every trip back home, I am beginning to feel that both places are actually pretty similar. It actually feels pretty unsettling. I am not sure if my home city changed, or my perspective changed.

    1. Yes, I have been back there several times since moving to Taiwan. Whenever I return, it stills feels the same but certain aspects have changed though. For example, people know much more about each other thanks to facebook. However, in all honesty, there has been a huge shift in the demographics of the town as much of the younger generation now reside in the larger cities (and one even in Taiwan 😉 ) and most people remaining are my parents’ age.

  16. Yup, I know exactly what you mean about growing up in a small town (village in my case), sometimes I miss the feeling that everybody knows me, but not very often! I’m glad living in Taiwan has changed your life and perspectives! It sounds like a really interesting culture.

  17. I grew up in a small town, outside of one of the nation’s largest cities, Chicago. I never felt the small-town quaintness as portrayed in Mayberry or in Leave-it-to-Beaverland, partially because we lived on a very busy highway and there really was no “neighborhood.” My parents were very, very private, they never entertained friends at the house, only aunts and uncles.

    You’ve given me food for thought today, I know this is going to be running through the back of my mind all day today. I think your observations are very keen! 😀

  18. I grew up in a small town, and found it very much like you described. There were some good aspects but the gossip side was never fun. I’ve found as I’ve grown that there is certainly aspects of growing up like that you have to shed. I definitely understand where you were coming from in this post!

  19. Hi Constance! This is such an interesting post! I can totally understand your feelings. I”m pretty much “third culture” kid. I was born in Taiwan, but moved to China when I was grade 3 and went to American school there. Now I’m in Montreal finishing my undergraduate degree. Adjusting to various cultures have been a normal thing to me, but it was interesting to read this post to see how a sudden change to different environment can have an impact on a person!

  20. I feel like I can relate to this post a lot! I grew up in a smallish Italian city with a very provincial mindset and I’ve felt so different since I started living abroad (in Denmark first, than China, HK and now Taiwan). After all these years abroad I now feel quite comfortable about interacting with strangers and I enjoy the freedom I feel walking around the city being “unknown” and somewhat invisible.

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!! I know exactly where you are coming from as I feel the same way myself. It is amazing how open we come to talking and interacting with people we don’t know and how friendly people are! Hope you are getting ready to enjoy the holidays!

  21. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us. I can totally relate having been born and brought up in a small town in India. I often reflect on how my travels have changed me – and I always feel richer for having traveled. I feel that people everywhere share the same attributes and generally reflect how you approach them. I have found that a smile and an easy laugh go a long way toward breaking the ice – and being genuine begets the same in return. Happy to be following your blog…

    1. Thanks so much for dropping by and sharing your thoughts!! I really believe you hit the nail on the head with regards to the fact that a smile can go a long way. Combine that with a positive attitude and people will make you feel at home wherever you are!

  22. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I grew up in a big city and have spent most of my life in them. I can only imagine small town life from stories of others, probably exaggerated movies (yes??), and my few experiences in small places. Regardless of where I’ve lived, I’ve wanted to feel part of a community. When I’ve lacked that, my daily life has felt empty. It’s neat that even in Tokyo, I started to feel that where we lived. Seeing the same faces at the store, having the dry cleaning staff ask after hubby, and hearing the bells to say the workday was done all made the place we lived home.

  23. Am curious which province was this small town? Sounds like a place where I might suffocate…abit. I think being Asian-Canadian in a small town is different than in big cities. First 3 years of life were in a tiny town outside of Hamilton, ON. Before we moved to Kitchener-Waterloo where I was there for 20 yrs, then later onto bigger cities in Canada.

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