On Campus

Earth-shattering news

Making the move from Toronto to Taipei to small-town France?

Two days ago my Dad tried to Skype me at 7 a.m. Chungyuan Standard Time. A few hours earlier I sent his Blackberry a light-hearted message telling him that I just experienced my first earthquake a few minutes ago in Taiwan. He quickly wrote back telling me to ask my landlady for guidance and that the safest place in my room was not on my bed or under my desk, but in the corner of the room. I replied with an “OK” and proceeded to go to sleep. I didn’t want to subject myself to an interrogation, especially when I was on my way out the door, but I picked up his call. It turned out he wasn’t interested in talking about the earthquake at all.

I arrived in Taipei at the end of May to study at National Taiwan Normal University’s Mandarin Training Centre. Since I got here my Dad has been continually asked about two pieces of mail. The first was my degree, which finally arrived last week. I am now officially in possession of a bachelor’s of journalism from Ryerson University. The second piece of mail was my “arrete de nomination,” from the Ministry of Education in France, which he was calling to say finally arrived.

In February I applied to a government program that hires native English speakers to work in public schools. In mid-April I found out I was accepted and was going to be teaching in the Alsace region at the high school level. I had naively been hoping/praying/expecting to be placed in Strasbourg despite the advice given to me by former assistants. Dad told me I would be teaching at Lycée Koeberlé in Sélestat. The conversation went dead for a few minutes while I scoured Google for information. According to Wikipedia, Sélestat is a town with a population of about 20,000 located 47 km south of Strasbourg.

I was on full-on panic mode. I have never lived anywhere with a population less than 200,000. Even Markham, the suburban hometown that I love to hate, is big enough to be anonymous. My first two years of university I lived in downtown Toronto–one in Ryerson’s residence right behind Yonge-Dundas Square and one in a house in Little Italy. As a result, I have an especially warped perception of what is considered a small town. I know this because I still have a hard time not accidentally describing Utrecht, the fourth-biggest city in the Netherlands, where I did an exchange semester in my third year, as a small town. No matter how irrational it is or bratty it sounds, I have a gripping fear of living in small towns and rural areas. I’m not afraid of moving somewhere where I don’t speak the language or know anyone, but the idea of moving to a small-town anywhere is petrifying.

I ended the call since there was no time to indulge any further research, anxiety or conversation since I was now late to meet my friends for an early morning beach trip. However, I suppose those are things I will have plenty of time and space to get into on this blog.

For the rest of the summer I will be here in Taiwan on a scholarship program, run by the Taiwan Government Information Office, for foreign journalists (and journalism students) to learn Mandarin. I will spend one month at home and then move to France for the next seven months. That is extent of my immediate and long-term plans. Anything that comes after that is the abyss. I invite you to keep me company while I wander and try to decide what to do next.

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