In the autumn of 2005, our oldest daughter, Senryu, was selected as a possible foreign exchange student by an interview panel at her school. Limerick and I agreed to let her proceed with the selection process, which involved a 25 page essay-question application, a health exam, and a weekend conference - part of which we, as parents, had to attend. We've always been proud of, if a little out of breath because of, Senryu's bold, intrepid spirit. From the moment she could walk, she's been off and running. Coupled with the years of lively interest in other cultures, and her desire to see the far ends of the earth was no surprise.
The process of becoming an exchange student is a waiting game. After the conference, we had to wait for confirmation that she had been fully accepted as an outbound exchange student for the 2006-2007 school year. Then, we waited again to find out where she would be staying. Her first choice was Japan. Senryu was away at another weekend conference - this time without parents - when she was told her destination. She was thrilled to learn she would be spending a year in Taiwan, the nation that was second choice in her mind, though officially third choice on her application form.
We had waited to select our adopted country for 2006 until we knew where she would be going. Once we knew, it was full speed ahead in learning about Taiwan. Again, I turned to the internet. I bookmarked a long list of favorite places on my web-server and ordered a travel documentary on Hong Kong and Taiwan from an on-line bookstore. We also got a Mandarin language course for Senryu who was eager to find out how similar the language would be to Japanese, with which she was fairly comfortable already. The language proved to be very challenging, since it uses changes in tone to change the meaning of the word.
In the summer, Senryu took an introductory course in Mandarin at a local college along with another local girl who was also Taiwan-bound. The summer flew by at breakneck speed, and too soon, it was time to give our girl her wings. She boarded a plane on a clear day with heart-breakingly blue skies and headed to the other side of the planet. Everything that day felt too bright, and too sharp, and too real.
We held our breath (figuratively speaking) until we received a quick little phone call saying she'd arrived and her host Dad was there to meet her. Everything seemed to be alright, so with a sigh of relief, we tried to get on with life as usual. Only of course, it wasn't life as usual. Haiku started public school for the first time ever. She'd been homeschooled since kindergarten, but with Senryu away she felt she would need to be very busy and engaged to keep from missing her best friend too deperately. All our lives changed, and though we thought the waiting was over since Senryu's adventure had begun, we found that we were still waiting - only now, we were always waiting for an email, or a call, or an update on her blog. And though we wish her the most amazing year of her life, there is still the undercurrent, running through our days, of waiting for her to come home.
We've discovered, with our explorer stationed in Taiwan on a long-term basis, that learning about a country from books, videos, and the internet is nothing at all like experiencing that location in real life. In books, you learn about generalities, not specifics. In real life, you experience what is happening to you right now in that one place on the globe. What is that quote? Something like: Where-ever I go, there I am.
I'll post about Christmas and some cultural specifics about Taiwan in another post this week.