Thursday, June 28, 2007

Pre-Field Orientation in Upstate New York

 Here we are in beautiful upstate New York! Floyd and I are here for two weeks of Pre-Field Orientation, designed to prepare us for our upcoming missionary work in Taiwan. We're staying on the campus of Houghton (pronounced HO-tun) College, in a scenic small town area. The campus is full of forest, flowers, and creeks (home to turtles, noisy bullfrogs like the one below, and, I'm told, large fishing spiders). 

I'm not sure how the students can concentrate on their studies in such a beautiful environment! But they're gone for the summer, and now the college has been taken over by about a hundred twenty of us future missionaries, all headed for different missionary schools around the globe. It's been interesting meeting some of them and hearing about where they'll be going.

The Orientation has only just begun, but we've learned quite a bit already. Yesterday the sessions focused on the results of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (personality test) that we had all taken earlier. For those of you who are familiar with this, we discovered that I am an INFJ (introvert, intuitive, feeling, judging; the rarest of the 16 types), and Floyd is an ISTP (introvert, sensing, thinking, perceiving). I know some of you must have taken this test yourselves; we would be interested to know your results if you'd like to share them!

Today the main focus of the seminars was on TCKs, or Third Culture Kids (those who were raised in a culture other than the one their parents are from, and thus have blended the two to create a third culture in their own lives). We will all be teaching TCKs in the various missionary schools we'll be in, so it's important to understand them and the unique issues they face.

Since I am an adult TCK myself, I was asked to sit on a panel this evening to answer some questions about my experiences. There were seven other TCKs on the panel, all answering the same set of questions, and it was great to hear from all of them, most of whom had gone through pretty much the same types of things I have. When TCKs return to their "home" country, they often feel isolated, like nobody understands them or where they have been. Even though I have been here in America for many years and do know a number of people who (at least sort of) understand me, it was refreshing to hear from others with similar life experiences. The eight of us were able to remind each other that we are not alone in what we have been through (both the good and the bad). It was an emotional time, though, as several choked up while describing painful separations from people they were close to, and the difficulties they faced in adjusting back to American culture when they returned from living overseas. Many in the audience came up to us afterward and mentioned how much they appreciated hearing the things we shared.

Now to backtrack a bit. The week before Floyd and I came to NY was really busy. School got out on Thursday (so sad to say goodbye to my students), and I spent Friday cleaning and packing up my classroom. Then we had less than a week to pack up everything we own and move it out of our apartment, not to mention clean the place from top to bottom. We would never have made it in time if not for the friends and relatives who came to help!

But the job was finally done the next Friday night, and we got up early Saturday morning to catch our 7:00 a.m. flight to Cleveland and then on to Buffalo. From there it was an hour and a half drive to Houghton.

One of the things we've enjoyed here at the conference is meeting some of our future co-workers from Morrison Academy, where we'll be working in Taiwan. Most are from Morrison's other campuses (there are four, counting a tiny satellite school, in different cities), but there are a couple who will be in Taichung with us, who have been there already. 

Some of our future coworkers have been able to tell us interesting things about Taiwan, like about the large flying cockroaches we can expect to encounter. Yikes! (I don't do well with big bugs.) Thinking of possible pets, I inquired half-jokingly whether there are any animals there that eat cockroaches. Alas, apparently the cockroaches' only real predators are gigantic (eight inch long) spiders. I wish I hadn't asked.

Another challenge we'll face when we get there will be learning the language. Although the school functions in English, we will need to learn some Mandarin Chinese to be able to shop in the local markets and basically do anything outside of school and home. I like languages, but Chinese, with its four tones and thousands of written characters, is starting to sound really daunting. A word can have totally different meanings depending on the tone of voice in which you say it, and any given sound can be written with several different characters depending on what it means in the sentence. Talk about confusing!

On the bright side, Taiwan does sound like a beautiful place to live, at least in some areas. Yes, there are lots of big cities with smog and crazy traffic, but there are also gorgeous mountain ranges, forests, beaches, and idyllic farmland. The island is far from being nothing but a manufacturing/exporting center, which is how I would have thought of it not so long ago.

Taiwan is also home to the world's tallest building, Taipei 101 (which, as you might guess, is 101 stories tall). Click here to see a picture of it.  To get a true idea of its size, note that the "low" buildings around it are actually skyscrapers in their own right!

Well, it's getting late and we have to get up early for the morning session, so I'd better close and call it a night.  We're looking forward to the rest of the orientation and to some sightseeing at Niagara Falls in the next few days!  Here's one last picture: Floyd and me dressed up for PFO's International Banquet.

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