Episode 13 │Stayed, Stayed Again, Kept Staying (TAIWAN)
Updated: May 4
"I feel like wherever I go next, I kind of just have to go and re-acclimate myself. And... just make it work." (Kenya, Episode 13)
I can't actually remember when or how I ended up meeting Kenya Williams, but it was probably in Wells Hall on Michigan State University's campus. She and I were both studying languages, and Wells was the hub for language and education classes (Kenya was studying to be become a teacher as well). Just before freshman year, she did a seminar studying ethnology in Oaxaca, Mexico, and in 2012 she spent two months studying Chinese in Tianjin, China. Having studied Chinese and Spanish even before going to college, she continued to study both languages at MSU with the intention of becoming a foreign language teacher here in the States.
However, Kenya decided to take a slight detour and move to Taiwan as an English teaching assistant with The Fulbright Program. It was a perfect chance to gain teaching experience as well as enhance her Chinese proficiency. Plus, immersing herself in Taiwanese music, movies, and TV shows had proved instrumental in her linguistic progress, so moving to Taiwan would also enable her to learn more about Taiwan firsthand. She wasn't thinking too far ahead and had initially assumed that this would a short-term thing, but now she is going on five years in Taiwan! She's transitioned out of Fulbright, has changed schools a time or two, has moved from Yilan to Beitou to Danshui, and somehow or other she has managed to just keep staying. Rather than her study abroad experiences, we spent most of her interview talking about her time living and teaching in Taiwan.
Kenya writes often on Facebook about the microaggressions and less subtle forms of racism that she experiences as a Black person in Taiwan, and she talked to me about them as well. People frequently stare, or ask her where she's from or if they can touch her hair, and seldom care enough to get to know about her as a person. She's learned to maneuver these situations as best as she can without being bothered too much, but it still gets to her sometimes. Apparently such interactions were the most extreme when she was in China, which is part of why she's hesitant to go back. But she'd definitely like to try at some point.
" 'Just go!' has turned into 'When you comin' back?' "
While she acknowledges the quality of life, natural green and mountainous beauty, and other positive things that she can access thanks to living in Taiwan, she misses her culture and feels that she will have a more fulfilling personal life elsewhere. Perhaps back in the States? Who knows. Her mom has always encouraged her to learn about other cultures and travel, but even now, in Kenya's words, "'Just go! has turned into 'When you comin' back?'" For now Kenya's riding her time in Taiwan out. She loves her students (her "kids"), but being in a classroom everyday can be tough, so in the future she's contemplating getting certified to teach foreign languages, or going to grad school to eventually work in education policy. Time will tell. Kenya can be contacted on Facebook (Kenya W.) or by email (email@example.com).
Be sure to listen to this episode, "Stayed, Stayed Again, Kept Staying (TAIWAN)" for more! And don't forget to check out the resource list below!
Danielle G. is the creator, host, and producer of Young, Gifted and Abroad. You can find her other writings at DeelaSees.com.