Interview with Mary Olchiltree

“Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.” (Seneca)

MaryThis is one of my favorite quotes, because for me, it is true. Ever since high school, while on a trip to Europe with my French class, I discovered the beauty in travel and ways it can change a person. In college I studied and lived abroad in Ireland for four months, and the experience changed my life. At the age of 23 years old, I welcomed the opportunity to teach English in Taiwan because it enables me to use my education while exploring another country, learning its culture, and continuing my passion and fascination with travel.

In college, I had no specific vision for my career. I knew I wasn’t ready for a 9-to-5 desk job, and the pull of travel, especially to live in another culture, would not go away. Although I easily could have taken a few months to travel, that prospect wasn’t what I was looking for. I wanted to experience another culture; I wanted to immerse myself in all aspects of it for it to be challenging and meaningful. What better challenge than to leave everything familiar, everything I love, and start new in another place? Believe me, I heard more than once that I was “crazy,” but a gut feeling told me this was an opportunity not to miss.

Arriving in Taiwan, I realized immediately that yes, this was going to be tough! Moving overseas without knowing the native language, searching for an apartment, and starting a new job all at the same time became more difficult that I ever had imagined. Admittedly, I experienced culture shock for the very first time, coupled with the horrible, aching feeling of homesickness. As I look back, those feelings seem like a distant memory; because now, I absolutely love life in Taiwan. The initial “culture shock” helped me to truly appreciate my purpose for coming here, and to gain confidence in my ability to adapt.

Although teaching was very new to me, I’ve long known it was something I wanted to try. Surprisingly, teaching is challenging in ways I didn’t realize, and I’m learning so much. Every day is different and brings something new. Of course, like most teachers who teach abroad, I experience days when students test my patience and my sanity—ironically, that’s also the fun in it. The students have taught me to love teaching; they make the effort all worth it. And the best part? When I get to act like a silly six-year-old in class and get paid for it. 🙂

What I love most about Taiwan is that it always offers something to do. Strolling the night markets sampling food and shopping, dipping in a hot spring bath, sun bathing at the beach, hiking through national parks, discovering new restaurants, or simply enjoying coffee at Starbucks (shout-out Seattle!) I find Taiwan is a place with limitless sights, activities, and natural wonders. The people are some of the friendliest I have ever met—and that’s saying a lot, because I lived among the famously friendly Irish people during my junior year of college. After living here almost five months, I know there is still much to see, do, and learn. Even though some days are demanding, in no way am I ready to go home. The exhilaration of growing and changing every day, is exactly the reward I had sought.