Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Plug into Culture to Avoid the Shock?

In another follow up to the Lindsey Craig article, we have this recent article published by the Gazette.  The writer is a Taiwanese Canadian (or overseas Taiwanese?) who returned to Taiwan after being away from the island for several years. While Ms. Craig's article might have received a negative reaction for her dislike of the smells, the negative reactions to the food, etc., this recent article might treat the subject a little too lightly to do any real good.  The article is here:

My original point still stands about culture shock.  While preparation and education is key, one cannot simply 'prepare-away' culture shock by reading other's experiences.  This kind of definition of culture shock is oversimplified and rather one-sided.  While this might work for 'travelling', it does not work for truly living there, because there are distinct periods (the so-called 'honeymoon', reaction and acceptance phases) that one struggles with that people travelling there do not.  One might try reading any of the number of psychological treatises on culture shock before trying to prescribe it away with blow-offs like 'do your homework and everything will be positive' and 'if you don't like the place, it's all your fault'.    Enough said on that.

But let's get away from the Orientalism for awhile. Hunting roaches with pellet guns might be fun for Chuck and the like, but people relocating need help dealing with visa issues, being an 'institutionalized foreigner' and striking differences in work culture.  You might need to talk to more than one person. "Information for Foreigners" is a good place to start.

While food and bugs might be everyone's favorite superficial talking point, learning a few words in Chinese won't prepare you to argue employment law when an unscrupulous employer denies you your health or labor insurance or tricks you into doing an illegal job interview. The employer may be fined.  You will be deported. Are all Taiwan employers bad? No.  Does it still happen?  Yes.

Going to school to learn Chinese in Taiwan might be fine. However, learning that you need to have a interview to examine your attendance, grades and discuss future plans with the Foreign Affairs Police (now re-termed the NIA) every few months in order to renew your visa might quash any visions you have of reading those road signs.  Especially if you miss a few classes (e.g. sick) or aren't doing so well in your studies.

Of course, signing up at a local school to study is only illegal if you are a visitor--people who work full time are allowed, but be prepared that it is the norm to leave Taiwan to make any changes to your visa (e.g. if you are a visitor and want to become a student).  This can be a considerable shock to your wallet while you wait at home or in a foreign country to get your visa processed.  It could be just one of the many surprises Taiwan's visa system can have for you.  Far worse than roaches, in my opinion.

These are just a few differences from Canada that 'travelers' do not experience in Taiwan.  You must live there to get it.  The food, the culture and even the bugs are really interesting and make one feel like a real Dr. Livingstone, but in the end, love it or hate it, there is a wealth of misinformation and rosiness out there that mislead people into believe living abroad will be 'perfect' and 'wonderful'.  There are successes, but there are also disasters.  You need to understand both.

Locals in a country are not always the best source of information because they have never lived there as a foreigner and had to abide by the different regulations for 'foreigners', 'aliens', etc. Finally, no matter how much you prepare, you will always be at a disadvantage to truly understand until you experience things first hand.  Then you can make your decision over whether you can accept it or not.

The political correctness of being unable to accept another culture is a topic for another blog, but please: 'my vacation in Taiwan was great' is not a refutation of whether or not culture shock exists or if it is valid or not.  By all means, buy a Lonely Planet and read some websites, but don't think that you are totally in control of your own experience.  If you do, that's the first huge shock you are in for.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Lindsey Craig and Editor Respond to Criticisms, Protest

Ms. Craig and her editor responded to her recent criticisms over her article on Culture Shock in Taiwan today in a "Note to readers" published in the Montreal Gazette.  Although I do not know Ms. Craig personally, she did contact me recently over what had happened to her but asked that our conversation be kept private. I don't think she would mind me saying that she found the whole experience traumatizing and the extent to which some attacks were taken a bit excessive.

Ms. Craig's note to readers attempts to clarify that the intent of her article was to let people know they should do their homework before travelling.  She responds that the articles focus was culture shock, but that her observations led to criticisms of xenophobia, being pampered and not understanding the world very well.

What I found most poignant, however, was her description of the harassment she received. While I'm sure she might have expected nasty words on social media sites, or even threatening phone calls, who could imagine calls to former employers in Taiwan and other people that she knew.  On the whole, I thought it was a brave and mature response given the backlash she faced.  She seems to be asking for understanding of her points however, so as she mentions in the note, this might only serve to stir up more criticism.

The editor's note is more brief and to the point.  There is no retraction of the Gazette's decision to publish the piece and she holds to the position of the article.  It seems more like a position to defend the journalistic principles upon which the piece was published. She does explain the decision to run the story, although I think that this letter gives no ground on the decision to publish the piece.  Let's see what happens...