Thanksgiving flew by this year with a Fulbright dinner in Taipei and a slew of Thanksgiving-themed arts & crafts at Huludun Elementary School!
On Friday, November 18, all of the Fulbright ETAs in Taiwan gathered in Taipei for a Career Workshop and traditional Thanksgiving dinner.
Here's a photo of some of the Taichung ETAs after arriving in Taipei, on our way to the FSE Office!
Below is the RSVP invitation we received via email.
Before the dinner, we attended a Career Workshop from 3:00-4:30pm at the Foundation for Scholarly Exchange (FSE*) Office in Taipei.
*FSE is one over 50 bi-national/bilateral organizations worldwide established to administer the Fulbright educational exchange program outside the U.S. The Foundation has financed over 1,300 U.S. Fulbright grantees coming to Taiwan in the past fifty years.
The workshop was led by Joseph Bookbinder, Chief of the Public Diplomacy Section of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT)**, and Alys Spensley, Director of the American Center of the AIT.
**The American Institute in Taiwan, a non-profit, private corporation, unofficially represents U.S. interests in Taiwan as an ambiguous, not-quite-an-embassy entity. In other words, it provides services that are normally provided in U.S. diplomatic missions, albeit in an unofficial manner. AIT staffers are U.S. Department of State employees and local workers. Some of the U.S. interests AIT staff members focus on include: commercial services, agricultural sales, consular services, and cultural exchanges. In total, there are three AIT offices: one in Arlington County, Virginia (AIT/Washington), one in Taipei (AIT/Taipei), and one in Southern Taiwan, AIT/Kaohsiung). At the AIT Taipei office, there are a total of 450 employees, which makes it the largest AIT office of the three.
Apart from assisting U.S. interests in Taiwan, the AIT also processes visas, provides consular services to American expats, and operates as a Chinese language school, trade center, and library. It was incorporated on January 1, 1979 under the highly contentious One-China Policy (一個中國原則). After the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 was authorized, the U.S. Department of State began providing guidance and funding for the AIT in an "unofficial" capacity. The AIT website has a copy of the Taiwan Relations Act here, available in both English and Chinese. (TL;DR: Enacted on April 10, 1979, the Taiwan Relations Act defined the (non-diplomatic) relations between the U.S. and Taiwan.)
They walked us through the necessary steps to pursuing a career as a Foreign Service Officer (FSO). With the aid of a handy visual guide, they explained the "8 steps to becoming a Foreign Service Officer." Alys even went so far as to show us testing centers in Taiwan for those interested in taking the FSOT (Foreign Service Officer Test).
The most interesting segment of the presentation, however, was the Q&A. This is when the speakers had a chance to candidly discuss the challenges of being FSOs, from their perspectives as married adults with children. Mr. Bookbinder even told us a harrowing tale about an angry mob of protestors descending upon a U.S. Embassy building in Beijing, China in 1999 (to read more about it, see this document compiled by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Diplomatic Security). Alys conveyed the difficulties she and her husband have encountered working as a "tandem couple," which in State Department jargon translates to, "families in which both spouses are members of the Foreign Service." To read more about the demands tandem couples face, check out this NYT article.
Below is a view of the dinner area, where the FSE staff, Fulbright coordinators, and Fulbright scholars gathered for a taste of home.
Below is my dinner plate. I got up for seconds and thirds. I ate 'til my stomach couldn't contain anymore, just like I do at home for Thanksgiving dinner with my family. It was really nice to have a taste of home, especially during the holiday season when the home sickness is starting to kick in. Last year, I cooked my family's entire Thanksgiving spread with my sister's help (my mom helped a little here and there, but we mostly let her relax that day). We must've spent nearly 5 hours cooking in preparation for dinner -- it was tough, but super gratifying because I love to cook and I was able to handpick all of the recipes.
The Thanksgiving Dinner selection in Taipei consisted of roasted turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, mashed sweet potatoes, roasted vegetables, lentils, pumpkin pie, apple pie, chocolate cheesecake, and some more eclectic / oddball items like Thai shrimp cocktail and macaroni with spaghetti sauce that was masquerading as mac n' cheese, according to the label in front of the tray. After many bemused protests about the "fake mac n' cheese," the chefs promptly made a new batch of mac n' cheese, this time with actual cheese.
The Taichung ETAs (minus two!) and our coordinator, Athena Hsu (far left).
We left the Thanksgiving Dinner with full stomachs and succumbed to our inevitable food comas by napping in our hotel rooms afterwards.
To celebrate Thanksgiving at Huludun Elementary School, Teacher Joanna and I had students make turkey arts & crafts.
For our second grade classes, we had students trace their left hands on a piece of white paper to create a turkey. They brought markers from their homeroom classes -- the finished results were super cute!
We gave instructions by drawing an example on the blackboard.
Pictured below is myself with one of my second grade classes in Teacher Joanna's classroom!
For our fourth graders, we had a slightly more challenging turkey craft in mind. Teacher Joanna collected multi-colored leaves around campus while I cut out circles using brown construction paper.
Students brought glue and markers from their homeroom classes to make a turkey with feathers made out of leaves. We had the students write, "I am grateful for..." at the top of their papers, along with the things they are grateful for scattered around the turkey, such as "family," "friends," and "pets."
I also showed students photos of what a typical Thanksgiving dinner looks like at my home, and there were many oohs and aahs at the food photos. In retrospect, I wish I had gone out to buy a few pumpkin pies for my classes to sample - which another Taichung ETA did for his students - but the thought didn't cross my mind at the time!
Christmas is just around the corner now, too! I'll have to plan activities for both schools I teach at, Fuchuen and Huludun Elementary School. It'll be busy, but I can't wait!