On Tuesday and Saturday nights in Douliu City, Taiwan, locals flood the streets to shop at the popular Douliu Night Market. At this open-air temporary market, you can travel through this festival-type crowd and lose yourself in the eye-catching, vibrant banners and signs or by the vendors set up under these markers who may be able to sell you some food, toys, animals, gadgets, art, clothing or various other items.
On any given Tuesday night, while most of us here in the Bayou Region have just started our work day, a young American woman pulls up near the market in her silver Yamaha 125 scooter. Just getting off from teaching back-to-back classes from 2 to 9 p.m., she’s eager to enjoy the night market before she heads home and relaxes for the rest of the evening. She is traveling alone, but anyone she meets at the market might become her friend. She is a true South Louisianan wanderlust, bringing that southern friendliness and charm with her throughout her travels, while being able to make any place home—even though her actual hometown is over 8,000 miles away.
Houma native Kristen Powell’s journey teaching abroad started in Thailand in September of 2015. After living in Portland for close to three years, she started to feel unhappy and remembered the idea a friend gave her about teaching overseas.
“I did some research and found a program in Thailand where you could get your TEFL [Teach English as a Foreign Language] certification with guaranteed job placement for six months,” the LSU graduate says. “And here I am three years later.”
After she arrived in Thailand, it was not hard for Kristen to make friends. The TEFL program put Kristen in a group of 16 like-minded, aspiring teachers who did many group activities together and became close. She also was able to quickly adjust to the culture in Thailand.
“It wasn’t difficult for me. I went in very open-minded and willing to challenge any preconceptions,” she remembers. “I originally arrived ready to observe a new culture and see the world; I wanted the experience.”
Although her first experiences in Thailand were pleasant, it was her first experience teaching that made Kristen “terrified.” She started her first day with just a little under three weeks of training and her new school gave her just a date to arrive and no other information.
For her second placement, staying in Thailand, she was more calm and ready. It was her move to her current school in Taiwan in April of 2017 that sent her into panic attacks.
“I’m pretty sure I was even in tears one day. It was an entirely new method complete with pre-made lesson plans and structure—something I was unfamiliar with. It was very overwhelming…” she shares. “I’ve experienced all emotions when entering a new school. The thing about teaching in Asia is that no matter what country you’re teaching in, you’re going to be thrown into it.”
Since her first days, Kristen has gotten well accustomed to teaching and adores her students. She’s proud that she has students who couldn’t speak any English when they first entered her classroom and are now are able to communicate with her.
Just as her students have embraced her, so have the people in the different cultures she has come across. Many of the people in Thailand and Taiwan have shown Kristen the same hospitality that we southerners pride ourselves in having.
After being hospitalized due to bad scooter accident, the people of her community in Thailand checked on Kristen and brought her food every day while she was on bed rest.
“Nature and nurture shape us in so many ways. And even with all the bad, there is so much good. Someone with absolutely nothing, maybe even speaking a different language, is willing to lend a hand,” she expresses.
The Taiwanese people include her in all of the lunar calendar festivals. Kristen also notes another commonality with southern culture—the abundance of food served.
“Asian culture is delightful. If you’re ever invited to eat with them, they cook so much food. Then, food is constantly put on your plate, even when you’re saying your full,” she says.
Kristen seldom gets homesick, which she attributes to her awesome support system of friends and family, especially her mom Beth, whom she calls “my heart.” She, of course, misses them and was recently able to come to Louisiana for the first time since she started teaching abroad.
“When I was visiting with everyone, I felt like I had never left. Everything was exactly the same, and I was home,” she says. “Then, when the trip came to an end, I was once again going home. Taiwan is home now.” POV