By: Nate Tyler
It’s been a little more than six years since I left my first and only position teaching English abroad. I was in Taoyuan City, Taiwan, and my contract was only for one year. Since that time, I’ve traveled through Europe, returned to Minnesota, had many different—often horrible—jobs, started woodworking, got married and had a kid, built a pottery studio, and started a writing business. A lot has obviously happened. So why, then, am I writing about transitions when it’s been so long since I was teaching in Taiwan? Well in many ways I still haven’t left Taiwan. And I’m still transitioning out of that first teaching role.
I finished my online TEFL certification with ITA in January of 2011. This was during and immediately after finishing my last semester at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota. Many people asked what I would do with a Creative Writing degree, and besides jokingly asking if they wanted fries with that (which I would eventually do), I had no idea. Freelance writer, maybe? I also had a good number of people suggest that I travel to broaden and improve my writing, and after discovering teaching English abroad, I pursued my TEFL, graduated college and looked for a job, somewhere, anywhere. I applied to schools in 30 different countries, and in June I was on a plane to Taiwan, no knowledge of the local language, customs, or anything regarding Taiwan for that matter.
The day after I got to Taiwan, I realized I couldn’t use chopsticks, and thought I would just ask the woman at the noodle shop for a fork. The place had an open front, 18 inch stools, and flimsy tables. I opened my mouth, said two words, and she just stared at me. It dawned on me: I was there to teach English! The bar for my adjustment was going to be pretty high, or low; I’m still not entirely sure. Either way, within a week I was picking up massive pieces of beef with chopsticks at noodle shops all over Taipei. We all need to eat.
I met Rainy almost immediately, at a bar near my apartment. The bar had live baseball on TV and a cover band playing American hits with a thick Taiwanese accent. Rainy wanted to show me around her country, and again, I knew nothing about Taiwan, so her idea sounded pretty good to me. I also met good friends, a number of whom I still talk to frequently.
Taiwan is good; I cannot stress this enough. And if you ever go there, you’ll hear anyone who can speak English say as such. But this is not about being in Taiwan; it’s about leaving.
Rainy and I talked many times, and we had an understanding when we started dating: I didn’t want to stay in Taiwan forever, and she didn’t want to move away. So when I left in July, 2012, we went to northern Europe together for a month-long trip. Unless something changed, it would be our last one together.
After a month, we said goodbye at the Hamburg airport. We sat on a bench together across from the entrance to security. It was quiet. I looked over at her. It was hard to see, but she had tears, too.
I stayed a few more weeks, looking for a teaching job in Europe. In September, 2012, after being gone for 15 months, I came back to Minnesota and was confronted with that big question: what’s next? I’m not asking that question because it’s the topic title of this essay, but because literally every person you see after you get back asks that very question.
So I took the GRE and applied to MFA programs in Creative Writing. Rainy and I never really stopped talking, and within a few weeks of being back in Minnesota we were officially dating again. In March, 2013, she came to visit Minnesota and the U.S. for her first time. She was here a month, and I took her to Nebraska to see an old friend of mine. Read that again if you need to: She invited herself to Minnesota in the winter and I said ok. I then doubled-down and took her to Nebraska, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Iowa. We also took a trip to Duluth in the middle of a blizzard. Let’s be honest, though: everyone loves Minnesota in the summer, and I wasn’t going to lie to her about the weather. While we were in Nebraska I got word that I had been accepted to grad school. Rainy went home, and a few months later I moved into an apartment in St. Paul near my new university.
The next winter, December, 2013, Rainy came to visit again. One night I asked her to marry me. It was late, probably 11 o’clock. We were sitting in the kitchen in my apartment, drinking wine and whiskey, and I was smoking cigarettes. Low light and I was wearing a white t-shirt and gym shorts, and she was wearing pajamas. We were talking about the future and she said ‘if we get married.’ I had been carrying a key ring around for two weeks, waiting for the right time. I love my wife, but she’s picky, so I found a key ring that was her size and could serve as a placeholder. I walked into my bedroom, grabbed the key ring and said, “Let’s change ‘if’ to ‘when.’”
She stayed in Minnesota into late January, and three days later I went to Taiwan because her father wanted me there for Chinese New Year. I officially asked him during a party one night. Rainy taught me what to say it in Mandarin Chinese, and I practiced the phrase for four hours that day. I stumbled through the words when it came time, and before I was even finished he said “Ok!” with a smile so bright that satellites could pick it up.
Rainy and I got married on November 8, 2014, a small ceremony at my aunt and uncle’s house overlooking the Mississippi River in St. Paul. She had moved here 12 days earlier with a fiancé visa. Her parents came, too, and two days after the wedding we took a trip to Duluth, and there was another blizzard. What should have been a three hour journey took five.
So, that’s life. We’re married, we have a kid. He’s 17 months old, climbs on everything, picks locks and pockets (mine), and shares everything he has. I sing “Mr. Tambourine Man” to him every night before bed.
I know I haven’t said much about work, and that’s what people usually wonder about when they’re leaving a job and curious about what’s next. I’ve had many jobs since coming back to Minnesota. I’ve been a tutor for the ACT, an intern at a publishing company that focused primarily on law school textbooks, a content writer at an SEO company where I became incredibly, thoroughly depressed. I’ve trained as a sushi chef and my last position was a line cook at a French/European style restaurant. And this year I dove full time into freelance writing.
So now I’m 31 years old, have a wife and son, and live with my parents due to some health problems my dad had a few years back. I have my own writing company, and a pottery studio and woodworking shop in my garage, and no idea what the future will bring. Am I “there?” I don’t know. I don’t know where “there” is. But the process is fun.
Rainy and I might move back to Taiwan. We talk about it. When I said at the beginning that I never really left, I meant it. I’ve been back four times.
Maybe I’m writing about transitions so long after the fact because I grew up along a river, and there’s no stopping point, water just flows continuously. If I put the kayak in the river right now I could paddle all the way to the Gulf of Mexico, I could paddle to Taiwan.
Or maybe I’m just writing about transitions because I like writing and I wanted an excuse to write an essay. Maybe.
Nate Tyler is 31 and taught English in Taoyuan City, Taiwan. He has a B.A. in Creative Writing from St. Cloud State University and is a freelance copywriter and creative writer. He also has a pottery studio and woodworking shop.