It is hard to believe, but today marks the final day of our international experience. We began today in Taipei with a few hours of morning free time for classmates to pack, explore local markets, take a short trip to the beach, or just generally relax prior to our departure. We began the day one more classmate short, as Ben departed to join his wife in Thailand.
Our final leadership seminar focused on reflections from the last two weeks in Cambodia and Taiwan. Each of us wrote a letter home describing our experiences, what we learned, how the trip affected us, and what changes we will make in our lives as a result of this experience. We shared these stories within our EQi groups. Many classmates had very heartfelt-and humorous- letters to their loved ones that showed the powerful impact that this trip has had on our lives. We also used these letters and experiences to develop action items for when we return home.
The next activity involved each SMT group creating and presenting a documentary on Cambodia focusing on stories about leadership and Cambodian agriculture. As one could imagine, the creative juices of our class were on full display! Our group of amateur documentary filmmakers focused on topics such as the dichotomy of rich vs poor in Cambodia, the use or misuse of resources, and the struggle between traditional agricultural practices and modern farming. There were also a couple groups that highlighted Dr. Noy’s life and commitment to improving agricultural opportunities in Cambodia.
We wrapped up our final leadership session the usual way-with Golden Nuggets. Whereas in past sessions the Golden Nuggets may have been relatively brief, the Golden Nuggets from this session were very emotional and heartfelt. They really showed how we have grown together as a class. There were many great experiences on the trip, but the greatest of all may have been the lifelong relationships built and strengthened among our class.
We boarded the bus after the leadership session and visited Vigor Kobo-a local sweet shop with several delicious items (and a lot of samples!). Pineapple flavored cakes were very popular among our group and may find their way back to the United States (I hope this does not ruin anybody’s surprise!).
Our tour then led us past the President’s Hall and to Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. Chiang Kai-shek was the president of the Republic of China (Taiwan) from 1928 up to his death in 1975 and is a beloved, and controversial, figure in Taiwan. The grounds of the memorial were very impressive, and the memorial itself reminded many of us of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC. We were fortunate to witness the changing of the guard ceremony at the memorial.
As has been the case throughout our stay in Taiwan, the streets were relatively quiet due to Coronavirus concerns. One of the unique signs of this was the long lines outside of drugstores and convenience stores for people to pick up their protective masks. Masks are in short supply and are rationed at two per person weekly. This rationing was also evident in the airport, where passengers leaving Taiwan are not allowed to depart with more than 250 masks. Though the small crowds allowed us easier access to the sites in Taiwan, it is sad to see the impact it is having on local business. Our tour guide Jean and bus driver Chan have no more tours in March as all of their scheduled tours have been cancelled.
The final stop was the airport. We said our goodbyes to our wonderful host and tour guide Jean and our bus driver Chan. Jean was a true highlight of the trip. We greatly appreciated her efforts in showing us the country. Her genuine personality and good humor and insight into Taiwanese culture and Taiwanese-American relationships added to the journey. We hope to see Jean again down the road!
In the airport we parted ways with John, Charlene, and Krista K as they all embarked on journeys with their significant others. Many in class found the McDonalds in the airport for a taste of home! One noticeable change was the number of people on our flight out of Taiwan. Whereas our flights earlier in the week were relatively empty, this flight was very full. A middle seat for 13 hours? Get comfortable with being uncomfortable!
We left Taiwan at 8:45 pm on Sunday, and arrived in Chicago at 7 pm on Sunday. Isn’t air travel magical?! Our EVA Airlines jet from Taiwan to Chicago was one of the Hello Kitty-themed jets, complete with Hello Kitty utensils, pillows, safety manuals, and even Hello Kitty vomit bags!
Nick gave us one final entertaining moment while boarding in Chicago. He left his carry-on in the aisle assuming somebody would put it in an overhead. The flight attendant tracked him down and made him put it in an overhead, and then recognized him over the microphone as a “very special passenger”. He even received his wings. Great job Nick!
The flights went well, and we arrived back in Minnesota around 11:15 pm. Everybody arrived home safely, healthy, and only three sans luggage! (Their luggage will be delivered tomorrow.)
All in all a great, yet bittersweet day. We are all excited to get home, but will miss the people we met on our journey and will also miss time spent with our classmates. See you all at home!
By Grant Crawford & Erin Spangler