Wendy Lee grew up in Taiwan and the USA, and has recently completed a Peace Corps assignment in Cameroon. In today’s interview we ask Wendy about what it’s like to move countries and adapt to a new culture, and what makes a place feel like home.
Where do you live now and where did you grow up? Where’s home for you?
I just moved to London last week to begin graduate school, so this is where I live now. I was born in Taiwan and spent my childhood there until the age of 12 before moving to St. Louis, Missouri, where I lived through college. It’s hard to define where home is for me. I try to invest energy to make each place I live my home by building lasting relationships and becoming comfortable with my environment. To me, home is where my loved ones are, and that could be anywhere from Taiwan to Cameroon.
Why did you decide to join the Peace Corps? Would you recommend the experience?
I decided to join the Peace Corps during my senior year of college. In deciding where to begin my career, I knew I wanted to work abroad but using the skills I had acquired as a finance and economics major in business school. I have always been keen on doing volunteer work throughout my life, so when I discovered that there is the Small Enterprise Development sector in the Peace Corps, and I don’t have to pick what country to go to, I knew this was the right move for me.
I absolutely recommend this experience to anyone who is willing to let go of modern conveniences for two years and can withstand spending time away from family and friends. This experience is certainly not for everyone, but for those who think they can endure the adjustment, I would highly recommend it. It’s horribly cliché, but those two years spent in Cameroon are thus far the most life-changing experiences for me. And I’m someone who’s traveled a good deal, and has endured a lot of “life changing” experiences prior to joining the Peace Corps.
Has your time in Cameroon changed your outlook towards home? What was more difficult, moving to Cameroon or moving back again?
Since moving to the US as a teenager, my perception of home has always been blurred. I titled my Peace Corps blog “Round II: Cameroon” because the experience of moving across the globe and starting life anew, acquiring a new language and culture all mimicked my experience just 10 years prior, thus feeling like Round II.
Moving to Cameroon wasn’t difficult as I knew I would come back, but leaving Cameroon was an entirely different story. I’ve said lots of goodbyes to lots of amazing people whom I’ve met along the way of my travels. But leaving Cameroon marked the most tearful goodbyes of all. The unfortunate reality is that it may be a long time before I have the ability to see my friends from my village, and some I may never see again. This was difficult to endure.
Did your views of Cameroon change during the time you were living there?
I had written about my change of perception in my Peace Corps blog. My experience in Cameroon taught me to never “feel sorry” for Cameroonians because the fine line between a good vs bad life is incredibly subjective. The corrupt government and lack of opportunities are the unfortunate facts of life facing Cameroon, yet Cameroonians are dignified individuals who work hard against these realities to achieve a better life. The obstacles are plenty and I’m always amazed at people who continue to make the attempts despite of it all. I feel angry for them but I no longer feel sorry or shed pity, because they deserve more.
Your new site is called Asian Polyglot so I’m guessing you speak a few languages. Do you think that knowing foreign languages is important for promoting cultural exchange?
I speak Mandarin Chinese and Taiwanese from my childhood in Taiwan, English was acquired through schooling in the US, and French from my time in Cameroon. I believe to really understand a culture, one must attempt to learn the language. There are many feelings and attitudes that simply cannot be translated and only if you understand the language can you grasp the underlying meaning.
What’s next? And, will you stay put for a bit or is there more travel on the horizon?
I’ve just begun my next adventure to pursue graduate studies at the London School of Economics where I will study international development under the Master of Public Administration program. I hope to draw from my experiences in the field toward this study. For the next few years at least, I think there are more travels on the horizon. I want to see a bit more of the world and let life continue to take me to many unexpected destinations.
Wendy is a recently returned Peace Corps Volunteer from Cameroon, West Africa where she served as a Small Enterprise Developer. Besides teaching business classes and consulting entrepreneurs, Wendy also founded the Books For Cameroon project that aims to establish or improve over 35 libraries throughout Cameroon. While she lived without running water, she had access to the Internet in her small village. She used social media tools to fulfill the culture exchange goals of the Peace Corps via Twitter and her blog. You can continue to follow her life as a student in London via her new blog, Asian Polyglot.
About the authorLucy