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Discovering the Soul of an Island

The sun is setting. Conversation and the tinny automated voice are the only sounds that disturb the gentle hum of the MRT. It's 5:20 p.m. As I look out through the window, we pass swaths of grass, knitted together like a patchwork quilt on the riverbanks. We're plunged into darkness as the train rockets through the mountain tunnels and emerge surrounded on all sides by lush treetops. A freeway extends westward, cutting the landscape of an island so remarkably forgotten by the rest of the world.

But not by me.

When I told people I was leaving for Taiwan, many laughed politely thinking how silly I was to have mispronounced Thailand. Others shot quizzical glances, brow furrowed in thought, convinced I just made that name up. But it does exist; the Isle Formosa, they used to call it. A wonderfully fascinating country with ruggedly beautiful scenery and a vibrancy all its own, this is the birthplace of my mother's maternal ancestry.

And as I stare out the window of the MRT, sitting next to family members I had met only hours before, I'm reminded why I'm here and why I wanted to stay.

History tells us that you've got to look back to move forward. This is the grounding philosophy that has taken me on a journey nearly 8,000 miles from where I've so comfortably rooted myself for more than two decades. Everything in Taiwan is uncomfortable – the food, the language, the culture – but it's this discomfort I am hungry for.

For most of my life, my family has kept quiet about my Taiwanese heritage and, truthfully, up until now I never really thought so much to ask. But though it wasn't often discussed, it has always had a subtle presence in my life from the bibles, written in Mandarin, in my grandparents' home to the knowledge that I don't know my grandmother's real name – only her Americanized one.


Profile photo of Hillary Federico

Hillary grew up in a small town in eastern Connecticut, but has spent the past several years exploring the world with her notebook and pen. A former award-winning reporter, she has worked as a social media analyst, communications manager in the hospitality industry and is co-founder of Pyxis Foundation, a non-profit organization aimed at encouraging leadership in students in third world countries. And she’s tweeted her journey every step of the way. Follow her on twitter @hillfed or on Instagram @hfederico.

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