A Winding Road

Marcus Larsen-Strecker Alumnus ’18

The main lesson of the moment has been learning, once again, that the only constant is change. Struck by a global pandemic, even those of us fortunate enough to remain healthy as many others fall ill face the common challenge of responding to an ever-evolving reality. The magnitude and stakes of this process may be exaggerated at this time, but the experience itself is not new. Change is ever-present; in fact, it’s constant. This reality makes adaptability—a close cousin of change—a truly irreplaceable asset. Upon looking back, I realize that adaptability was one of the most valuable, albeit underrated, skills trained at GPTI.

Upon transitioning out of GPTI, I landed in a role where responding to change was the name of the game: I worked as a field instructor for gap year and study abroad programs in Asia. We brought our students to completely new environments, vastly different from anything they were accustomed to, which meant that we—their mentors, guides, medics, and all-in-one care-takers—often found ourselves navigating completely new and unexpected circumstances, too. It might be something as simple as realizing we forgot to settle a plan with the driver seven hours before a flight when it’s half past midnight and we still needed to get fifteen people out of a village at three a.m. in the morning. It might also appear as a bus accident that throws more than our itinerary on its head, or an unexpected onset of high altitude pulmonary edema just before boarding a flight.

As important as anticipation is, Michelle’s class also taught us when a speaker—or a bus for that matter—takes an unexpected turn, we need to be ready for a bit of on the spot maneuvering.

In short, sometimes you order a coffee, but life gives you tea. Expecting a month mountaineering in the Himalayas, followed by a crash course in photojournalism in Kathmandu, and a yoga teacher training in Uttarakhand this spring, COVID-19 redirected me instead to a small aboriginal village in the south of Taitung with local friends I have known since 2014. If I had not managed to board a flight back to Taiwan days before the border closed to foreign friends like myself, these months would have unfolded completely differently. Instead I wake up to the possibility of planting fresh tree saplings, renovating my friend’s home with stones and twine, or flocking to the city for my bi-weekly foot massage class.

In idle moments, my training at GPTI in T&I finds its way into my daily life as I make progress on a few translations for the Taipei Chinese PEN or interpret for a visiting Frenchman as he teaches the young people in the community how to make fire from nothing. However, my experience has shown me that it is not only the hard skills in translation and interpretation that have found their way into my daily life, and possibly future (fingers crossed for my application to work at the OOP or the MOFA!), it is the lessons that lay beneath these hard skills that truly support us in hard times, namely adaptability in the face of change.

It took having a classmate translate Beowulf into Middle Chinese in NTNU’s Literary Translation class for me to realize the vast expanse of options at our fingertips. In navigating the twists and turns of a text in translation, we prepare ourselves for the curve balls of life. Learning to respond to the unexpected, a preparation that permeates our studies at GPTI, guides us in life. Change is the only constant, and sometimes, although we might not realize it at first, it is plan B that was meant to be. After all, as much as I like coffee, I also like tea.

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