Lessons from Taiwan during the pandemic
In January of 2020, I was seriously worried about COVID-19. That’s not because I was some seer who knew that the disease would turn into a worldwide pandemic, rather, my 25-year-old son was leaving our home in North Carolina to travel back to Korea where he had just finished a year of teaching. He was to gather his belongings and then travel to Taiwan where he had a new teaching position. Of course, I was worried that he would contract the virus thousands of miles away from us and we would have no way of knowing how he was doing. I was thinking as a privileged American who believed that first, the virus would stay in Asia, and second, we would have the best medical care and virus protocols. Boy was I wrong.
He went anyway and as you might imagine, things did not turn out the way any of us expected. He arrived in Korea, packed up his things, and flew to Taipei. There he had to quarantine for two weeks in a hotel room. He began the year completing a ½ year teaching contract where both he and the students wore masks all day. Can you imagine trying to teach or learn a foreign language with masks on? He obtained a new position in June and now does not need to be masked.
It turns out that he was lucky to make it into Taiwan because they closed the borders just a few days later. As a result, Taiwan has had one of the best outcomes for coronavirus worldwide. With only 7 deaths out of 24 million people, they seem to know what they are doing. Since May, restaurants have opened again and life has returned to mostly normal.
I’m not going to lie, I am jealous! When we have our weekly Zoom calls and I hear about his weekend trip here or his dinner out there, I am wishing I had moved to Taiwan! We have been incredibly sad that we were not able to take a planned trip to Taiwan to see him last fall and will miss two birthdays and last Christmas with him. I can’t believe he will be 27 by the next time I see him!
The pandemic showed us just how important it is for societies to band together in the face of a disease like this. Taiwan had planned for a pandemic as a result of the SARS pandemic and kept its plans funded. They immediately closed their borders. But perhaps the most important factors were regular communication from the government using science-based facts, digital health records, and community-mindedness. According to William Hsiao, emeritus professor of economics in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health notes that in Taiwan, there’s a strong feeling that sometimes people have to give up their “individual desires and benefits” for the sake of their community. We have had many conversations with our son about the cultural differences in Confucian cultures versus American culture with our son and can see that this way of thinking has some major benefits for society.
Many Americans can now see how our reliance on individualism can erode a culture so that we become all about ourselves rather than the collective good. Those who refuse to believe in science or wear masks for political reasons are making the entire country suffer for their political beliefs. I never thought that I would see our country sink to such levels of selfishness, but here we are.
Time has moved quickly and now my son is scheduled to return to the states in August. By then, the worst of the pandemic will be behind us, and we will all be vaccinated. He timed everything just right as far as the pandemic goes. I don’t know what the future holds, but I do know that societies function better when people work together.
This post was inspired by the Pandemic Reflections Prompt. Learn more here.