Starting Monday, five locals will be living the Taiwanese life.
For a month, this group of young professionals will tour schools, businesses, arts centers and media offices as part of a Rotary Foundation of Rotary International trip.
They'll meet people from many industries, see temples and tour museums, and get to eat foods most probably haven't tasted before – like "stinky tofu," a popular snack on the island, which is off the coast of China.
Trip leader Shanae Hinkle, director of finance for the Danville school district, wrote in an e-mail on Thursday that the trip will be an opportunity for people to learn about their jobs as they're practiced in Taiwan, "allowing for a reciprocal exchange of ideas in your field."
Hinkle hopes it will promote "an appreciation of cultural diversity," create international friendships and provide outlets for international service projects.
Those goals represent the mission of Rotary International, of which Hinkle is a member in her local club. Her club is one of more than 50 clubs – with about 3,000 members in the East Central Illinois' Rotary District 6490
"I joined Rotary to become part of a 'global network of community volunteers,'" Hinkle wrote. "Rotary is a worldwide organization of business and professional leaders that provides humanitarian service, encourages high ethical standards in all vocations and helps build goodwill and peace in the world."
Those ideals helped persuade Tina Steel that taking the trip would be an opportunity too rare to pass up. The after-school program director from Clinton hasn't traveled beyond Mexico thus far, but she's excited that she's about to go abroad for the first time.
"A lot of the things that Rotary works toward are things that I work toward in my job, like working with the community, fighting poverty," Steel said. "I'm most excited to study, to see the culture and to see how they do things in a different country."
Paminder S. Parmar, a water resources engineer from Champaign, has traveled the world extensively, but never to Taiwan.
"I'm just into understanding the world," he said.
While Parmar hopes to develop his business skills on the trip, he's also "representing myself and my story," he said.
"I would want to show kind of what the U.S. is and what kind of people are there and who we are," he said, adding that his own family emigrated to the U.S. from India.
Ngozi Onuora, a professor in education at Millikin University in Decatur, will also be on the trip.
Monticello Rotary Club member Jim Ayers went on a similar Rotary trip last year to Shanghai and Hong Kong in China. At times, "we felt like we were the first time a Westerner had been some place," he said. "They got a chance to interact with Americans on a personal level."
During the trip, his group visited a hospital that provides surgeries for children with congenital heart defects. "They can do a heart surgery and restore the child to good heart health for 3,000 U.S. dollars," Ayers said. Now his Rotary Club is helping support that effort.
For this year's group, travels will take them through the southeastern part of Taiwan and the area's largest city, Kaohsiung, which has one of the biggest shipping industries in the world.
For Hinkle, the trip is a chance to share her experiences with others and to reflect on their experiences.
"I am grateful for the opportunity to share my love of my vocation, my community and the American Midwest, while being immersed in Taiwanese culture," she wrote. "I believe what I gain from this experience will not be as important as what I become as a result of it."
News-Gazette reporter making trip
When a team of local professionals heads to Taiwan this month on a Rotary International group study trip, I'll be heading there along with them.
A major goal of our trip is to learn about how our vocation is practiced in another country, and to share what we know about how it's practiced in ours.
To that end, I'll be checking out media outlets and, hopefully, talking to journalists about what we do.
But I'll also be learning about the culture, history, food and geography of the country, stinky tofu and all.
We'll tour aboriginal settlements, see art museums, cruise rivers and take a high-speed train, among many other high points on our packed itinerary.
Readers can take the trip virtually as I chronicle our adventures on The News-Gazette's Web site. You can find my blog at www.news-gazette.com/blogs – I'm the Roving Reporter.
– AMY F. REITER