Fulbright Scholar Annika Bjornson gears up for year in Taiwan

By Candice Stilwell | Staff Writer

Annika Bjornson’s senior photos, taken May 2022 at Whitworth University, Spokane, Wash. | Ben Gallaway/The Whitworthian

*Editor’s note: This article was updated Sept. 3, 2023, due to factual errors that were contained in the original article.

Whitworth University alumnus and current Fulbright Scholar Annika Bjornson graduated last spring with a double major in English literature and political science. She is now working with the Council for International Education Exchange (CIEE) in Spain through AuxMadrid, which Bjornson said is a program focused on “creating more bilingual schools” by bringing fluent English speakers into schools to help teach English and various subjects. After her current program ends, Bjornson will depart for Taiwan to complete the Fulbright English Teaching Flagship program on Aug. 1, 2023.

Bjornson explained that she applied for the program per the recommendation of students who had participated in the past. “They’ve been really good and helpful with helping me through the visa process, my residency application [and] just adjusting to the culture,” she said. 

Though Bjornson doesn’t have a background in Spanish, which she would recommend for those going into the program, she’s well prepared for her next experience through the Fulbright Scholarship.  

“I’ve always had the privilege of being in a context where my first language is spoken,” she said. “Stepping outside of that has taught me a lot that I will definitely take with me next year.”  

In order to receive the Fulbright Scholarship, Bjornson had to apply with an essay stating her reasons for travel, what she wanted to do while abroad and what skills she has that equip her for this work.  

Along with this, the application required a resume, recommendation letters and a Teach English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certificate. She applied last year for this same opportunity but was rejected. Now, she’s been accepted and will be teaching in elementary or middle schools to aide in teaching the students English.  

For the Fulbright Scholarship, Bjornson will be working in a small county in Taiwan called Taitung. Due to her education in middle school, high school and parts of college, she has a background in Mandarin, but she’s “also going to a place that has the highest concentration of Aboriginal Taiwanese in the country.” She’s excited to “have the opportunity to learn some of the dialects there” because Taitung has “the highest concentration of Aboriginal Taiwanese in the country.” 

Though she looks forward for this opportunity, Bjornson is apprehensive about some differences between Spain and Taiwan. She mentioned the differences between the countries, as well as some quirks distinctive of Taiwan. She said that scooters are a common mode of transportation, water must be boiled before its use and toilet paper can’t be flushed. She will also have to brush up on the language, which is difficult as she is simultaneously learning and using Spanish right now. 

“My boyfriend is currently doing Fulbright Taiwan, so he told me that honestly those things are not as big of a deal, you get so used to them,” she said. 

Bjornson warned against over-romanticizing “living abroad as this superior form of adventure. I think it’s important to know that life living abroad is also still normal life” she said. “There’s moments that feel very romantic, and there’s other moments that do not feel very romantic.” 

Even with her concerns about adjusting to life in a new country, Bjornson is excited for her upcoming time in Taiwan. She’s most looking forward to living “in a smaller community that’s very well-connected, where I’ll probably see my students out and about in my everyday life and where I can take a more relaxed pace.”  

She added that she looks forward to “exploring all of the natural wonders nearby,” which consist of “lots and lots of nature — beaches, mountains, hot springs, volcanoes, islands — all kinds of stuff right there. I’m so excited to explore it.”  

She’s also excited for the teaching aspect of the experience. She said, “I see this time as more of an exchange than it is like a service. I really enjoy learning from one another, and I think I have a lot of potential to make English learning a really positive experience for people.”  

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