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Old Gold & Black

Old Gold & Black

Old Gold & Black

Students create documentary after cycling around Taiwan

Students+create+documentary+after+cycling+around+Taiwan

 

By: Sarah Madden, Senior Writer

This Interim, three Wofford seniors traveled around Taiwan studying ecotourism by completing a twelve-day cycling trip around the island, biking from hostel to hostel and conducting interviews along the way.

Helen Lamm, a Chinese major also minoring in history, says that the project was fairly spontaneous, but was born out of an unfulfilled desire to thoroughly explore Taiwan while studying abroad in China in the past. She partnered with Alex Bentley, a biology and Spanish double major, and Kirkland Dickson, a biology major also minoring in environmental studies, to study the interaction between tourism and the bicycle industry in Taiwan.

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Taiwan has long been a global hub of bicycle production and has recently embraced the sport of biking itself as a form of tourism, says Bentley: “Circling the island was the physical goal, but academically, we wanted to study the interplay between policy, tourism, environmental consciousness and the developing cycling culture on the island.”

“After World War II, with the help from a stimulus package from the U.S., Taiwan had a big economic boom and the environment kind of fell out of people’s minds with the focus on economic growth,” says Dickson. “Recently, they’ve come up with a 10 step plan going into their ‘golden age’ to ensure that the growth of their economy is matched with the growth in importance of environmental factors.”

“Tourism is an amazing petri dish for all of these big things that are happening in the world,” says Lamm. To study these aspects of tourism, the trio conducted about fifteen interviews with various people involved in the tourism and cycling culture, as well as created “vlogs” posted throughout their journey as they made their way from the northern end of the island around towards the south. The group averaged about 30-40 miles a day, though some days were as long as 70 miles.

Dickson says that she felt somewhat unprepared for how grueling their biking would be: “I bike, but not like that,” she says. “The uphill was the worst—downhills were my favorite! My best day was the day I finally didn’t have to walk my bike up any part of the mountain we biked up… the day before, we had done two soul-destroying mountains and I’d had to walk my bike up both.”

Though they were academically and strategically well prepared, there were still surprising lessons to learn from the excursion, says Lamm: “There’s something to be said about the physically challenges, but it was intellectually and spiritually more enlightening than I expected.”

“I was surprised by the fact that although language is such a barrier, you can still easily overcome it without knowing the language,” says Dickson. “I also learned a lot about nationalism that isn’t as aggressive or in your face, like we think of in America—nationalism that’s kind and quiet yet still so noticeable and significant.”

Lamm says that Taiwanese culture reflects the Chinese concept of hospitality, but has a more open, lighthearted feel to it. The most memorable people they met were often the most hospitable.

“One night, we didn’t arrive at our hostel until after dark, and we walked in to find that the owners were an older couple. There were medals displayed everywhere from the owner’s marathon running,” she says. “They eventually asked us if we had eaten yet. We told them that we had snacks with us—they insisted on driving us into town and paying for our food at a night market, then waited up with us while we ate.”

There were plenty of challenges to face between the mountains, flat tires and long bike rides, but for Lamm, the most significant challenge was deciding to discontinue biking late in the trip due to an injury:

“I got into an accident when a policewoman on a moped and I collided when I was turning left at an intersection,” she says. “I was fine, but it inflamed an old hip injury that made biking almost impossible—every challenge up to that point had not brought up the question of whether or not I could finish. But biking is not insular… When we’re doing more than 45 miles a day, I was putting [the other] two in danger by not being 100 percent.”

Ultimately, the group learned that the effort put into developing and carrying out independent travel interims is an invaluable lesson in and of itself: “If you have a dream, Wofford can make it happen. If you’re willing to do the work, Wofford will support you,” says Lamm.

“Anyone who wants to do a travel or independent interim absolutely can,” echoes Dickson. “If you do something with intentionality, that intentionality will apply to anything you do, whether at Wofford or anywhere in the world.”

The trio is working on a short film that will be released this semester, but their vlogs can be accessed at https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLxqJU-P1uwzATWIRlRzGlbOteRmTJt4ef.

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