This is my second time coming to Taiwan. The first time I came to Taiwan I was a senior in high school—now, I am a senior in college and my perception of Taiwan has changed a lot. Knowing more Chinese has allowed me to interact with more people than I did when I was younger. My first experience in Taiwan was great, but besides the host family I stayed with I did not really get to know anyone. Learning about Taiwan through talking to strangers and making friends has been so satisfying and in my opinion something that cannot be replicated through textbook learning.
Four times a week we have a discussion class on current events—all in Chinese, of course! At first, I had my doubts about the usefulness of the class and the topics (so far we have discussed China’s pollution problem, Foxconn, the Syrian migrant crisis and social media) but these discussions have been essential in talking to Taiwanese people. I have found that the vocabulary from these discussion classes not only pertain to the topics but can be used in having any number of intellectual and meaningful conversations.
My favorite place to meet new people and practice my Chinese is at our local 7/11 convenience store. Because it is only a five-minute walk from the boys’ dormitory, I often find myself there getting a late night snack after I finished studying for the next day’s lesson. The only prerequisite to making a new friend in Taiwan at the local 7/11 is to take out your earbuds while you are eating your instant noodles. If a person does not approach you within a few minutes, all you have to do is ask to sit at a table and ask a question in Chinese—and surely a simple question like “what’s the best type of instant noodle?” will lead to an interesting discussion and a new friend!
I was skateboarding in the park last week when I made a really special connection with an elderly man. He was watching me skateboard from the side of the rink for twenty minutes and when I was done exercising he introduced himself and asked where I came from and what I was doing in Taiwan. The conversation soon turned to his occupation—he is a sixth generation acupuncturist. This was particularly interesting to me because I had wanted to try Traditional Chinese Medicine to see if it could help me with some pain I had in my jaw since arriving to Taiwan. In Taiwan, I already visited the local clinic as well as the dentist but nothing they prescribed helped. The elderly man was more than happy to take a look at my jaw and absolutely did not want to be monetarily compensated. He said that my company to him was worth way more than money. After a few sessions, my jaw pain disappeared completely! We are now good friends and meet up twice a week to speak Chinese—he has even assigned me small essays to write him in Chinese about my life, experiences and personality!
By: Karl Hahn
Term: Summer 2018