Beyond a Textbook

Out of the three weeks that I have spent in Tainan so far, I’ve learned something new and have been pushed outside of my comfort zone every day since I stepped off the plane in Taoyuan International Airport. Whether it was through my experiences sharing a meal with a local shop owner, or the morning chats with my one-on-one teacher before I start the day, I have been challenged to not only improve my language ability, but also my cultural understanding of this distant culture. In just this short span of three weeks, the Taiwan Intensive Language Summer Program has not only helped me reach new bounds in my Mandarin proficiency but also given me the opportunity experience aspects of Taiwanese culture that could never be conveyed through any textbook or lecture.

Although most of my days here start in the classroom, the classes are structured in a way that my classmates and I are able to practice articulating complex ideas that are relevant and useful in our encounters outside of class. With lessons and dialogues on topics like Foxconn’s expansion into Wisconsin and the influence of fake news on social media, I constantly find myself using words and phrases fresh from our class discussions in many of my casual encounters around Tainan. This has not only increased my drive to learn even more but allowed me to apply the Chinese that I am learning in a practical setting and allowed me to connect with people from vastly different backgrounds.

In these past three weeks, I have been able to make many meaningful connections and friendship, but my most dynamic friendship has been the one that I have forged with my language partner, Johnny. Although Johnny and I were first paired because of our common interest in soccer, our personalities are practically one in the same, and as a result, we’ve been able to bond over everything from food to music production. My favorite part of the day is linking up with Johnny after classes for a quick meal and learning new words related to daily life of a college student through Johnny’s recount of the day each and every time. Although we were raised in two completely different cultures, I have been able to see how our strong friendship and complementary personalities have served as a catalyst in our mutual development of a new cultural understanding.

Although this may be my second time abroad in Taiwan, I feel like this is a completely new experience since I have felt a heavier emphasis on me immersing myself into Taiwanese culture, as opposed to observing it from the sidelines. The rigorous classes coupled with meaningful cultural experiences, like Taiwanese cooking and music classes provide a perfect amount of balance between cultural and language improvement in such a short time. Just three weeks in Tainan have felt like three months, as each day is filled with cultural experiences that I will carry with me forever. Needless to say, I can’t wait to see what the rest of the program has to offer as we just now reach the halfway point of the eight weeks.

By: Timothy Jones

Program: Taiwan Intensive Summer Language Program

Term: Summer 2018

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