This will mark my third week in Taiwan at TISLP and I feel like time has flown past. This is my second time to Taiwan, the first trip was last year when I volunteered to teach English at a bilingual camp in smaller, more rural districts. I grew up in the States in a Cantonese-speaking family. Having a Cantonese background gave me a unique advantage where sometimes I could say a Cantonese word slightly off-tone and result in the translated Mandarin word. Other times, I am not so lucky and get a confused look from the other conversing end. This trip has also been different than last because this time, I have had 2 semesters worth of studying Chinese in school, am encouraged to speak Chinese 24/7 and get to explore the city of Tainan.
Taiwan so far has been filled with activity. During the weekdays, I leave the dorms at 7:15 am and walk with a friend past the same bakery every day where we buy breakfast on the way to class. The day starts with a 50 minute one-on-one session with a teacher, followed by 2 large classes that consist of 7 students. Then comes lunch where we get an hour to go to the nearby street where you can conveniently and inexpensively buy lunch from a plethora of options. The last large class of the day is a discussion group to talk about relevant issues such as pollution, world enterprises, and the Syrian migrant crisis. Our day continues at the university whether it is meeting with our resident director or participating in a Taiwanese culture class. When we finally depart from the university, there is no time to rest. We head to a local coffee shop to start our homework and prepare for the next day’s class and quiz or test. Whether it has been going out with the TISLP group on excursions, taking a stroll on the weekends to night markets, exploring new places to eat every night with newly made friends, a day packed with class, 3 weeks have gone by very quickly. I feel like I can always get more sleep, but every day holds something new. 8 weeks might seem like a long time, but I constantly feel like there is more to do, more to see.
I think it is peculiar being a Chinese American student studying abroad in Taiwan. It is both an immersion in a new culture but also a re-connection to my heritage. I have often gone out to get food from local Taiwanese vendors with my fellow ethnically American friends. My classmates will start to engage in conversation in Chinese with the vendor but the local Taiwanese will glance over to me as if I could speak better Chinese or translate because of my appearance. But, with the short time of Mandarin I have studied, many of my classmates’ Chinese is actually better than mine. This has both been humorous and humbling because it reminds me that I need to work just as hard to learn the language and not take this opportunity for granted.
This coming weekend I am going to stay with my host family and get to experience Taiwanese culture on a more intimate level. I am excited to meet my host family and get to make new relationships!
By: Twyla Lee
Term: Summer 2018