Dan Davidson Fellowship Essay: Kristen Vierrether

Vierrether_photo_1During my two months studying in Taiwan, every second of the day I was immersed in the local community. From the time I walked out of my dorm, saying good morning to the guard on duty, to the time I went to sleep after watching local television, I was surrounded in local culture, customs, and hospitality. Given that we did not have means to cook our own food in the dorms and that in Taiwanese culture street food is convenient, cost effective, and everywhere, I was able to communicate with a variety of different vendors and even became close to a few of the workers at places I frequented. Engaging with local workers helped me pick up slang, understand Taiwanese food culture, and gain a deeper appreciation for the variety of Taiwanese food.

Engaging with the local community truly helped me clean up my speaking skills: I learned what common phrases were used, proper greetings, and the rules of manners throughout different occasions. I also learned the difference between Chinese you learn through formal education and the informal conversation used in day to day life with native speakers. Every day after class I would walk to a local coffee and tea shop that was popular with both my classmates and local college students. I became familiar with how to order my tea fluently with a Chinese menu and to chat with the workers at the café. Dong my homework in the café exposed me to the nature of friendship and community with people of my own age. Right next to my favorite café was the supermarket I visited most often. The operation of the supermarket helped me understand the values of different food in Taiwan. First there was a large section of fruit, vegetables, sauces, and ingredients for fresh home cooked meals. Next there was a large variety of drinks followed by a small freezer and junk food isle.

The weekend I spent with my host family was my most important experience in Taiwan. We spent time at the local park and trails and I got to see what an outdoor afternoon looked like for many people while interacting with local kids my age teaching canoeing and kayaking on the lake. I also was able to meet my host family’s other family members. Their hospitality was truly special. I was constantly offered a snack, a drink, a seat or anything that I may have needed. I was able to explore what family life looked like on the weekend in a slightly more rural part of Tainan and was able to appreciate how much Taiwanese people appreciate family time.

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On my last day of living in Taiwan, when I was returning to my dorm, I ran into one of our neighbors outside the building. We struck up conversation and I was shocked to discover I could easily communicate with her and we continued talking for quite a while. Meeting her exemplified the Taiwanese spirit of hospitality and kindness and sent me away with a great memory of my time in Tainan. Not only did conversing with her give me a great memory but helped me understand the impact my classes and time abroad positively affected my language capability.

Without the Dan E. Davidson Fellowship, I would never have been able to afford my study abroad experience. The money I received allowed me to purchase my plane ticket and cover part of my tuition. This allowed me to save my money from work to buy food, travel, and bring home souvenirs from Taiwan while focusing on my studies rather than worrying about money. When I first saw the information for TISLP I was worried I would never be able to afford the tuition or plane ticket. Before applying, I researched the scholarships available to me. After I saw the Dan. E. Davidson requirements, I knew I had the passion that the fellowship wanted.

Now that I have returned to school in the United States, I have continued my Chinese language education at my university. In the future I plan to apply my language skills working in the Department of Defense or another security-based department. My study of Asia and the Chinese language combined with my study abroad experience has helped me build an impressive resume and has given me a great base to continue my Chinese language learning in the future. Using my Chinese experience in my career is a dream of mine and without my study abroad experience I would not have the confidence, experience, or skill to pursue this dream. Without hesitation I wholeheartedly recommended the program to anyone who will listen and will continue to sing its praises in the future. Thanks to the Dan E. Davidson Fellowship and the Taiwan Intensive Summer Language Program I have much more confidence and ability in Chinese and feel much more secure in my career path.

Program: Taiwan Intensive Summer Language Program

Term: Summer 2019

The Dan E. Davidson Fellowship supports highly qualified and deserving individuals who would otherwise not have the opportunity to build the skills that allow them to operate, negotiate, and establish ties in countries critical to U.S. economic, political, and social interests through language study and area studies coursework. Click here to learn more about Dr. Davidson and the Fellowship.

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