Building Connections Online

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, AC Study Abroad programs were held virtually during Summer 2020.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by my motivation to learn Chinese online. Since we’re meeting face to face every day, I find I still feel the pressure of accountability that keeps me studying. I’ve also found that, despite not being truly immersed in the culture, I’m still learning a lot about culture through conversation. I think we’re overcompensating for the distance in discussions by focusing more on explaining Taiwanese culture, which has been super helpful. My language partner, specifically, has been a wonderful resource for better understanding minute aspects of culture. Last year I was fortunate enough to study abroad with TISLP, and I’ve studied Taiwanese culture before for my major in Chinese language and culture, but I’ve never gotten the chance to dive into such specifics. Thus far, we’ve discussed current film and television, hourly pay, beliefs in God and ghosts, holidays, and temple culture.

Learning a year of Chinese in two months online is quite a daunting task, but it became a lot less daunting after meeting my professor, one-on-one TA, and language partner. They’re all lovely and kind when correcting my many, many, mistakes. I can already tell a real difference between my language level before beginning the program and now. We’ve focused a lot on written formal Chinese and I really appreciate having classical language skills. 

Being an upper-level student, a lot of our conversation focuses on politics and economics. With our current political climate being so heated, we’ve gotten the opportunity to speak on relevant topics and pressing matters. I’ve really enjoyed hearing perspectives from Taiwanese people in our discussions. Protesting for Black Lives Matter has become an important part of my day, and through sharing my experiences protesting, I’ve gotten to learn vocabulary to talk about topics I’m passionate about. 

I like hearing about the issues both sides of the globe are facing and coming together to discuss the solutions we’ve found. What a relief it was to hear that Taiwan has dealt with the pandemic gracefully. How well the Taiwanese have handled this epidemic is truly a testament to their capabilities in an area where my own country has fallen short. Just as well, I’m so proud to share how millions of Americans are rising up to protest the systematic racism we’ve held as the status quo for so long. Through discussing these issues with those who have a different perspective, influenced by culture, media, and politics, I feel more connected to Taiwanese people in my generation. It’s easy to assume that because we’re on different sides of the globe we would have some unbreakable barrier in communication and understanding. However, I feel that the more time I spend with Taiwanese people the more I question how much a border can really separate a generation. While this might be in large part because our governments are structured similarly, I continually find I have more in common with Taiwanese people than not. Getting to hear firsthand about Taiwanese culture makes me so excited to spend more time immersed in it and to use my newly acquired language skills.

By: Keilon Sabourin

Program: Taiwan Intensive Summer Language Program

Term: Summer 2020

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