Taiwan is often a place people don’t hear about. With the small island being off the cost of mainland China, it is often forgotten or placed as apart of China. With my GLI Global Theme being culture and politics I decide to explore Taiwan, wanting to experience the difference of the small island and the many stereotypes that is placed upon it. I wanted to focus on how Taiwanese people see themselves and how they are different then other Asian countries.
When you first arrive to Taipei Taiwan you notice one big thing; the kindness of the Taiwanese people. Taiwanese are known for being extremely friendly and going above and beyond to help foreigners. An example of this is when my good friend Hue-Quyen and I were lost. Looking at our very confused faces, a Taiwanese women approached us and asked if we were lost and needed help. Instead of telling us how to get to the restaurant we were looking for she decided it would be best to just take us there personally. Both Hue-Quyen and I were shocked by her willingness to escort us to the place we wanted to go to instead of point us the right direction and hurrying along her way to her original destination. Seeing this, especially in a big city with nearly 6 million people living in one area, is extremely rare in the United States.
It is important to know that Taiwan prides themselves as being very progressive and tends to think as themselves a example for other Asian countries. While this may sound arrogant but they have reasons for thinking this way. While they are under the One China act, meaning no country can recognize Taiwan as it’s own country without breaking all tie they have with China. This is a huge issue that I will touch on through out this blog post. Even though they are under the One China act they have the same as Hong Kong, they are able to have their own government system as long as they don’t defy China and their rules they have for Taiwan. They are progressive because the adapted a democracy, and have a female president. They are also currently fighting for women rights and gay rights.
When I was in Taiwan I was able to witness a referendum vote in Taiwan, one topic up for vote was same-sex marriage. With Taiwanese people wanting to continue the image of them being progressive millions of people came out to vote on this topic. While almost all young citizens of Taiwan voted for same-sex marriage many elders and parents voted against. When the verdict of the same-sex marriage being turned down I witnessed the impact it had on Taiwanese people. Just weeks before the vote there was a pride parade in Taipei that thousands of people attended to show their support. This verdict of turning down same-sex marriage was considered a huge blow to the island reputation of being equal rights pioneer. After the verdict many flooded to social media to express their disappointment and support for the Taiwanese gay community, stating that the battle has just began and to not give up hope. Witnessing the unity of the youth of Taiwan was something that was powerful for me to witness.
Apart from looking at the major political happening in Taiwan I also learned about the pride the Taiwanese take in their own culture. Even with Taiwan often being looked at as mostly Chinese culture, the citizens see themselves separated. With both China and Taiwan speaking Mandarin Chinese, China writes in simplified Chinese (examples:爱 [love]，
还[still,yet] ，头[head,top,first] ) while Taiwan writes in traditional Chinese (example:愛 [love] , 還 [still,yet] ，頭 [head,top,first] ). The Taiwanese people see this as staying true to their culture and stepping away from China. The Taiwanese also have natives and they take pride in the original culture and traditions of their tribes. Learning about Taiwanese culture made me understand better why Taiwan is fighting to become it’s own country. The Taiwanese have many unique cultures and their own political system that is different for China. I can also see how the United States influenced Taiwan, it’s adopted our governmental system and college system. There were a lot of connections between the United States and Taiwan politically. Besides politically younger Taiwanese people have adapted a western style.
While being immersed in Taiwanese culture I have been able to re-think what it means to be proud of where you come from. Taiwanese people are constantly being told that they are Chinese and that they don’t have their own culture. But everyone that lives in Taiwan know and continue to fight to prove that they are different, whether that’s politically or celebrating their unique culture. Being able to observe the referendum vote and the argument for their native cultures I have been able to see many different challenges that other face.
During my Time in Taipei I noticed many other thing other than the kindness of the Taiwanese people. With taking class at National Taiwan University, the top university in Taiwan, I was able to take classes that expanded my knowledge of my GLI theme. I took two different classes, one focused on Taiwanese women and society today and how it came to be. The other focused on culture and film, looking at how Taiwan has grown from its struggles and how film has portrayed those moments. Both of these classes gave great insight to how the culture of Taiwan developed into what we see today as well as seeing the struggles it faced. Both classes were interesting and thought provoking. Along with those classes I took intro to east Asian studies, global market management, general Chinese, and enhanced Chinese.
My time in Taiwan enhanced my leadership skills by forcing me to put myself in awkward and stressful situations. With the main language being Mandarin I often had to speak in Chinese to get around. My Chinese is good enough that I can get around Taiwan pretty well. Ordering Food, no problem, finding/ asking questions about trains and buses, easy. But I had to do many things that I was not comfortable with. Small talk is really easy in your own language but I often had to have everyday conversations with locals. This caused me stress because I didn’t want to be rude or seem indecisive. It challenged me to communicate efficiently in a language I am learning. Also being one of two people in our twelve person group who knew Chinese I often had to speak and help my friends to get around. For example I would get phone calls when they are lost, I would then be handed to a local and translate for them the best I could to help them. Helping them through their challenges allowed me to grow my leadership skills and problem solving skills. Not to mention overcoming my own challenges with the language.
My time in Taiwan is something I found to be very educational and beneficial for me in the future. Having to adapt to a culture so different then the one we have here in America and take classes that were challenging has made me a better person and student. I can talk about many other experiences I had that made my time in Taiwan one to remember but it’s mostly stories about how we got lost and stumbled upon something extraordinary. The friends I made also made my stay something that I will always look back on with found memories. I am forever grateful that I was able to participate in GLI that allowed me to broaden my education and experience. Giving me knowledge and memories I will always cherish.