Fighting To Stand Out

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 excrescence 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 these is when me and my good friend Hue-Quyen were lost. Looking at our very confused faces, a Taiwanese women approached us and asked if we were lost and need 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 their personally. Both me and Hue-Quyen 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 the 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 their 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 plow to the island reputation of being 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. (I talked more about this in my first blog post) 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.

Night View of Taipei 101 from Elephant Mountain

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 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.


National Taiwan University (國立臺灣大學)Palm Tree Boulevard

During my Time in Taipei I noticed many other thing other then 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 be 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. Have 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 that 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 great full that I was able to participate in GLI that allowed to broaden my education and experience. Giving me knowledge and memories I will always cherish.

My Taiwan Family
(Natasha, Csenge, Mina, Rio, Hue-Qyen, Stijin, Maria, Jan-Willem, Me, Kris, Francesca, Renate)

Taiwan: First Three Weeks part 1

Every country is considered to have their own culture that is composed by their beliefs, society, and ethnic group. With the opportunity to travel to four different countries in my life (Mexico, Thailand, China, and Canada), I have been able to firsthand experienced many different and unique cultures. I believe Taiwan, however, has been the most unique culture I have experienced so far.

 

For the last four weeks I have been studying Chinese at 國立成功大學(National Cheng Kung University) in Tainan through the Taiwan United-States Sister Alliance (TUSA) Global Ambassadors Scholarship program. I arrived in Taiwan on June 7th, a few days before the program began, and will depart on August 8th. The two-month Chinese learning program includes many cultural excursions and a very intensive workload. Every day I wake up at 8:00am to attend my two hour Chinese class and then attend a one-on-one drill session from 11:00-12:00pm where I speak solely in Mandarin.  Also twice a week, I meet up with my language partner for two hours to practice speaking and listening to Chinese. While the language partner helps me improve my Chinese, I help her improve her English. Along with nightly homework, I have two quizzes a week along with a 報告(presentation) at the end of every lesson. Each week we cover approximately one lesson, which consists of two dialogues, 4-5 sentence structures, and 30-40 new characters. Over the past four weeks, this program has allowed me to increase my ability to speak, listen, read, and write Chinese.

Even though the Chinese coursework is intensive, the TUSA program also takes us on three culture excursions. Besides arranged trips, I also had the opportunity to live with a host family for a weekend in Kaohsiung. I have also taken several different trips with my classmates. Each trip I have taken so far has been filled with new experiences and has opened my eyes to different ways of thinking or doing things.

 

The first weekend in July, the TUSA program took us to Pingtung to visit a rural area school where Taiwan indigenous people live. These indigenous people used to live on top of a mountain, but in 2009 typhoon Morakot, the deadliest typhoon to hit Taiwan, destroyed the villagers’ homes and forced them to move down the mountain and build a new life. Three tribes were displaced due to the typhoon and built their new homes at the bottom of the mountain in the same community as each other. This new sanctuary with multiple cultures meshed together created a charming village in the hills.

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Lilly Evergreen Elementary School principle showing us the outside classroom which shows the children the importance of nature and allows them to learn in a new environment

Our project in 屏東(Pingtung) was to teach English to middle-school students. My group, which had 5 people, was in charge of  12 kids from age 8 to 12. All but one of the kids we taught already had English names. The first time we met the kids we decided the best way to get to know them was to play games. Due to the language barrier, we played simple games that could easily be explained and played; we played multiple name games, including my personal favorite, the blanket game. Seeing the kids having fun and getting closer to us as time went by is something that motivates me to talk to more Taiwanese people. If I can connect with little kids through broken Chinese, I believe I should be able to express myself enough to hold a meaningful conversation with adults back in Tainan.

 

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Day one Morning Class; Lilly Evergreen Elementary School

Reading and writing English did not seem to present a problem to the kids; however, speaking seemed to be a challenged for everyone. I was very surprised to learn that most of the kids could write clear, fluent, and correct sentences. Just like a middle school student in America, these kids could write easy English sentences without any help, aside from the occasional questions on how to spell a word or two.

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One of my students introduction

After the kids wrote down their self introductions, we began teaching them how to say the sentences they had written down. My first student Kevin (intro pictures above) was the best English speaker of the entire class. He only struggled with some words such as volleyball, steak, and brother. Other than these few words, he was more confident in his speaking than in his spelling. For the other students, it was the opposite. They could write really well, but when it came time to speak, especially in front of a camera, they struggled. This is is not only understandable; it’s also expected. If you put me in front of a camera and told me to recite everything I just wrote in Chinese, I would become a deer in a headlight that doesn’t know a speck of Chinese. Only having a day and a half to learn, write, and speak a different language is very impressive and brave.

One of the most rewarding thing from this whole 屏東 (pingtung) trip was teaching the indigenous kids how to speak English and one of the most fulfilling parts was the chance to learn traditional Taiwanese culture through the eyes of a 8-12 year old. The experience I had wouldn’t have been possible without the TUSA program arranging the trip for us.

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A model of a traditional Taiwanese home made by the children attending Evergreen Lilly Elementary School

To be able to understand a culture better you can do many things such as travel that country, taking classes, and living there. However, I think that in order to understand a culture in depth you need to have some contact with children. Children are still mostly influenced by their parents and the schools they attend. They haven’t had the chance to explore the world and be influenced by other cultures, just like the kids in Evergreen Lilly Elementary school. These kids are in the mountains miles away from any big city so they are reliant on learning things from the people in their tribe. Also because the school is passionate about preserving the culture, they teach the kids about their tribe’s traditions in class. In addition, they provide projects (like the one pictured above) to teach them about their culture.

As I reflect on the beginning of the first three weeks in Taiwan, I realize that I have experienced and want to share more than I thought I would. Through the TUSA scholarship I was able to experience a elementary school attended by indigenous Taiwanese people. Through playing and teaching the kids, I also learned a lot about their culture. So far, I have experienced many new things, which has made this trip to Taiwan very unique.