Hello, my name is Alex. I live in Palm Coast Florida and I have lived here for over 10 years now. I love to travel and go to new places. I've been to a lot of different countries in the past and I've loved them all, but now I am getting the opportunity of a lifetime to live in a different country. I am going to Taiwan, and I haven't been to Taiwan yet so I can only read how it will be like until I get there and then I will know for sure; but I'm absolutely sure that I will love it. It had always been a goal of mine to learn a foreign language and now I'm going to learn the most spoken language in the world - Mandarin Chinese.
I live with my Mom and my Dad, I have two brothers who are both in college. I like to play sports a lot. I especially like to play lacrosse. I have been playing lacrosse for over four years now and it is a remarkably fun sport to play. I am also a certified scuba diver and I love to scuba dive. It is one of the most fun activities you could possibly do (just be sure that if you're going cave diving 50 feet under water to check how much air you have left in your tank every once in a while). I like to read and I like to eat, eating is probably one of my biggest hobbies and as I read previous outbound students bios I found that the food is going to be very interesting in Taiwan and I am probably not going to know what I am eating before I eat it, which is perfectly fine for me, because I am a very adventuresome eater and will eat nearly anything you put before me.
I like to go to church and read the Bible, and I read that 5 percent of the population in Taiwan is Christian (which doesn't sound like a lot) but it is enough to find a church every Sunday.
I can't wait until I go to Taiwan, I have no doubt in my mind that it will be the most memorable year of my life.
September 8 Journal
I love it here!!!!! I think that I am supposed to be getting homesick some time soon, but I don't think that it's possible. There always seems like there is something to do, somewhere to go. I live in Taipei so it's a big city. I've never lived in a city like this before and before I came here I didn't know what to expect. I thought that maybe it would always be really loud with an unbearable stench reeking around every corner with mice and rats crawling the streets; and although I did see a mouse run under a food stand yesterday there is hardly any noise and there is virtually no stench.
It is so easy to get around, if someone hogtied me, threw me in the back of their trunk, drove around the city 10 times, and dropped me off on a random alleyway, it would take me 2 hours to get home, maybe 3 if I had to un-hogtie myself. Now I'm not saying that that's very common in Taipei but the point is, its very easy to find your way around, and you never have a problem finding transportation.
The one problem here that I am encountering that I didn't anticipate as much was that everyone speaks English. We had a Rotary Inbound Orientation meeting with over 60 kids from over 12 different nations and they spoke English the entire time. My whole family except for my host grandparents speak English, half my classmates in school speak fluent English. It's very hard to keep yourself away from English Influences; but I think that I am finally getting across to everyone that I "DON'T" want them to speak English. Many of them think that they are helping me out by speaking English to me when in reality it's only hindering my grasp of Chinese. I think soon they will stop speaking to me in English for good, mostly they speak to me in Chinese but when I don't get what they say, they get frustrated so they just say it in English which I don't want them to do. I told them if its really, really important then they can say it in English, otherwise just say it in Chinese; the problem is I think their grasp of what is important is different then my grasp, their grasp is asking me if I have eaten yet, mine is if the whole building is on fire and if I don't jump off the fifth floor of the building on to a miniature trampoline held by some firefighters then I'm going to die.
I've been in Taiwan for over two weeks and despite the English Influence when I look at the improvement I have made learning Chinese, it's incredible. It feels like every day I only learn a little bit of Chinese, but when you add it together it turns out to be a lot. I can get in a cab, tell the driver where I want to go, and then hold about a 30 second conversation with him before he starts to ramble on in Chinese and then I have no clue what he is saying. 30 seconds doesn't sound like much, but then again I've only been here for a little over 2 weeks so by the time I leave I'm sure I'll have no problem holding a 30 minute conversation with the cab driver.
The people here are really nice. There are four exchange students going to my school and it seems like we are the stars of the school. I'll have people say hi to me and calling out my name who I don't even recognize. My first day of school was a really good day, I made friends really fast and for some reason they were addicted to applauding me. The first day of school I said a few words in Chinese and they all started to clap thinking that it was the most amazing thing that an America spoke some Chinese. Then another time they showed me a magic trick with a deck of cards and then they asked me to do a trick, and it just so happens that I knew one, so I showed them the trick and they started to clap again. They still do that, clap when I do something right. It's a little different getting all the attention, I'm not used to people clapping when I show a magic trick.
Life here is fun and it will only get better. Chinese is a very hard language to learn but I'm up for the Challenge. I'll let you know once I've convinced everyone to stop speaking to me in English, and I'll keep you updated on life in Taiwan, and soon I will give you some pictures so you all can see what Taiwan really looks like.
November 13 Journal
I would like to tell you about my day today. This is not an uncommon day for an exchange student living in Taiwan, in fact days like this happen all the time, each day is its own adventure, and at each day's end there's always something unique to talk about. Today I woke up at six in the morning. I was late. I was out the door by 6:10am, usually my host mom would stuff me with as much food as I'd ever want to eat in my life at the breakfast table, but today was different because I was going to school on a Saturday and was the only one up in my house.
The reason why I was going to school on Saturday is because it was our school anniversary. In celebration of our school's anniversary, we get to go to school on a Saturday (which is ok because all we did was have fun). I ran to the MRT (the train/subway system) because I didn't want to be late. It took me five minutes and I had to run there going downhill, uphill, through traffic. I also had to run by a stray dog who was giving me the sad, poor puppy dog eyes look without giving him the proper love and attention a dog should have, all for the sake of being on time to school. I got to the MRT station, and right before I entered the MRT station I observed the MRT leaving. "Great," I thought to myself, "now I have to wait another ten minutes before the next one will leave. . I then waited the ten minutes for the MRT to go, and finally it left and I was on my way to school.
Forty five minutes later, and six chapters read from my bible later, I arrived at my station which I needed to get off at. I started at the station called Dansuia and arrived at the station Gongguan. I proceeded to walk out of the MRT station and to the bus stop which is conveniently located right outside the station. I waited there for about ten minutes or so and bus number one came, my bus. I was excited because according to my watch I had another fifteen minutes to get to school and the bus usually takes around ten to fifteen minutes to get there. I was going to be on time. I was waiting for my turn to get on the bus as I began to see how many people there were on the bus and how there were even more people trying to get on it. After everyone crammed themselves onto the bus there were four people left who for the life of them there was no possible way they could fit on that bus. I was one of them.
After all that effort I went through, having to run for five minutes straight (only stopping once to tie my shoe), and after running by that poor helpless dog who just needed a friend, I was going to be late for school. The day before, my classmates told me that I needed to be there at 7:30am. It was 7:30am when the second bus came, and this time there was virtually nobody on the bus, and only a few of us got onto the bus. I was even able to have a seat to myself, which is a very rare occurrence. Ten to fifteen minutes later I arrived at my school. I walked to the back entrance of my school (which was only a good twenty feet away from the bus stop where I got off) and was thinking to myself, "Please be open". And when I got there, "Rats" it was closed. And through the bars of the back entrance I could see nearly the whole school, lined up in military like fashion, grouped by their classes, scattered over our whole track and field fields that we have, waiting the final few moments for the last stragglers to arrive before they begin their ceremony.
I was thinking to myself how stupid it is for a school to have a back entrance that they only bother to keep open for kids who happen to make it to school on time, when I found another gate which is always shut except on occasions when cars from the underground parking come out and this was one of those times. I wasn't going to have to walk to the complete other side of the school to use the front entrance, only to walk back to the same side of the school I was just at. I walked by the gate, went to the grassy area where all the classes were lined up, and with my 20/20 vision began to scout out the dozens of classes trying to distinguish between the hundreds of unfamiliar Asian faces and the familiar ones that are my good friends and classmates. (You should know that in Taiwan you just have one class that you spend all day with and that class becomes your family and that family has pride of its class and truly believes that their class is better then every other class in the school.) Finding my class mates was much easier then I thought it would be. Usually everyone wears the same color uniform every day, and most people only wore that same uniform today but our class with its wonderful sense of class pride gave everyone the bright color yellow T-shirts that the class leaders had designed and handed out the day before. The T-Shirt made no sense at all (as most Taiwanese shirts with any English on them don't), but the one thing that did make sense on the shirt was Class 03. Our class number is room number 103 and with that number comes the right to tell everyone else how class 103 is better then any other class in the school. So picking out the kids with the yellow shirts as opposed to light purple, green, and blue was pretty easy. They happened to be the only class still walking to where they were supposed to be and walking very close by to where I was standing searching out for where they might be. Then I hear many people calling from behind me, "Alex." (half the time they call you in your English name, and half the time they call you your Chinese name, I guess it just depends on what mood they’re in).
I discovered my class and walked with them to where we were supposed to be and on the way there I noticed that everyone in my class had on their yellow T-Shirts. They also had on their sweatshirts, half way zipped down. One of my classmates asked me where my sweatshirt was. I began to get worried, thinking that we were all supposed to look exactly the same and I was the oddball out who forgot his sweatshirt at home and is now making the whole class look less unified by not looking like everyone else. Then one of my classmates said something like this "Ni leng bu leng" which basically means "Are you cold?" I realized that they really don't care if we look unified or not, they are just concerned about my well being and think that I am cold. The temperature was the perfect temperature. It was by no means too cold and having the option to put on a sweater or not I would have gladly declined, but to everyone else in the school it seemed to be a brutal winter in which the only way to survive is to wear the school given sweatshirts. Every day, my host mom makes me take my sweater to school even though I usually only use it as a pillow. One morning a few days ago I came down to breakfast not even considering that it might be a tad bit chilly and found both my host parents wearing a sweater. They were startled that I wasn't wearing a sweater too, and asked me if I were cold and I told them no. It seemed to boggle their mind (sorry for getting off topic).
Anyway, I was in the first row of our three lines group by our class as the ceremony began. Every once in a while the school will have a ceremony where the whole school stands and listens to people speak up on an outside stage that they have. The last time we had this ceremony it was more like a dance off, and there were a good amount of kids who were trying to become class president, and in turn the only way to win votes in their mind was to convince everyone that they were the best dancer or performer. It turned out to be more like a talent show where half the people blast American music that they don't know any of the words to (and in most cases should stay that way) and then attempt to dance. Some dancing was very good, some not so good, but it was all fun. Then there were some kids who sang songs, others did little comedy skits and it was all fun except for the part that you had to stand in exactly the same place for 30 minutes not being able to move around. But this ceremony was a little different.
First we listened to the principal of our school talk for fifteen minutes. I had no idea what he was talking about and half the people around me didn't know what he was talking about also, not because they can't understand him like me, but because they were too busy talking and not paying attention to pay attention. Near the end of the ceremony things began to spice up a little bit because class 102 performed a cheer leading dance for us. About a month ago every class in our grade began to practice cheer leading dances. This is where everyone in your class that you could not imagine waving around pompoms to loud American music while dancing dances that you only see on pop music videos does, including all of the guys. I'm pretty sure that in America most guys might have a second thought about listening to the girls in their class when they tell them to wave around pompoms while doing a dance that all five year old girls dream of imitating, and doing the dance to the song "I'm a Barbie Girl". But for some cultural difference that still leaves me in amazement to this day, not only do the guys willingly perform this act but they perform it with enthusiasm and with a complete lack of knowledge that nearly everywhere else in the world (America and Europe for sure) it is considered a very feminine thing to do. I find it funny and if I had the option to I would have been more then happy to consider the possibility of joining them in their cheerleading ritual. Unfortunately to my loss the Rotary has all the exchange students gone after school three days a week and that's when the classes practice so I was unable to support class 103 except by filming them on the day of their performance.
The performance was about a week ago and there were fourteen classes in all and every class had its unique performance with its own style, song, and its dance steps that the students came up with themselves. It really was amazing. I never knew that fourteen Taiwanese classes that have had nearly no experience dancing except for the few weeks they had to practice this dance could dance and cheerlead better then American cheerleaders. They were all very talented and choreographed the dance very well. Class 102 ended up winning first place and since they won first place they ended up being able to dance for us at the ceremony today. So they danced and did the dance very well and then afterwards all the classes were dismissed to go to their own classrooms.
We went back to our classroom and began to get ready. "Get ready for what?" you might ask; well, you see today is not a normal day of school. Every class in the school prepared whatever they desired to eat and drink so that they could sell the food and the drink. Everyone was allowed to invite who ever they wanted to, to come and buy food and drinks and eat and just have a good time. There were games in some classrooms. In our classroom we had a Wii, in other classrooms there were X-box's and some classrooms had messy games you could play while others had small mini games you could win prizes playing. It was a blast.
After setting up the food and the drink some of our classmates would stay in the room to sell its goods, while the others went out to have a good time and to buy whatever it is that they wished to buy. Everyone had all kinds of foods, sushi, tofu, chicken, sausages, fried ice cream, and foods you've never seen before. They also had all kinds of teas to drink and many sodas including a soda drink that they put a little bit of dry ice in your cup so that tons of bubbles are coming up through the soda.
I walked through the halls in my school (the halls are more like large balcony pathways and I'm usually walking the 4th floor where my class is) and while I'm walking through them, it would not be uncommon for people to use every effort known to salesmen everywhere to try to get me to buy whatever it is that they want me to buy. These efforts included pestering, pleading, yelling (in a nice forceful kind of way), pushing me, shoving food into my face, and telling me how cheap it is. I would have to constantly say "Bu Yao, Wo Bu Yao, Bu Yao," in English, "Don't want, I don't want, don't want." Usually when I say this it only results in them resorting to a new sales method.
At about one o'clock everything had died down and the last little bit of food and drinks were being sold at a smaller price and everyone was cleaning up their class room. Every class room is tiled and right outside the door is a drain. Everyone helped move all the desks out of the classroom and then we proceeded to dump gallons of water in our classroom, sprinkle powdered soap on the water and begin to scrub the floors with all the scrubbing sticks we could find. Every day twice a day every class for fifteen minutes, spends the time cleaning their classroom. Usually what they do is take out the trash cans, mop the floors in between the desks and scrub the windows. Today was full blown cleaning and the whole process took about an hour. After the cleaning was done we took some pictures and then hung around our room for another fifteen or twenty minutes.
A group of us decided to go into the part of town where there were lots of shopping areas and went on our way. When we took the bus and arrived we had walked for nearly five minutes when we came to the last place I expected for us to go, McDonalds. We didn't go there to eat, most of us were already full from all the food we ate at our celebration and didn't want to gorge ourselves with a wonderfully healthy Big Mac. The McDonalds was huge and had a second floor underneath the first one. When we went down to the second floor it appeared that it was not only a McDonalds but also where people go to practice their life's hobby. I found a group of about seven or eight guys who were doing nothing but solving Rubik's Cubes, there was also a miniature haunted house and a couple of kids running around with glow in the dark masks as they were trying to scare people (I still don't know if they were hired by McDonalds to do that or if its just a pastime for them). We then found ourselves a large corner because there were about fifteen of us and began to talk while a few of us ate small snacks from McDonalds and just had a good time.
A little while passed and everyone decided to play a game. I didn't understand the game at first and didn't participate but watched them all as they played. After a while someone explained the game to me and the game goes like this: someone has a deck of cards, but takes out each number two all the way up to the Ace, and then passes it out to everyone and who ever has the King gets to pick one or two or three people by calling out different numbers from the deck and who ever gets picked has to do what they tell them to do. The things weren't that hard to do. One time they had to lick a lot of pepper onto their tongue and another time someone had to sing a song, but the thing which really confused me was one dare which in America wouldn't be considered a dare at all. It was that sometimes when two people were picked to do a dare the guy and the girl would have to hug each other. I was thinking to myself, "OK, so where does the dare come in," but then I realized that in the two months I've been going to school here I had never seen a guy and a girl hug.
Here in Taiwan its not normal for a guy and a girl to hug unless they are going out with each other. The dare for them was really a dare, and was really a nerve-wracking experience in which they had to hug the opposite sex and all while ten cameras were ready to take a picture right when they had gotten up the guts to hug each other. I then realized in that moment why my host sisters had a look of horror on their faces the first time I met them and gave them each a hug. How things work here is that girls are a lot more affectionate towards other girls then in the United States and guys are a lot more affectionate towards other guys but when it comes to girls and guys showing affection towards each other, that's crossing the line.
After we spent our socializing hour in McDonalds a lot of us had to go, but there was a group of about five of us who stayed together and we went shopping down to many local shops. I was looking for Christmas gifts and they were trying to help me find them and for about an hour we did this and it seemed like the goal of every one in our little company was to find the Christmas gifts I was wanting. As an exchange student in Taiwan everyone gives you extra attention and treats you like royalty. Some exchange students think they treat us like royalty while others think they treat us like four year olds. I like to think of it as a four year old with royal blood. Really I think all it is, is a cultural difference - to many of the exchange students it seems like they are treating you like you’re a child, but really they are just trying to be nice.
For instance; my host mom gave me a bowl of soup the other day that had a lid on it and I was about to open the lid when she quickly shoved my hands away told me that the soup was hot and then herself opened the lid. In another instance my host dad has multiple times taken my chopsticks out of my hand if he thinks that I am taking too little of some food in the dishes that are in front of us at the dinner table and then will scoop as much as he possibly can of whatever food it is that I chose to only take a little of, and slap it on my plate as messily and quickly as possible. At first these things used to bother me, but now I don't really care anymore. I just go with the flow. The people here want to make you happy and it seems like they will do anything for you. It’s very different from the United States.
After we were done shopping we went to a place to eat and met up with about five other students from our school. We ate our food which was very good (chicken, rice, vegetables, soup, with green tea to drink). Both before and after I ate, I taught one of my good friends how to play chess because there was conveniently a chess set in the restaurant. He learned how to play very easily and was very smart. We played a few games and many of the games were very close. After dinner I walked to the MRT station with four other guys from my class, two of the guys were going one way on the line and the other guy and myself were going another way. When the MRT came we said goodbye and got on the train and it wasn't as crowded as it usually was and I usually never get a seat on the way back but there was one seat available. Normally I would just allow someone else to take it but since my friend was with me he kept on insisting that I take the seat and so finally I took the seat reluctantly. We talked some and I had him listen to my IPOD, every song him saying that he loved the song and thought it was awesome and then he had to leave and get off at his stop while I kept on going. I stayed in my seat not doing much except looking out the window every once in a while.
Then after a little bit there was a woman who sat next to me, and I was debating with myself whether to take out my camera and (which has a video setting on it) start video taping while I begin a conversation with the woman next to me, just to see what would happen. I then decided that I wasn't really in the mood to get pepper sprayed in my eye and decided she probably wasn't the talking to a foreigner type anyway. As I was thinking this my phone rang and I answered it and it was my host dad. I talked to him, telling him where I was and that I wasn't hungry and no I didn't want him to pick me anything up to eat and then I hung up. I mostly talked to him in Chinese and the women next to me saw that I knew some Chinese and so a few minutes went by and she struck up a conversation with me.
We talked, she knew a good amount of English so we talked in Chinglish or Engease or what ever you would like to call it for about fifteen minutes or so. She talked about how she was a bookkeeper and how bad her English was even though it really was good and I talked about where I went to school, how long I was staying here in Taiwan and how long I've already been here. It was great, in fifteen minutes I just made a new friend with someone I never had met before.
After I get off the MRT station, I took the long walk home. It took me about five minutes to run to the MRT station, but walking is at least fifteen minutes. I walked home, went in the door to my house and my father was sitting watching TV and he asked me a few questions about my day and then informed me that tomorrow I am going to play basketball with my host sister's schoolmate who I have never met before. He said that he was going to give me a call on my cell phone to tell me what time to meet him to play basketball. Well, for most people that would be out of the ordinary but for an exchange student living in Taiwan, you expect nothing less.
January 15 Journal
These last few months have been great in Taiwan. I have learned so much and find that I myself am changing day by day. The language is still hard, but I am light years ahead of where I was when I first arrived.
Right now I am on my New Years break. The break lasts for nearly a month and I have been on the break for only a few days so far. In Taiwanese culture they celebrate two New Years, they celebrate the New Year that we celebrate that's on January 1st and then there is the Chinese New Year which can be anywhere from late January to mid February. On the January 1st New Year in Taiwan I had a blast. I went to a schoolmate's apartment with a few other friends and we mostly watched TV and played games. A few minutes before the New Year we all went up to the very top of his apartment building which was 13 stories high and watched Taipei 101 which currently is the worlds largest building; and we watched it send off mountains of fireworks. My friend's apartment was very close to Taipei 101 so the view was amazing. There were hundreds and hundreds of fireworks going off. It almost looked like Taipei 101 was on fire. By the time it was done the whole building was covered in smoke because of all the fireworks. I've never seen such a huge display of fireworks in my life.
All the exchange students here in Taiwan go to a Chinese class twice a week. In this class we not only learn how to speak Chinese but also read and write. The speaking part is not too hard for me but writing and reading is very difficult. I think I am making a lot of progress but it still is very hard. There is no sounding out words, it's either you know the word by the symbol or you don't. And some words have more then one symbol so it can get pretty confusing. Even though it is really hard I am really glad that I am learning it. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity, I mean how many Americans can say that they can read Chinese. I don't mean to say that I am fluent in reading Chinese, but its good enough to where I can get by reading children's books and I'm sure by the time I leave I will be an ever better reader.
I really am enjoying myself here in Taiwan and I am learning a lot each day. Until next time,
May 31 Journal
The time is really getting close for me to head home. When I go home I will miss a lot of things, I will miss the food, miss seeing Taipei 101 (biggest building in the world), miss riding buses and trains every where I go and miss speaking Chinese all day; but I think the thing that I will miss the most are the friends that I have made here in Taiwan. I have made friends from all over the world, Germany, France, Brazil, Sweden, Denmark, Austria, Japan and so much more. I find it so fascinating that even though we come from all over the world with different cultures and ideas we still make great friends and find that we may have just as much in common as anyone from our own country. I'm finding that I am wishing to bring anyone and everyone home with me but of course that would be impossible.
Being an exchange student is a gift, one of the greatest gifts anyone could receive but as the year comes to a close many feel it also comes with a curse. We spend a whole year with these people, we talk to them, get to know them, become great friends with them even view them as family; but then you realize that you have to go, you have to go back to your own country and leave them all behind, many of whom you may never see again - that is the curse that comes with the gift.
People have said that the homesickness you get when you leave the United States go to another country is not as bad as the homesickness when you leave the country you've spent a year in and come back to the United States. Even though I have not left Taiwan yet, I believe this to be true and it may be different with every student but I believe when most people are homesick it's not so much the country itself that they are homesick about, but the people in the country. When you leave America to go out to another country you are going with the knowledge that you will be back in 1 years time, when you leave the country you were in to go back to America you don't know when you will be back or if you will ever see your friends again. If there are students out there reading this that are preparing to go out on an exchange then I don't mean to frighten you by this, it's only the truth of an exchange. Even though the gift of an exchange is carried by the curse of leaving it, that would be no reason to not accept the exchange. I am so thankful to Rotary and everyone for this experience, if I could go back in time a year I wouldn't change a thing.
I believe a huge question for most upcoming exchange students is "How long does it take to become fluent"? I know that was a question I asked many people many times and always got a variety of answers. I can not speak for the other exchange students going to other countries but for myself learning Chinese I can not pick a specific point in time which I say "now I'm fluent". For me it was very gradual, first it started out very, very slow, then it picked up the pace and I learned more, then time went by and I was able to learn faster and faster and faster. When you are first starting to learn a language your brain is not used to the language at all so it only makes sense that it will be very difficult to learn but as time goes by your brain starts to get used to the language and it then becomes much easier to learn more faster. What people consider fluent is an opinion, some would consider a 3 year old fluent in its language while others would consider a 5 year old, it totally depends on what you consider to be fluent. For me, I wrote in my diary at the beginning of the exchange saying that if I can hold onto a 30 minute conversation then I will consider myself to be fluent; now I can go on for hours speaking Chinese. There are still phrases I don't know, words I wonder what it means and many times when people are talking to each other I don't understand what they are talking about but all in all I consider myself fluent in Chinese.
I wish I could tell you all about Taiwan, I wish I really could tell you all that it really is and what the people are like and how they live. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, I would have to show you a year's worth of video in order for you to really understand Taiwan for all that it is. Before I came to Taiwan I tried to imagine what Taiwan is like, I read up on Taiwan, saw pictures of Taiwan and studied the language before I left but none of that could even give me a slight glimpse of what Taiwan really is. I suggest that if you want to know about Taiwan then go to Taiwan. Don't just read up on it or even just read journals about students who have been there. Taiwan is a place to see and the Taiwanese are a people you need to talk to.
Xie Xie Da Jia, Wo Drede Taiwan hun hao han Wo Ai Taiwan