Rebekka Flam
2009-10 Outbound to Taiwan

Hometown: Coconut Creek, Florida
School: Pompano Beach HS
Sponsor: Davie Cooper City Rotary Club, District 6990, Florida
Host: Shuang-Ho Rotary Club, District 3480, Taiwan


Rebekka's Bio

Ni hao! I’m Rebekka Flam. Maybe you can guess where I’m going next year? When I found out, I think the only word to describe myself would be completely and utterly shocked. However, now the words excited, eager, thankful, and a maybe anxious come to mind! Though its still a shock that I’ll be spending my junior year in Taiwan- yes TAIWAN!, I’m ready to immerse myself in a new and completely different culture and have the experience of a lifetime.

When I publicized my plans to spend a year away from home, people looked at me with every possible expression out there... My family and closest friends support me, but with a bitter sweet sorrow, ceaselessly reminding me how much they will miss me. With some people, I can see the curiosity in their eyes. They wonder why I would leave home, school, and everything I know to live in a strange place for a whole year. My perspective is of course different- I’m not leaving home, but merely opening the door to a new, exciting home where I will learn so much about EVERYTHING, more than I would ever have been able to here.

So you know I’m a sophomore named Rebekka, I’m excited to go to Taiwan, and I over analyze everybody’s reaction to my leaving. – Just kidding. I also love to eat (particularly chocolate) and laugh with my friends. I attend Pompano Beach High School Monday through Thursday and I volunteer every Friday in a first grade classroom at my old elementary school. And although the headaches come and go, I never stop loving it. Bowling and attempting to play golf have become hobbies of mine this year and I look forward to movie night with my friends on the weekends. I have an on and off relationship with dance- anything from jazz to ballet; my friend and I even tried a belly dancing class last year!

That all being said, hopefully I’ll fit right in with my new family in Taiwan! I’m practically jumping up and down now just with the thought of going there. Although, at times I’m worried, more with the thought of me changing and maturing (though that’s not a bad thing), I can honestly say that I am ready to start the adventure of a lifetime! Zai jian! 

Yehliu Geopark on  the east coast of Taiwan

Yehliu Geopark on the east coast of Taiwan

tofu tofu tofu

tofu tofu tofu

Yehliu weird rocks

Yehliu weird rocks

Walking in a ghost town

Walking in a ghost town

A beautiful backdrop in Central Taiwan

A beautiful backdrop in Central Taiwan

At a Chinese Opera and Lion Dance show

At a Chinese Opera and Lion Dance show

Chaing Kai Shek

Chaing Kai Shek

Christmas at school

Christmas at school

Culture Fair- Team America

Culture Fair- Team America

Danshuei in northern taipei

Danshuei in northern taipei

Confucious Temple

Confucious Temple

Famous Queens Head rock- my host mom and I

Famous Queens Head rock- my host mom and I

Exchange students

Exchange students

Fishing in Yilan (2nd YEP trip)

Fishing in Yilan (2nd YEP trip)

fish at the market

fish at the market

Hiking in Yilan

Hiking in Yilan

Hugs For Haiti

Hugs For Haiti

ikea in taiwan

ikea in taiwan

Lantern Festival

Lantern Festival

making dumplings with Auntie Sammy

making dumplings with Auntie Sammy

Kaohsiung- The South of Taiwan

Kaohsiung- The South of Taiwan

Mom eating bamboo rice in Wulai

Mom eating bamboo rice in Wulai

My class

My class

My host mom and I in traditional dresses

My host mom and I in traditional dresses

Old man and the Sea

Old man and the Sea

My mom comes to visit

My mom comes to visit

Our Front door- chinese new year decorations

Our Front door- chinese new year decorations

New Years Eve

New Years Eve

sticker pictures with my classmates

sticker pictures with my classmates

Spencer my pet sheep

Spencer my pet sheep

Sun Moon Lake, view from a gondola

Sun Moon Lake, view from a gondola

Taipei 101- tallest building in the world

Taipei 101- tallest building in the world

The president of my rotary club- after I gave my presentation

The president of my rotary club- after I gave my presentation

The dinner table

The dinner table

Rebekka's Journals

September 5 Journal

Hi Everyone! Nimen Hao. Friends, Family, Rotarians, future exchange students! So, here it is. My adventure in Taiwan. 

8/20/2009 - The day has finally arrived. My journey begins. I’ve NEVER been more terrified in my life! I woke up feeling nauseous. My stomach was in knots. I’m not even sure why. This whole year of planning has been nothing but exciting! And every time someone asked “Are you nervous? Are you scared” I laughed! No! Why would I be scared? Well… I am now. It finally hit me. This is real. Today I will be getting on a plane and leaving home. The only thought going through my head was “I am crazy.”

Saying goodbye to my parents was hard. Too hard. I wanted to cry, but I was afraid if I cried it would be even harder on them, and my dad might not want to let me go. So I sucked it up, and told myself that I would wait until I got to my own room in Taiwan and then I could cry as much as I wanted to... I think I was actually more scared of traveling alone, than leaving home for 1 year. At that moment, I just wished my mom could’ve dropped me off in Taipei ;)

So the plane ride to LA took about 5 or 6 hours. I was worried I would get lost or something in the LA airport, but it was really easy! I found Eva Air, printed my boarding pass, and found security and the gate. I’m actually quite proud of myself. Haha  And Eva Air was amazing! (I would recommend them to anyone). I got a kick out of probably being the only non-Chinese speaker on the entire flight! I just said Xie Xie a lot (thank you) and spoke English the rest of the time ^_^

12 hours later, I was in Taiwan! I went through immigration and then got my luggage (and managed this all by following people around. I really had no idea what I was doing). =P I walked into another room and was very surprised to see a big group of people shouting out my name “Rebekka!” and holding up a sign with my name and another with the Rotary logo. As they approached me and greeted me, I immediately felt at ease. I felt completely welcome and loved. I wasn’t scared. I wasn’t even nervous. I was happy. I was home.

8/22/09 - Why did I ever doubt myself? I am crazy, because I had no reason to be afraid. Traveling was really easy AND I LOVE it here already! I haven’t cried once. I haven’t felt homesick at all actually. I really feel like this is my new home.

OK, so enough with that. I’m here. I’M IN TAIWAN! Can you believe it?

On our drive back from the airport, my host mom wanted to buy some milk so what’s the FIRST store that I go to in Taiwan? Hahaha. 7 Eleven! Yes! They’re everywhere! But it was way more Oriental than the ones in the US ;) Convenient stores are very popular here. I have yet to see a Wal-Mart or Publix 

My host sister, Yufang, left for Germany today! It’s funny how different things are here. I think in Asia, people consider it very much a privilege to go on foreign exchange. And of course so do I, but my parents and I couldn’t help feeling sad when it was time to say goodbye.

8/23/09 - It’s SO HOT HERE!! Is it possible that there is a place that is hotter than Florida? Well welcome to Taiwan. My note to self:

Never leave the house without a water bottle

If possible, carry a small towel to wipe the sweat off of you (ew. but true)

Use proper sun block: such as sunglasses (big ones are popular here right now), a hat, or an umbrella

A lot of people actually walk around with umbrellas to block out the sun!! Yep.

Maybe I’m over exaggerating, but it really does feel like 100 degrees outside. But perhaps the temperature IS the same as in Florida, but since so many buildings are not air conditioned it feels even hotter? Our house isn’t air-conditioned either. But we live on a mountain, so I guess it’s not as bad as the city. I rely on the big portable fans that we have around the house.

Oh yeah! I have the most amazing view! I go on to my balcony and all I see is green. Everywhere. Mountains! And trees! It’s beautiful. And once I talked to the other exchange students, I realized I’m very lucky to live in a house. Most, almost all, exchange students in Taipei live in apartments. My community however is situated on a mountain, so I have to take the community bus for about 20-30 minutes to get into the city (I live in Sindian City, in the very south of Taipei County). You know how much they love convenient stores though? Well there’s even one in my community! So if I’m ever craving a snack, maybe a Kinder Egg, I just walk about 10 minutes to get there…

My brother and I have an obsession for Kinder eggs and they don’t sell them in the US (they’re actually illegal there, because of some health codes- choking hazard?) Anyway, I bet he is sooo jealous that they have them here 

At night, we went to the highest part of the mountain and saw the most incredible view of Taipei. Everything was lit up. I saw Taipei 101 too!

8/24/09 - The food here is soo different. I guess there are certain things I like and don’t like, but it’s not like “American Chinese food” haha. I do miss the food we eat in Florida. We eat a lot of rice here; and noodles are very popular in Taiwan. And lots of tofu. When my host mom cooks dinner, she always makes soup, rice or noodles, and vegetables, and something else. They don’t drink anything with meals!! Instead, they eat everything in the soup with chopsticks and then drink the broth.

Ah.. Chopsticks. My chopstick skills are not great, but they get better everyday. Yes we use them with every lunch and dinner! I’ve had things I’m not used to eating here. Oh and I had noodles with pig intestine once! That was interesting. Ooh I love bubble tea though! And milk tea! It’s very popular here. It’s a lot like Iced coffee, but better! Oh but when we do go out for dinner, we drink Chinese tea, which is unsweetened and very hot. The food and drinks are always served hot here, because according to my host dad, the Chinese belief is that food is better for you when it’s hot (extremely hot). People look strangely at me when I have to blow on my tea to cool it down. Haha> I’ve burnt my tongue several times already.

My host parents gave me my Chinese name today! Chiang Ro Pay. I can even write it in characters 

Driving in Taiwan is a bit chaotic. And there are motorcycles or mopeds EVERYWHERE! I’ll have to remember to take a picture of a parking garage.

8/27/09 - Actually we went to McDonalds for lunch. I had a double cheeseburger, fries, and a coke for $3 (less than 100 Taiwanese dollars)! So cheap and it tasted the same?! Hmmm They have KFC here too! I thought that was funny.

I got an Easy Card today. My host mom, Auntie Anna, puts money on it and I use it to travel on the subway (MRT) or bus. Public transportation is amazing! I wish we had this in Florida! And I have a certain freedom here! I can use the bus or subway to get anywhere in the city! It's sooo different than in Florida.

My first night market! It was a lot of fun! It’s pretty much a collection of little stores and stands, wish lots of stuff to buy and a lot of food! We ate and played games. I won a little toy dog in a ring toss. Ah and I had my first contact with the very famous Stinky Tofu. I actually didn’t try it. But I promise next time I will. It really does smell horrible after all! When we were walking past it, I actually thought we must be walking over a sewer! The odor! It’s hard to describe… think of a very unpleasant Porto potty.

9/1/09 - My first day of school! It might have been the strangest experience of my life. Well it certainly made top 10. Outside of school, well I feel like I fit in. I feel Taiwanese, besides the whole language thing. Haha. People don’t really stare or point at me, but they do look twice when I walk by. In school is a whole other story. The girls are so surprised to see me and Mariah (she’s another exchange student from Canada). It’s kind of like we’re famous or something. Everyone says hi and smiles at us. Some people get really wide-eyed and point and then other girls are too nervous to say hi. It’s definitely different. But the girls are nothing but nice, and I think I’ve made some new friends.

Oh, I go to Our Lady of Providence All Girls High School. Yes, it’s an all girls private school XD They put Mariah and me in the easiest classes (music/art/aerobics)… and guess what else? We have nap time at 12:30! It's pretty awesome and I think we should adopt this routine in the US… then again, their school day doesn’t end until 6:00pm!!! Crazy!

Questions my classmates asked me about a hundred times:

Why did you want to come to Taiwan?

Do you like the food here?

Do you like Twilight?

Do you have a boyfriend?

HAHAHA

Hmm. Today someone told me my ears were fat. I laughed and nodded “mmhmm”… not quite sure how to respond. But the woman beamed back at me- very happy with the “compliment” she gave me. Well apparently it was a compliment. She explained that her ears were also “fat” and big ears = good luck. Hahaha. So I guess my year here will be very lucky huh? 

October 14 Journal

大家好! Hello from Taiwan :)

A month has passed by since I last sent in my blog! I’m shocked… Time passes by so quickly. But I’m so busy here!! There’s never a day when I’m bored with nothing to do. I’m always out with friends and family, and when I’m home I’m studying Chinese 

So I finally forced myself to sit down after dinner and write my blog haha. I’m tackling a HUGE Belgian hazelnut chocolate bar at the same time. Mmm 好吃!

Time. I’m not sure how I feel about it. I guess I don’t really pay attention to the date here. It’s October really? Haha- the mind of an exchange student.

I absolutely love it here. Did I say that all ready? At times I miss my friends and family at home, but I know I’ll see them again. I’m already getting sad at the thought of leaving Taiwan! Well… I’ll worry about that in 9 months.

I’ve gained so much independence here. My parents would be quite surprised. I never went anywhere alone in Florida. I travel across the city here =D On the bus and the subway. Sometimes I grab lunch somewhere or go to Starbucks. And I used to hate being alone, but it’s actually rather peaceful. Who would’ve known?

Haha, I wrote before how I love public transportation… well though I still think it’s awesome, I’ve managed to miss my bus, miss my stop (by a longgg time), and even take the wrong MRT (subway). The subway system here is SO easy though; I made that mistake on one of my first trips to language class. And once I missed my bus and had to wait an hour, but I turned a negative into a positive. I explored my city! Now I know that there’s a small park and a pizza hut nearby! Mariah (the other exchange student at my school) and I go to pizza hut maybe once a week now :) ah it’s such a special treat for us. I haven’t stepped on a scale since I got here… But I have a feeling that I’m gaining weight. Taiwanese people eat SOOOO much! I guess we walk a lot, so maybe that burns away the calories… haha we’ll see…

I love school! I love my classmates! 我的學校是崇光女中.我的同學們對我很好 It took a month to get used to them and how different everything is, but I’m fairly accustomed to the culture. Last week, 4 girls in my class had fevers, and the rule here is if more than 3 girls get sick the whole class has to stay home for 5 days. Right when I was starting to somewhat enjoy school!  I didn’t mind too much though. I went to a few museums and walked around Taipei with some friends. There’s still so much of the city I haven’t seen!

I could write a novel about all that I’ve done in the past month. Two weeks ago, we went on a weekend trip to Yilan with our Rotary Club. Yilan is on the east coast of Taiwan; Beautiful and famous for its hot springs. I even hiked a bit…

Yehliu Geopark is my new official favorite place here! Crazy shaped rocks, the chilling ocean waves, the mountains, and the atmosphere. I took a million pictures.

Oh last month we had a ceremony at the Confucius Temple, beginning our educational drive to learn Chinese and introducing us to the Chinese culture. We have Mandarin classes twice a week (Monday and Thursday) and culture classes every Wednesday. They are a lot of fun. So far: martial arts, learning how to make Chinese knots, and a visit to the president’s office. Oooh

You know sometimes I feel Taiwanese, and I see a foreigner and I’m like “whoa”, wondering why they’re here. Then I remember I’m a foreigner! Darn. People never stop staring. But you get used to it.

I’m going to have to buy a bigger purse, because there are certain things you don’t leave home without here. An umbrella, for instance. No matter how old you are, or where you’re going, you carry an umbrella (preferably an awesome purple polka dotted one). I always wear a watch now. My Ipod has become a necessity, for the days when you end up sitting alone on the bus. My phrase book :) My wallet. My camera. And all of the cute pointless Taiwanese things I cant resist buying. haha

I want to be able to speak Chinese so bad! It’s so frustrating. The language is exceptionally difficult. And I’ve begun to see that every language has its difficulties (like English grammar! I feel so bad! I never realized how hard it is), BUT I really think Chinese is one of the hardest languages. The tones kill me every time. There are up to 4 different tones, like pronunciations, for the same word! It’s funny, because I’m used to not understanding people now. It’s become normal for me to hear Chinese all around me and never know what’s going on. Though I’m getting much better! And I’m so happy that I’m starting to pick out words (like I hear the word Saturday or school) and I know at least what they’re talking about! And I can reply back to them  A few days ago, I had to make a speech to my Rotary Club in Chinese. It went pretty good. And they were so proud of me. My Rotary Club is like one giant family. I’m very lucky.

Chinese characters are no picnic either. Taiwan is like a giant puzzle. And whenever I’m out, I point to random characters and say what they mean “Look! That says Taipei! 台北Look! That says I love you! 我爱你” haha. But I can’t always fit the pieces together. There are so many characters I still don’t know. I study and practice sooo much, I know it takes time.

My experience (The language! The culture! Everything) is so different than let’s say an exchange student who is in Europe. Not better or worse. I think we all have unique experiences. I picked Taiwan a bit spontaneously when I first decided I wanted to be an exchange student. My other choices were all in Europe, and at the time I really didn’t know much about Taiwan, or even Asia. But OMG I’m so happy that I’m here. And I think wherever you go, you’ll enjoy your year, but if you’re thinking about traveling abroad, don’t hesitate to go to Asia, definitely don’t hesitate to come to Taiwan 

Hmm besides Chinese, I’m learning other languages too! I can say HI in Korean and successfully curse in about a million different languages… haha. Maybe the Rotarians didn’t want to hear that. I love making friends from all around the world though! Now whichever country I visit, I’ll have a friend to stay with!!

Karaoke is sooo popular! It’s called KTV. At almost, no at EVERY Rotary party we karaoke. Last weekend, they insisted I sing a song, so I picked out the first English song I knew: Dancing Queen, ABBA :) yeah! I think my friends at home would approve 

Ah but my taste in music is already changing. Korean boy bands are just so popular here; you can’t help but love them! Super Junior has this one song in Chinese, and I understand one part: “看我看看我” Look at me, Look look at me” ha-ha Yay!

Oh! I complained how extremely hot it is here! But that was summer, and now its fall.  It rains all the time, but it’s fairly cool and I love it! Our house is especially cool, since we live on a mountain. Oh I wish I brought my awesome rain boots from home. I could wear them everyday!

Ok, My official name in Chinese: 江柔佩 Pretty awesome! =D

…Wow, I wrote this a week ago, but I’m SO BUSY that I haven’t had the chance to send it in. Last weekend was awesome. One of my YEP (exchange student) friends, Josie, invited me to go with her and her Rotary Club to Sun Moon Lake. It was gorgeous. We celebrated Double Tenth Day (10/10), which is Taiwan’s independence day- their birthday,  BUT it also happens to be the New Year for the aboriginals that live around Sun Moon Lake. So we celebrated their New Year mostly. A big group goes around to all the little stores and does a sort of ceremony around a table of food. We tried the traditional dance and it was fun, until my flip flop broke and was dangling from my foot and the circle dance kept going faster and faster, and eventually my shoe just fell off, but actually I was laughing so hard I don’t think I noticed for maybe a minute. =) haha

And then last night, my friend Rainbow (a Rotarian’s daughter) invited me to see her school orchestra play at Chiang Kai Shek memorial. And it was the most amazing thing to see and hear. I think it was my first time seeing an orchestra, or at least such a professional one. They were perfect. It was so good, I almost cried. It makes me a bit sad that I can’t play an instrument though. EVERYBODY can play something here, and no I’m not exaggerating. I guess it’s mandatory. They teach music in school! I’m so jealous. I’m promising myself that when I go home, I will take piano lessons.

Fun Fact of the Day: In Taiwan, the number 4 is very unlucky, because “suh” sounds like the word for death. For that reason, tall buildings and nice hotels don’t have a fourth floor! 1, 2, 3, 5, 6… funny huh? O_o

December 3 Journal

大家好! That’s pronounced “Da jia hao”, which means Hello Everyone

Three 三 months have passed since I first arrived! The shock never wears. Just the fact that I’m in Taiwan is still a dream. I feel completely at home, but every once in a while I have to remind myself that I have another life on the other side of the world. It’s a strange feeling- having two lives :)

Nothing turns out how you expect it to be. I’m so comfortable here, but then again at times… It’s hard to explain. Sometimes I just wish I could fit in with everyone. But I don’t blame people for starting at me or being curious when a group of teenage foreigners walk by. I stare a bit too when I see a “foreigner” –anybody other than Taiwanese. It’s so different from the U.S., where we’re so diverse and yet I never really noticed before.

I’ve learned that Taiwan台灣and China 中國are very different, and yet so similar. Don’t ever call Taiwan China! They like their independence. Almost everyone speaks Taiwanese and Chinese. Taiwanese was the original language, but when China occupied Taiwan they made Chinese the official language. Anyway, now Chinese is still the “official” language (they teach in Chinese at school), BUT so many people speak Taiwanese (My host mom says 1. Just because they like it 2.To be more independent from China) You don’t know how confusing it is when people speak half Chinese/ half Taiwanese! And a lot of old people, like my host grandpa, speak Japanese, because 50 years ago Japan ruled Taiwan! Very confusing... but anyway I’m focusing on learning Chinese right now :-) It’s difficult.. so frustrating.. I’m learning, but at a slow rate.

Ah another note, don’t read other peoples’ blogs while you’re on exchange. I did at first and that was a bad idea. It only made me more stressed to know that some people are already fluent in their new languages. Or sometimes I’ll get a little jealous of all the people in Europe who get to travel across the continent. BUT, then I remind myself, I’M IN TAIWAN! Some people never even get to travel to Asia, and I’m lucky enough to live in such an incredible country. I’m looking outside my window right now and admiring the startling green mountains. The perfect backdrop; it makes me smile :) 我覺得很快樂

Next month I’m changing host families. It’s depressing. Bittersweet, I suppose. I’m excited to have host brothers and my next host family seems really nice, but I love my current host parents! They take me to so many places and help me study Chinese. Every Friday we have dinner with 阿公 ‘akon’ (grandpa). And they know what I like and what I don’t like. We’ve gotten to know each other so well! It’s hard to think that I’m going to have to do this all over again. But they say it will only make me a stronger person.

My second host family invited me to go to a wedding last week. My host dad’s niece, I believe. They have a HUGE family. The wedding was not what I expected it to be. They called it a “Chinese wedding”, though it was modern, not traditional. The bride had 3 dresses- a big pretty white one, a fluffy pink one, and a green one (western style dresses). And… there was no ceremony! That surprised me. I knew I wouldn’t be sitting in a Church, but still! We just had dinner. And during dinner they had a few special rituals, but overall it was short and sweet. I guess I like that.

I finally got a little homesick during the holidays. Halloween is one of my favorites, but the Rotex here threw us a fun Halloween party. Ah and Thanksgiving just passed. I mostly miss the food. Haha. On Thanksgiving my school cafeteria/restaurant happened to throw us a little feast. They said it was for our school anniversary, but that was 2 days before, so I’m pretending it was my Thanksgiving feast. Not too great, but we did have cake :-]

School anniversaries are incredibly important here. I went to my friend Corinna’s school a few weeks ago. They had a carnival, with performances and of course way too much food.

Last weekend, we had a Culture Fair! All the inbounds represented their counties and we talked to the future outbounds. I’d say the U.S. did well. :) We handed out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Haha. I think I convinced some people to come to Florida too. The Canadians built an igloo out of Styrofoam and handed out hot chocolate! Germany won though, but I think it’s just because they had Kinder Chocolate. Everyone loves chocolate!

In my first blog I wrote about how the weather is sooo hot. In my second blog I wrote about how the weather is fairly cool. Now the weather is just crazy... I finally understand. Extreme is the only word that can describe the climate in Taiwan. One day it’s hot, the next day it's cold and it rains every other day! Haha, oh my crazy 台灣.

The things I miss most about home are the things I took for granted. And mostly food. Oh how I miss food. But you know what? When I go back home, I’m going to miss Taiwan so much! I’m going to miss the shrimp and the dumplings and the creamy conch soup! I’ll miss noodles and bread and tea and sweet potato leaves. Taiwanese food has become a part of my life, without me noticing! And I’ll even miss using chopsticks :] The other day my host mom made soup and she gave me a spoon, and I actually found it harder to eat with, so I grabbed some chopsticks instead.

Oh and did I say that when we eat shrimp here, it’s very fresh. They serve it hot and with the shells on. So you have to pull the head off and peel them yourself. I thought this was a bit gross the first time I did it, but it’s so normal now. And I love eating shrimp. Mmm 好吃

Hmm, I can’t think of too many interesting places I’ve been to this month. Life has just been fairly normal, which is wonderful. I go out with my classmates and other exchange students. We went ice skating recently and had lunch at IKEA. I love Ikea! Then we always go to the night market. Clothes are SO cheap here (a shirt for 100NT = $3)

That song by Super Junior M that I mentioned in my last blog- It’s called Super girl. Rotary is having a Chinese Talent Show for all of the inbounds and my group is going to perform to that song. Hahaha. My friend Josie is actually going to sing the song (which to me is near impossible), and a few other girls and I are dancing to it. It will be… interesting :-)

我要冰淇淋 (Wo yao bing chi ling) {I want Ice Cream} My favorite Chinese phrase this month :D

Fun Fact of the Day: Red is the best color. Red means health and prosperity. If somebody gives you a red envelope it usually has money in it O_o (especially during the Chinese New Year).

January 14 Journal

大家好! The new year has arrived. It makes me a little crazy- thinking that I’m almost half way done with my exchange. I wish I could pause time, and at times rewind and fast forward it. But I have yet to find a time machine or a magic remote, so I just accept it.

I changed host families last week. Leaving my first host family was the hardest thing I’ve had to do since saying goodbye to my parents four months ago. 四個月! I’ve become so attached to my host parents, and starting over is so difficult. Yet again, I’m on an emotional roller coaster. haha. But overall, I understand why Rotary has us change families. Every family is different, special in its own way. And I think by my next journal, I’ll feel completely at home here. It just takes time…

But anyway, I do like my new host family :) On the first day of the new year, we went bike riding in a park off of Xindian 新店 River. It was wonderful. I love the park!

新年快樂! (Xin nian kuai le) Happy New Year! My New Years Eve was amazing. After dinner with my family, I met up with some of my friends at Taipei 101. There were so many people there! It was chaotic. But my friends were there all day so they had a great spot near an ongoing concert and with the perfect view of 101! I got to spend my first minute of the new year watching fireworks burst out of the tallest building in the world! Incredible. 太好了! Getting home was a nightmare though, haha. Squishing yourself on the subway with about a million other people is an interesting experience. I even witnessed a guard pushing some extra people in so they wouldn’t get hit by the MRT doors! I thought that only happened in Japanese movies!

Christmas was a few weeks ago! I actually wasn’t too homesick. Near the beginning of December I was, but well I felt that there was no sense in being nostalgic. And I did have a good Christmas in Taiwan. My friend Mariah came to my house and we made my favorite gingerbread cookies and watched basketball movies (I think we both miss being around people other than Taiwanese =P and I miss my melting pot country). But anyway, although my host parents don’t really celebrate Christmas, we had a little tree and to my surprise they gave me presents! I got a few lovely packages from home too. I love getting mail!

Oh I happen to go to a Catholic school too, so in every hallway we had about 10 Christmas trees! The decorations were so fantastic. And we went caroling! "We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!"

Ok, I wrote that part of my journal maybe two weeks ago. So now I’m continuing here:

My new host family is really great. Ah but some of the food my host mom cooks is very traditional. The other day we had chicken hearts with mixed vegetables. It wasn’t so bad though. 好吃! (yum)

Last week we went to Longshan Temple and the Lin family mansion and garden. I’ve been to so many temples here. I guess if I would be in France, I would be visiting churches and cathedrals every month. But I think the difference is that although some of the temples that I’ve visited are famous, for the most part I only see local people around. Longshan was packed with people making prayers and giving food to the Gods. They have tables where people put anything from fruit to chocolate chip cookies, allowing the Gods to taste their presents, and then when they go home I think they take back whatever they brought. While we were there, my host mom went to the God that helps people do well on tests and exams and asked for luck for one of my host brothers Sam. He’s at school almost 24/7 like many Taiwanese teenagers. Yes, on the weekends and at night, preparing for the big exam that decides which high school you get sent to.

I’ve seen vast improvement in my Chinese! I’m not very good, but I’m better. I’m at the point where some things just come naturally to me, but I just have to work on my vocabulary. Ok, for all of the new outbounds- start studying now! I think the more you know of the language, the easier it is to learn and become involved. (Oh… so Rotary was right all along!) I can’t believe there are exchange students for 2010 already! I remember when I was at orientation.

I’ve become such a worldly person. I’m proud to say that I can now somewhat use the metric system. In reality, now I just mix up Celsius with Fahrenheit all the time. haha

I’m glad I get to experience this sense of independence, but without yet completely being on my own. I make my own decisions now, but I still have a host family to support me. I’m like a freshmen in college though, poor and gaining the "freshmen 15". It's taken four months, but I’m finally starting to manage my money and diet.

Next month- February- we have 4 weeks off for winter vacation!! That’s when the Chinese New Year is. I’m excited, though I’m not sure what I’m going to do for a whole month! We still have Chinese lessons though, twice a week.

Oh and our YEP talent show went surprisingly well. We danced and sung to Super Junior. In return to HOURS and hours of practice, we got Certificates of Participation. Haha. Very impressive. One group performed a play about Harry Potter (‘Exchange student goes to Hogwarts’) all in Chinese, so I admit that they deserved to win.

This past month has been amazing. Not everyday is perfect, but that’s life. It can be difficult living in Taiwan sometimes. Before I left, I told myself that even if I have a horrible year, I will still take it as a learning experience. But despite my worries, everything has turned out beyond my expectations. I love Taiwan. And although I face challenges here and there, the important thing is that I overcome them; I move on. Starting everyday with an optimistic approach, has given me enough good days to keep me happy for a very long time.

I think I could write for hours, but I recently taught my host mom how to play BS (a card game), and she is very determined to beat me. She’s going to attempt to teach me Chinese chess later. Haha. Ok. 再見!

February 19 Journal

大家好! And I’ll say yet again新年快樂! (Xin nian kuai le) Happy New Year! The Chinese New Year has arrived!

This is my 4th (and last) week of my winter vacation. And just like in the US, I’m dreading going back to school. 哈哈! (‘Haha’)

My first two weeks of vacation, were predominantly spent with friends. Well I spent a lot of time with my host family too. But it was so nice just to be able to wake up late, go meet a friend for coffee, and then do whatever. I’m going to miss living in a big city so much! One day, a group of friends and I decided to take a train to another city. We ended up buying the wrong tickets and then being kicked off not too far from Taipei. But anyway, we explored and found what looked like a scene from the aftermath of a hurricane; it felt like we were walking through a ghost town. It was fascinating, unfortunately it rained all day. Why is it always raining here? I used to love the rain in Florida, but now I’ve grown to hate it. Maybe it’s the combination of cold and wet.

The Chinese New Year, for the most part, starts a week before February 14 and ends a week after (yes I know- it’s the same day as Valentines Day! But the date is different every year, since it’s based on the lunar calendar). The first week is nothing but cleaning, grocery shopping, and cooking. No, I’m not kidding. Well, unless you have a housekeeper, that’s how it is (though a number of families DO have maids). Ok, and the other exception is if your family travels during the New Year (which many families do). BUT… If you stay home, I think at some point you’ll be asked to clean something; mainly because everybody visits everybody during the “second week”. My host dad has 10 siblings! Do you know how many cousins and Uncles and Aunts that is? A massive amount. So on Feb 14th we had about 10 or 15 people over for dinner. Then on the 16th I slept in, thinking that the celebrations were over, BUT we had another 15 people over for dinner (different families)! And in the past few days we’ve visited so many friends and fellow Rotarians. I’m going to gain 10 pounds by the end of this week…

The New Year is much more modern than that of the past. I’ve learned not to expect anything too shocking. Then again, of course this all depends on where you’re living. The countryside is probably so different from the city. And maybe not as many things surprise me, simply because I’m more adapted to the culture. I remember my first month here, everyday I saw something new and unusual. But anyway, there still are some customs that only take place during the holiday season.

One tradition during the New Year is to give out lucky money. The older family members put money in red envelopes and give them to the kids. I received quite a few red envelopes myself! Which means I can treat myself to Starbucks again, hoorah! Actually, I was surprised at how much money I got (I wasn’t expecting anything). Ok, it’s not a lot compared to others, but a lot by my standards ^_^

Red is the color for the Chinese New Year (ex. Red envelopes). Everything is red. And it’s lucky to wear red during the celebrations. They even sell red underwear, by advertising its good fortune! Yep. On the first day of the new year, you’re supposed to wear all new clothes too. I wore my new traditional Chinese dress that my host mom bought for me.

In my district here, we, meaning all of the inbounds, have a “Culture Tour” (it wasn’t cheap). But the Tour is actually divided into 3 smaller tours- 3 days each. So last month we had our first trip to Central Taiwan. Money well spent. It was so much fun! But I believe that whenever you get 40+ teenagers together for 3 days, it’s bound to be fun :-) 哈哈! And I made a new friend who neither speaks English or Chinese. His name is Spencer. I proudly gave him this name after I fed him a handful of um sheep food? (which looks like reindeer food- the kind you leave for Santa’s reindeer at night, which I highly suspect is just the healthy cereal that only old-people eat) So yes, Spencer is a sheep, and a very feisty one at that. Anyway, we went to Sun Moon Lake for a day. That was nice. They have an amusement park that we got to spend a few hours in (it was cool, but I brag that nobody can top Orlando).

I had several cards and birthday packages (for my best friends) to send home, but what? The post office closes during the Chinese New Year!! Zut! So I shall announce: Happy Birthday mis amigas! And Happy Valentines Day to everyone else! 我愛你們!

I’ve been searching for awesome Chinese music lately (I’m getting tired of Korean pop) and I found some cool bands, but they’re all from Hong Kong, so I can’t understand most of what they say! Darn. Anyway, www.alljapanesallthetime.com is what influenced me into looking for music. This guy is amazing. He taught himself Japanese and became fluent in 18 months! I envy him. So now I’m trying to use some of his tips. He once replied to a post by saying something like “Korean people don’t know how to teach Korean, they only know how to be Korean”. And I think the same applies for Chinese people. Its really difficult when they try to tutor me and make me write characters over and over again, BUT when I simply try to follow the conversation (first by observing and then eventually by joining in) I learn so much more.

My host parents now know how much I love chocolate, so they’ve somewhat started to bribe me with it, like they’ll give me some if I wake up before 9… 哈哈 yes I’m a late sleeper :) Japanese truffles are to die for! I’m made an analogy- Japanese chocolate in Asia = Swiss chocolate in Europe. Or in my eyes, I would say it’s about equal to German Kinder, but not quite as brilliant as Finnish Fazer (the best). Wow, a paragraph about chocolate. Feel free to skim this blog.

Last night, I had a dream that my parents came to visit me in Taiwan and we went out for dinner one night and guess what we had? Taco Bell! This is horrible. I can’t believe I’m now dreaming about tacos and chicken quesadillas. I think this signifies that I wish my life in the US (being my parents in the dream) would come to Taiwan, rather than me having to go home at the end of the year. BUT I miss the food! I miss my momma’s home cooking :-)

May your new year be filled with health, happiness, and money - which are all possible with a bit of Chinese luck.

June 2 Journal

大家好! I’m so mad at myself. I vowed not to miss a blog while on my exchange! Time seems to be passing quicker and quicker by the day. I’m so sorry!

So much has happened in the past two months. I’ve had my good days and my bad days. Living in my crazy city- Taipei- and with only a few months left, I find it difficult to balance the time spent with friends, family, school, studying Chinese and FLVS… And I realize that sometimes I need to prioritize, but it’s not easy.

In some ways I’ve changed, but I’m also the same Rebekka (listening to Vampire Weekend and eating Easter chocolate). It’s hard to believe that I’m leaving in two months! I have a friend leaving in a week! And then most of the exchange students in my district are leaving in June. A lot of people are ready to leave. It’s not quite homesickness, well it’s hard to explain. It’s just the fact that we face cultural differences on a daily basis; which can make life very interesting but also be tiring. I told my mom that July 15th will be the happiest and saddest day of my life (so far). It’s such a strange feeling. I’ll have to say goodbye to one life, but then rewind back to another. It will be hard going back…

So why have I been too busy to write a blog? Where to begin... Well, I left off at the end of February. THE LANTERN FESTIVAL! 元宵節! This was the most extraordinary thing that I have yet to witness in Taiwan. In my opinion, it’s THE MOST INCREDIBLE Chinese celebration out there. The Lantern Festival marks the end of the Chinese New Year (which lasts 15 days). Simply put, people write their wishes for the New Year on a Chinese lantern, and then set it alight, letting it fly throughout the sky. If you stay home, then you won’t see much of anything, but I was lucky enough to have a host dad who took me to 平溪Pingxi. Other than the south of Taiwan, Pingxi is the best place to celebrate it. So many people travel there; it seemed worse than New Year’s Eve at Taipei 101. We literally had to wait 3 hours in line to take the bus that brings you down from the mountain! (They don’t allow cars up there during the festival). President Ma was there too. Anyway, they light thousands of lanterns! It’s so amazing to see. And they have a million different shops, so you can make your own too. It was a day I’ll never forget.

We had our second YEP 3-day trip last month! Of course it was fun. We probably spent half of the time on the bus though; we took the scenic route over the mountains. Nevertheless, it was quite beautiful, especially for a Floridian. We went to a beach in Yilan for a few hours and tried “traditional Chinese fishing”! You never know what you’re missing until you don’t have it anymore, that’s for sure. I have so much more love for Florida, and understanding for my country, and appreciation for my parents.

Let’s talk about bizarre Chinese food (...again 哈哈)!! Last week, I went to a friend Claire’s house for dinner (she’s Taiwanese; she goes to my school). And her mom made the best black chicken that I’ve ever had! Ok, it was my first time trying black chicken, but it was delicious. Unlike most of the chicken here, this was “melt in your mouth perfect”. Taiwanese people tend to prefer their chicken with a rubbery consistency…

I’ve also been even more obsessed with Traditional Taiwanese Desserts lately (such as Ice with various chewy toppings and beans; or Douhua- a type of soy product). Most of my 外國人朋友 (other YEPs) don’t enjoy them. But we have a few select people that do :)

I changed host families last month too! Life is emotionally and physically exhausting! But don’t worry, I love it! “My life is brilliant, my love is pure”. I love my new host family. It’s hard to say which family I like the best. I was pretty lucky to have three amazing families who really care about me. I hope we never lose touch. I’m so comfortable here. My host parents now can be strict with some rules… but what can I do. I know they’re just worried about my safety. Living in Taipei gives me so much freedom! It’s only expected that rules should accompany that freedom… and I’ve never lived in a big city; some days I have to remind myself how lucky I am to experience this. But still, I’m not used to my parents wanting to control everything. That’s a big difference between going on exchange in Europe and Asia, they’re very protective here, and it’s hard to get out, but I think it’s tolerable. I’m not always happy, but I accept it. And acceptance is the key to happiness. Lately my host parents have been much more open to me going out though! I think they trust me so much more- we have a great relationship.

My mom came to visit me last month!! 我的媽媽!This is a bit of a long story, but… She was supposed to stay for a week, and the plan was that she would travel to Finland first to visit my grandma for her birthday, and then come to Taiwan from there. Unfortunately, Mother Nature intervened, and a volcano erupted in Iceland- sending ash all over Europe. Heard about that? So she was stuck in Finland, determined to get here (and she explored all possibilities- haha such as getting a visa to get into Russia and then flying from there, ahah I love my mom!) But anyway, she was finally able to fly a few days after her original flight was scheduled, but that only gave her 3 ½ days. A VERY short time to stay in Taiwan =( BUT we managed to see a lot and spend time with my host families and friends. They loved her; my Rotary Club gave her lots of tea! I think we’ll be hosting a traditional Chinese tea ceremony when I get back. 我喜歡喝茶 ;)

In our district, we had a big Chinese speech contest last week. I didn’t win, but I think my topic was unique: The Bucket List. I talked about all the things I want to do before I die, haha, including skydiving, riding an elephant, and going to Italy to eat a HUGE bowl of spaghetti. Sounds delicious?! The boy that won has been studying Chinese for over 3 years! My Chinese is nowhere near “fluent”, but I’m proud for all that I’ve accomplished in only a year. Before I came here, I thought that learning a new language would be the most important part of being an exchange student, but I was wrong. There’s so much more. You can speak someone’s language, but still not be a part of their culture. I feel that I’ve learned so much here, and in the long run, I think I’ll have no regrets. I can always continue studying Chinese in the future, if that’s what I want, but I think I would like to discover other cultures and languages as well.

I don’t think we give enough credit to all the people that make Rotary Youth Exchange possible. Thank you! I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for all of the Rotarians and volunteers here and at home. 謝謝. 我愛你們!