May 14, 2012
Welcome to my journey in Taiwan!! =]
Last year, when I was sitting in my high school auditorium being introduced to RYE Florida for the very first time, I had never imagined that throughout the following year, it would slowly become a huge part of my life, my future, and a huge part of who I am today.
A week before my departure, I stood looking at my suitcase thinking about everything I had been through to get to that very moment. All the mental, physical and emotional preparation I had endured to be able to take a breath of relief and say, 'I'm ready'. And I am, So this is my adventure, my journey, this is my turn.
When I arrived at the airport, I checked my bag and waited with my family in front of security for my friend Devante to arrive so we could enter together. A couple Rotarians had come up to my mother and I and introduced themselves from a local Rotary club in my District. We talked about where I was going and we stood with them waiting to greet their inbound coming in from France! After saying goodbye they wished me good luck, and it came time for Devante and I to say goodbye to our families. We took pictures and gave one big last hug to everyone. As my mother began to cry, I knew that this was it, I was leaving and I wouldn't see my family for the next year. It was hard, but I was prepared. We walked through security and onto our first flight to Michigan. The 2 1/2 hour flight wasn't too bad but when we landed I was so excited. A few months prior, I had contacted an old friend from New York, who had told me she would also be exchanging this very year to Taiwan !! It was a crazy coincidence and at the gate, Devante and I met up with a whole bunch of kids going to Taiwan, along with our friends Marco and Elycia from Orlando. I saw my friend Emily for the first time in years and it was amazing. It was the first of many reunions that I know Rotary will be responsible for :) We reconnected with some Starbucks and a 17hr plane ride to Tokyo! ~Not many people can say that ;) ~
The flight wasn't too bad...at least.. the first 5-6 hours. It was alot of fun, but as more and more hours passed it became worse. I knew I wanted to be able to sleep once I got home, so I tried to only sleep very little on the plane to avoid jet-lag. But it wasn't fun, I grew exhausted and uncomfortable. In my personal journal I wrote this at about 3:35am, " I'm tired, I'm hungry, and all I want to do is climb into a warm bed and black-out for about a week. I've been up since 6am, I've gotten about..3hours of sleep total and I probably wont get any more. I've never seen daylight last so long..I'm soar, really soar, and once I get a solid meal I'ma kiss the ground! "
When we arrived in Japan I was able to get through security with the others very easily. Japan has the quietest airport in the world! It was beautiful, and even though we were only there a little while, being as foreign and exhausted as I was, it was the most amazing thing in the world. After we all had to switch our seating do to a mix up, we finally boarded and headed to Taiwan!!! <3 At this point, all I wanted was a hug..and to sleep. When we were landing over Taiwan I had no words.. The feeling of ' Taiwan' hadn't really sunken in yet. At least.. I was too tired to realize. It was about 3-4 hours by time we landed, kissed the ground, went through immigration and found our luggage. I said goodbye to everyone, took a deep breath, and walked through the gate into the very beginning of my new life.
I walked out to find over 100 family members and Rotarians with banners and flags yelling and screaming for our arrival. It was one of the most amazing feelings ever..:) The first thing I heard was a young girl's voice say, "Are you Kelly :D?! " - It was my host sister Ting-Ting holding a giant banner with my face on it. They all gave me big warm welcome hugs with smiles all around and took the first of many, many pictures. The moment was foggy, but one important thing I do remember is the first thing my Baba (Host dad) said to me. He gave me a big hug and said, “We have been waiting a very long time for you.. :) "
I waited for my host parents to bring around the car with Ting-ting. I watched all the cars and lights of the city and I couldn't believe it. I, had made it. We headed to the store and I got a drink. My first thing in Taiwan, Tropicana orange juice. ( It was in Chinese, that counts for something). The car ride home was long and tiring, I kept dozing off, but I will never forget my conversation with Baba. He would ask me various things in Chinese or English. I struggled to understand and answer since I was so tired. He would talk and talk and eventually turn to Ting-ting and say "Ok ok I need a translator now" (Ting-ting spent 5 years of College in Utah). When he was finished he turned to me and said, “Right now, I believe my English, better than your Chinese. But, hopefully, by end of year, your Chinese, better then my English! Ok, yes? :)" Then he held out his pinky to make a 'pinky-promise'. Then, there, I had made a very special pr omise to my Baba that I will never forget.. and I will forever intend to keep that promise.
After our 2-3hour drive home to Nantou in central Taiwan, I was welcomed home with open arms by my host brother Yzu-Yen, my other host sister Tien-tien, and my close cousins. They were all so nice and inviting. We talked a little bit but everyone knew I needed sleep badly. My Mama (host mom) reminded me that I had my Inbound Orientation/ Language Camp the next day, so I had to unpack my things but repack enough for the week ahead of me. Everyone was so nice and took care of me so well. My first conflict in Taiwan, figuring out if I'm suppose to sleep on the flat bamboo mat on top of my bed or if was just decoration. By time I went to sleep at 4:00am, deciding to just plop on my bed and pass out seemed like the best solution.. I had never been so happy to sleep in my entire life.
My first day went by extremely fast. I woke up at around 12pm with a perfect night’s sleep. Luckily I worked it out well enough so I didn't have any jet-lag. I hopped out of bed and a few seconds later my Mama came in holding her IPad saying ' Zǎo :)' -Morning- and sat on my bed ready to go over the first night questions. Not only did I just wake up, but I still felt kind of awkward, I was quiet and completely out-of-it. I knew I wanted to feel settled right away, but I know that's something that would have to come with time. It felt great going over the first night questions because I had been looking forward to that moment for so long. My exchange had finally begun.
Ah breakfast, my first solid meal in days. I sat down at the familiar story-told round table seated for 8 and stared at the various dishes. I was handed a pair of chop sticks and a small bowl of rice, 'take whatever you want' my Mama said. I took what was closest to me, some calamari in some type of brown sauce. -It was amazing- Truly delicious and I ate that with my rice for my very first meal. I got ready and we left for my orientation camp. At camp I signed in and met all the other inbounds from around the world, though the shock of realizing that everyone was speaking MY language caught me off guard. I never realized how powerful English is around the world. Not that everyone was fluent, some people spoke very well but everyone mostly grouped together with people from the same country. The Language camp was held at Overseas Chinese University, it was pretty big and we got to walk around and get to know everyone. I was happy to finally meet a very good Braz ilian friend of mine Thiago, who I had been talking to for a while prior to coming to Taiwan. We both thought it would be a good idea making some friends before we came to our district, and finally being able to see a sort-of familiar face made things much more comfortable. As we ate pizza for dinner, our district chair introduced the plans and schedule for the week, making everyone incredibly excited.
After a miserable night of sleeping on a hard mat in the freezing cold 'only know how to turn off if you can read Chinese' air conditioning, we met for a meeting in the grand hall. The first day we took many pictures and were given many presentations on exchange rules and fitting into our new surroundings etc. We had to each introduce ourselves in Chinese/English and represent our countries. Throughout the rest of the week was just extremely fun, a normal day would include a quick breakfast, very helpful basic Chinese classes, break, class, yummy lunch, cultural activity/craft, break, dinner buffet, and 'Party Time'. These days I will never forget, in one week we had all become so close, trying new things, hearing so many languages, learning about each other’s different cultures and creating exciting memories of water fights, late night stories, dancing, games, and just having a blast. The Rotex took everyone to our very first night market, I got to finally try the amazing bubble milk tea, and at the end of the week there was a huge dinner and a talent show for all of us to show some talent. My American friend Kris and I practiced all day and sang our hearts out. Everyone put on an amazing show and everyone was so sad to leave.. little did we know how much time we would actually get to see each other in the future, but I guess we just weren't ready to let go of our only first week as an inbound family. But what I had learned after such an amazing week, which I as well, was not ready to let go of, my host father told me one heartfelt thing to remember as we drove away, “Every party, must come to an end." But I knew, it was just the beginning.
The following week was crazy busy being introduced to new 'firsts' left and right. My host brother took me to eat cho dofu or 'stinky tofu' a famous dish in Taiwan. Not many foreigners enjoy it but I loved it :) I was given a tour of my city and had my first Rotary meeting, which was really exciting. I first went to dinner with my host dad in my city and met with a group of Rotarians. They had a pre-meeting before the meeting and when dinner came we went into another room and I was I introduced to all the other members, handing out cards and shaking 100 hands smiling, trying to make a warm first impression. Learning all the Rotarian's names like Boss, Shoes, Fire, Televy, Post, Blue, Life, etc. In Taiwan they choose their English names based from their profession or maybe a hobby or just something random like House or Car. And when you address a person you must use a title like Shushu, Ayi, Jiejie, meimei, Gege or Didi (Uncle, Auntie, older si ster, younger sister, older brother, younger brother) etc. ~even if they aren't really a relative. At the meeting I gave my first speech, it was the very first time I had been nervous since my Rotary interviews, and it was the first moment that I truly felt like an exchange student. There I was being handed the mic. from my host dad about to give my very first speech in Chinese, and all I could think about was "How the heck do I pronounce all this!?" I gave it my best shot- thinking about it now, it must have been really funny for all of those Rotarians hearing me fail so abruptly in Chinese for 5minutes straight, for the odds of me only correctly saying 15 words tops couldn't have been a far chance.
But that's experience :P
The next day my host sister took me to Kaohsiung, in southern Taiwan. It was so much fun being in the 2nd largest city in the country! I went to a famous night market and we ate soo much. The well known fact to foreigners about Taiwan, THEY. EAT. A LOT. Pretty much all the time, I assume high metabolisms work well in their favor, but they definitely do eat a lot healthier. Since I hadn't eaten much on the plane or very much during camp, I started to become very full, very quickly. One small bowl of rice and I felt like I just finished a Thanksgiving feast. This didn't work so well in my favor, many people thought I didn't like the food because I didn't eat very much. Also in Taiwan, it's very rude to not accept things that people offer you, as well as food. So it was difficult to explain that I loved the food, I just wasn't hungry. So what did I do? I learned how to say 'I'm full'...very quickly.
So back to my story, we had a 2-day city tour and we went to the beach which had blackish-grey sand and gorgeous water. It was the first time I had ever missed the beach..one of the things I surely took for granted. We traveled on motorbikes (scooters) all around Kaohsiung and it was a blast. It was the first time I've ever been on one and at first, I was pretty scared. I remember sitting on the back thinking ' oh I don't like this..I don't like this, I do not like this at ALL' ~I loved it. When we got off I had such a rush of excitement and all I wanted was to ride more! It was crazy and such a great experience riding around the city at night with great speed feeling the wind in your hair looking at all the other bikes next to you (more bikes then cars) looking around seeing nothing but tall buildings, bright lights and TONS of Chinese signs everywhere. The feeling was amazing :) ~Scooters are extremely popular in Taiwan because Taiwan is so s mall, the streets are very narrow and busy and scooters are extremely convenient to get around, and about every family has at least one. You'll see anyone from 15-80yrs zoom-zoomin around on these crazy things, I love them, and just so you know mother, I want one :)~
So, *drum roll*
My first day of school.
Was I nervous? No, just EXTREMELY excited. I had gone to the school the week before to get my uniform, my schedule and meet with my homeroom teacher, along with my other 1-on-1 teachers. In Taiwan the students stay in the same room and the teachers change rooms. The teachers have cubicles downstairs and the students stay in the same room unless they have gym or computer class. They stay with the same group of people for all 3 years of Senior high school. ~Since Taiwan is so small, everything is built up, so all the buildings and homes are very tall and most homes have 3-5 floors. So my school has about 6 floors and each year you go higher and higher up the school with each grade you progress in~ So as I met my teacher she asked if I would mind meeting my class as well because they had been dying to meet me. As we walked through the hallways all the students smiled and screamed and giggled waving furiously through the windows. When I reached my class everyone jumped up and sta rted to scream, they were all very excited!! She introduced me and I introduced myself in Chinese and talked about my basic information. I go to a Commercial high school so all the students study for their profession. My class studies 'Applied Foreign Language' -or English- so they all speak some English. They practiced introducing themselves and if they didn't have an English name (most did to my surprise) my teacher would say, ' pick one’. ~Cause it's that easy~
During my first day I didn't know what to expect. I rode my bike down the hill to school and met my homeroom teacher for a tour around campus. After making friends with some 3rd graders in the library, I met my classmates and we went to our first computer class. It was really odd getting use to all the attention. I expected a little, but it definitely isn't something anyone can prepare you for. Everyone was staring at me left and right asking to take pictures, laughing and giggling and running away all shy. They point and say hello and everyone would get extremely shocked if I would say 'Nǐ hǎo' - Hello- or 'Xièxiè' -Thank you. During lunch, a few people from every class goes down to the bottom floor and brings up lunch trays filled with various dishes and sets them on the outside ledge of the classroom. Everyone brings their own bowls and chopsticks and takes whatever they like for lunch. They eat in the classroom and watch the news and a few more people help wash the bowls and set them to dry, as others bring the empty trays back downstairs. One of the first things I noticed during school is that everyone is so helpful and everyone contributes. There's a lot of teamwork, and no one complains. Everyone is so nice and it helped me feel comfortable more quickly. I made many friends and was given many opportunities to be involved by being invited to many different activities, clubs, and events. Every day is different, I learn about Chinese music, language, and art. I have gym, computer class and English with my classmates. And I also learn Calligraphy and Shoa-lin kungfu outside of school. I have about one or two classes a day, but when I don't, I try to spend as much time as possible with my classmates and study Chinese.
On September 10th we celebrated my first festival in Taiwan, the Moon Festival. I didn't know what to expect, but I was extremely excited. All week my friends were eating a round cake-like treat called a Moon Cake, and teachers were giving me bags of fruit and such to take home to eat on the special day. All of my host relatives came to our house for a huge dinner, KTV( karaoke), mahjong, drinking, and telling stories all night. There were fireworks, which were beautiful but scared our dog Mickey who ran away.. but we found her a few days later :) At night my Rotary club had a big event/dinner with the same activities, I went alone because my family had to host the party, but I had a fantastic time and it was great getting a lot closer to the Rotarians. :)
My first trip with Rotary was to Yilan, in North-Eastern Taiwan.
I invited my friend Caro from Mexico to join us on our journey, which was a fantastic idea. We traveled 3 1/2 hours towards the high mountains of Yilan. We stopped at 3 major tourist sites that were to die for amazingly beautiful, and took a boat to the famous Turtle Island. We were given a tour of the once aboriginally inhabited villages, and walked the trails around the eye-capturing scenery. Back in the city of Yilan, we were treated in a 5-star hotel with a spa which Caro and I took advantage of all night. The weekend was simply amazing, and it was the first time nature had truly touched my heart.