Marco Lo Russo
2011-12 Outbound to Taiwan

Hometown: Orlando, Florida
School: Edgewater High School
Sponsor: Winter Springs Rotary Club, District 6980, Florida
Host: Rotary Club of Yuli, District 3490, Taiwan

Marco's Bio

Hi my name is Marco Lo Russo and in 7 or 8 months I will be living on the other side of the world in Taiwan! I am really excited and can’t stop thinking about the day I get off the plane and meet my host families. Taiwan was actually my third choice and I didn’t really expect to get it. I did a lot of research on it though and it looks really nice and I know I will be very happy there.

I am 17 years old and I’ve lived in downtown Orlando, Florida for most of my life. I live with my mom, but my dad lives only a few minutes away, and I have a little sister. I am a senior at Edgewater High School and by now all my friends there know I am going to Taiwan. For a long time I’ve been interested in pretty much everything about Asia like culture, food, people…everything. To be able to stay in Taiwan for a year and learn about this, in some ways, alien world and learn the most widely spoken language in the world is simply awesome. Mandarin Chinese will definitely be tough to learn but you have to admit, it will be really cool when I come back to the U.S. speaking fluent Chinese.

My interests include playing guitar and biking. I also like spending time with friends and family but I especially love my dog, Haji, and I don’t know what I’ll do without him when I leave. I think this adventure is a really good opportunity to grow as a person so even though I’ll miss my friends and family I can’t wait.

Marco's Journals

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

So it has been 2 months since I’ve left Orlando to start my new life in Taiwan. There is so much to say about my experiences, the people I’ve met, and the feelings I’ve had. But I am at a loss for words. To describe my life recently with just words won’t do it any justice. It’s something you have to see and experience for yourself to truly understand. Taiwan is Taiwan; probably the best way to say it. I can’t still can’t believe that I’m here, writing about my experiences in a foreign country. A little more than a year ago I would have only dreamed of something like this. It’s crazy to think I’m in Asia, and that I’m staying until July! I will try my best to find the right words to summarize my time here so far. I really want whoever reads this to try to be able to know Taiwan through me. That being said, I still have so much left to discover myself.

So I’ll start from the beginning. I arrived in Taiwan at about 9:30 pm on August 20. The whole trip from Orlando to Taoyuan, Taipei took around 23 hours. The longest trip of my life and I wasn’t even in my town of Yuli yet. I was pretty nervous when I got off the plane in Taoyuan because I knew I would see my host families soon. When I finally turned a corner and they were there with signs and banners, it felt great. To have 3 families you’ve never met in person embrace you as one of their own is surreal. When I left the airport with my family and took my first step outside, I was introduced to the Taiwanese weather. I was hit with the thickest air I’ve ever felt. If you can imagine, Taiwan is even more humid than Florida. The first thing I ate in Taiwan was a fènglí s, or pineapple cake, and some mini M&Ms. They were given to me in the car by my host sister Momo. I think I will keep that memory with me for the rest of my life. We all made our way to a little hole-in-the-wall place where they served duck soup. As I’ve learned from my time being here, the hole-in-the-wall places are where you can find the best food. When I ate that duck soup in Taoyuan, I couldn’t recognize everything I was eating (and it’s still like that today), but it was it was delicious nonetheless. Taiwanese food is amazingly good and definitely much different than the food I usually eat in Orlando. I got to know my 3 host families that night. It was one of the most memorable nights of my life. I’ve been having a lot of those since I’ve come to Taiwan.

In the days from then up until now, I have done so many things. I’ve traveled to many cities like Taichung, Miaoli, Taipei, Yilan, and Hualien. I’ve been up mountains and down to the ocean. I’ve seen famous Taiwanese sights like Sanxiantai & Loshan, The National Palace Museum & Taipei 101, the peaceful landscape of the East Rift Valley & the energetic environment of a famous Taichung night market; and it’s all beautiful. Taiwan is a really amazing place and the sights you see will be embedded in your memory. I’ve eaten a crazy amount of Taiwanese food, met so many people, celebrated my 18th birthday, made Taiwanese friends that I love, experienced my first Mid-Autumn Festival, and got my first Taiwanese haircut. By the way if you ever find yourself in Taiwan DON’T get a haircut here. They will mistake “trim” for “do whatever you want” and cut all your hair off.

Even though it was my 3rd choice, I think Taiwan is the perfect place for me to live for almost a year. The people are very friendly and generous, the food is real Chinese food (so delicious), the terrain is much different than anywhere in Florida, and Taiwan has that distinctive Chinese environment that I’ve admired since I was little. I really do love Taiwan and I know I will definitely come back after my exchange.

Until next time

January 31

How to start this one?

I’ve been in Taiwan for 5 months now. During that time I’ve realized how hard it is being an exchange student. When the Rotary told us about how hard it would be, the emotions we would have to deal with, and the amount of hard work it would take just to get through the day; I ignorantly thought they were just exaggerating. It’s been pretty tough sometimes, but the other times when it’s not so tough and when you’re having the time of your life makes it all worth it.

My Chinese is doing really well. Now I can definitely get around on my own without any help from other Chinese speakers. I’m having real conversations with my friends and family and now I don’t feel outside the circle as much. Chinese is something I actually like learning so I try very hard to learn as quickly as I can. Wanting to speak more with my friends and family and become more involved is great motivation for learning a language. Every time I learn how to say something and express myself without using body language, it feels like I’m leveling up or something. There is still a whole lot more to learn and it’s daunting to think about it. You just have to take it day by day and study when you can. I’m usually pretty busy nowadays and very tired so I admit to choosing to take it easy a lot of the time rather than study when I get the chance. It seems no matter how much I study I won’t be able to understand what they are saying on TV. And when two or more people have conversations with each other, they often speak too fast for me to catch on. When someone speaks directly to me though, I can understand much more. Since I live with them, my parents know what words I can understand so it’s easiest talking with them. It also doesn’t help though that most people also know Taiwanese and a lot of the time prefer to use it instead of Mandarin. Now that I’ve relatively picked up Mandarin my parents started speaking more and more Taiwanese which kind of sucks. I think they like speaking it more than Mandarin because it’s the native language. Like when someone is speaking in Chinese and I’m trying to concentrate on what they are saying; and then when in mid-sentence they switch to Taiwanese can be kind of… not annoying but bothersome I guess. They’ll often switch between languages and it gets pretty confusing but as a result I’ve picked up some Taiwanese too. I’m a lso finding myself forgetting English little by little but I think that happens to more people than just me. I’m also learning how to write in Traditional Chinese although much slower than I am with speaking the language. I already know I want to come back here after my exchange year so I want to learn as fast as I can. Japan also incorporates traditional Chinese characters in their writing system as well. I’ve always wanted to learn Japanese one day too so I think learning as much I can now, will help me a lot in the future. The one thing I regret is that I should have studied more prior to coming to Taiwan. The earlier you study, the earlier you don’t feel like… well… a foreigner. I do wish I had studied more but there is no better way to learn than being in environment where the language surrounds you all the time.

Learning the language along with everything else I’ve experienced, I feel more independent and mature. There are trains all around Taiwan so you especially feel that way when you are taking a train by yourself to visit friends in another city. I probably felt the most mature during New Years. The 2 other exchange students in my town and I took the train 5 hours to Taipei and spent New Year’s eve being tourists and visiting all these different places. We went to the busy shopping district of Xinmending, visited beautiful temples, explored Danshui, and ate at Taiwan’s most famous night market called Shilin. If you don’t know what a night market is you are missing out. It is a godsend really. Night markets are everywhere in Taiwan but the bigger and most famous ones are in the cities. Night markets are usually small roads and alleyways lined with stalls side by side to each other selling everything from BBQ squid on a stick and Pearl Milk Tea (famous in Taiwan), to cheap clothes and games to play. Most people just go for the food though because there is so much to choose from and still so cheap. And especially on New Year’s Eve Shilin, Taiwan busiest market, was especially packed with people. We were shoulder to shoulder the whole time and could barely move. After that we took the metro to the famous Taipei 101 building and watched amazing fireworks. It was the most memorable New Years of my life and the experiences like this are the ones that make me so glad I’m an exchange student. Chinese New Year’s is actually in a day so I think tomorrow I will make other memorable experiences like before.

I also recently switched to my second host family. It was Christmas day when I moved. Leaving my first host family was really hard. We’ve been through so much together and I’ve learned a lot from them. I still see them often but I miss living in their house. My host family now is still very nice and I hope to have good experiences with them like I did with my first family. It wasn’t the best Christmas I’ve had though. The Taiwanese Christmas doesn’t compare to the Christmas back in the U.S. since only a small population are Christian. It’s easier to compare it with Easter than Christmas. Those who do celebrate will just go to church and have a meal with their families. So I kind of missed Christmas this year and thought of my family back home a lot. Instead I spent my day pretty much packing and unpacking.

Over these past months I’ve discovered more of what Taiwan has to offer by travelling around. The scenery, cities, people, and food are different in pretty much every county like little worlds. Traveling definitely opens your eyes even more so that’s why I take every opportunity I get to go around. I could compare Taiwan to Disney World. Like a few theme parks in one world, each part of Taiwan is different. The north east is covered in lush green mountains with long winding rivers and old towns scattered throughout. Hualien County on its west side is like no other area in Taiwan. It’s more of a simple area consisting of high palm trees, clear blue skies, beautiful mountains on either side of the valley, and rice… A LOT of rice. But it’s like the most beautiful part of Taiwan and its where I live. On the east side of Hualien county on the other side of the mountains is the beach. You can’t swim because is too rocky but it’s beautiful to look at. There are many aboriginals here who live in fishing villages along the beach. So Hualien County is especially different because the people are also different from regular Chinese or Taiwanese. Kenting to the south is full of sandy beaches and is sunny all the time. The beaches aren’t rocky here so a lot of the people in Taiwan go there to surf. It has that atmosphere not found in the rest of Taiwan. Kaoshiung to the south east was, 10 years ago, an industrial city but now its changed to more of a fun city with thriving cultural scenes with art, music, etc. The air is still gray and polluted from the factories and what have you. Also, here, Taiwanese is spoken more than English. The west side is where most of the population lives and where a lot Taiwanese exports are produced. This is also where the beautiful older Chinese architecture is found. I haven’t really been to the west that much because of the mountains in between. To the north is Taipei w hich has everything. It’s the big, lively, modern metropolis but still has its old parts. I like traveling there the most because there is so much to do. So you can see how I can compare Taiwan to Disney because every part is different.

I’m really having the best time here and I can’t believe I’m almost halfway done with my exchange. Its going so fast. I hope to tell you more about Taiwan and my experiences here after I discover them myself.

Until then