Erica Burns
2013-14 Outbound to Taiwan

Hometown: St. Johns, Florida
School: Creekside High School
Sponsor: District 6970, Florida
Host:The Rotary Club of Bak Hai

Erica's Bio

Ni Hao! My name is Erica, and I'm going to Taiwan! This is such an amazing opportunity. When I first found out I was accepted, I was in shock. I sat there for a second thinking, 'Is this really happening?' Then when I found out I'm going to Taiwan, emotions flooded inside me! I am very thankful for everything that has happened. I was born in Louisville, Kentucky, and I have moved 8 times, in 5 different states. I just moved to Florida during the Christmas of 2011. I have been to many Spanish speaking countries, but I have never been to an Asian country. I am excited for everything from language to people to architecture to culture, but I think I am most excited about the food! I love food so much, I cannot wait to see the differences (as I'm sure there are plenty!) I have been told I am a very fun, energetic person. I spend most of my time either doing color guard, or hanging out with my friends. For those of you who do not know, color guard is the part of the marching band that spins flags, rifles, sabres, etc. Right now, we are working on our winter guard routine, where we perform in the gymnasium without the band. I am currently on the flag and rifle line, and I love my rifle more than anything (just kidding.) As I said, when I am not in guard, I love to hang out with my friends. I have made so many friends through Rotary, and this adventure has just begun! So thank you Rotary for everything you have given me!

Erica's Journals

August 31, 2013

The day has come! I leave for Taiwan tomorrow at 10:15 am! All of my nerves are in a tight knot. I feel like I don't have enough time to hang out with all of my friends or family before I leave. I have talked to all three of my host families already (I feel so lucky!) I have been hanging out with my friends, and my mom has been taking off work to spend more time with me. I have gone through my luggage multiple times, making sure I have everything. I hope I have enough gifts, shirts, shorts, hats... anything I could need! And I know I do, but I'm getting very anxious and I need things to distract me.

And don't get me wrong, I am so excited and thankful to be an exchange student! I wouldn't trade this opportunity for the world!...wait...maybe I would...haha. But in all seriousness, this opportunity has already changed my life forever, and it's only just the beginning. It's the beginning of the beginning. It's the start!..of something new!... now that song is stuck in my head.

Through this process, I have grown apart from a lot of friends, which is really hard. But I've made more friends than I've lost. And I know this is just a part of being an exchange student, but it truly does show who your true friends are. And I'm going to make so many friends over in Taiwan, and it is going to be great! I'm so excited for the ups and the downs this next year has in store for me. It is going to be the hardest thing I've had to handle in my life, but I know it will pay off in the end and turn out to be the best year of my life. Now all I can do is wait for the morning to arrive and take me on my journey into the unknown!

September 11, 2013

Okay... So... Wow. I've been here for about two and a half weeks, and I cannot explain how much life has changed for me. First, let me summarize my travels.

In Atlanta, I met up with a guy from New York. His name is Justin, and he has become one of my best friends here. On the plane to Tokyo, I had a very interesting set of emotions. First of all, this plane was the biggest piece of machinery I have seen in my whole life. The wing alone was larger than the plane I took to Atlanta. But I wasn't sad. At all. I was bouncing off the wall excited and happy. I was talking so fast that Justin couldn't get a word in for about the first two-three hours. Exhaustion took over and I got very... Emotionally tired. In Tokyo, we met up with a bunch more exchange students. Before we boarded to go to Taipei, I looked at everyone and said "so, are you guys ready to question everything you think you know about yourself?" And the thing is, to be an exchange student, you must be ready to forget what you think you know. Because in your new life, you don't know anything. You don't know anything about where you're goin g, what to do, and (worst of all) you don't know who you are.

So as soon as I landed, I was confused. I didn't know where we were or where to go of what to do. There was so much I had to go through to get to my host family. But once I tackled that battle, I got my luggage and went out into the unknown. As soon as I walked through a large doorway, I heard "EEEYYYYIIIICCCCAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!" (Not Erica. Eyica). I found my entourage, and wow. Just wow. They took my bags and did pictures before I could say hello! I had no idea who these people were! Only two people were introduced to me. My counselors. If I remember correctly, there were 8 people that came to get me, and I didn't know which couple was my family. So awkwardly, I waited until everyone left, and figured out who my family was.

And we left. And got in the car. And I almost died. The driving here...scared the crap out of me. My host dad was going so fast and honking and swerving... And I didn't realize until the next day that everyone drives like that. But anyway. I got home and took a shower and went to bed.

The next day, I went to orientation where I met a lot of other exchange students. Honestly, orientation was uneventful. It was short and the Rotarians just talked. Nothing like the orientations we have back home. But I met people, which was good! After that, I went to lunch with my first and second families, counselor, and another exchange student. (Her name is Levy. She and I share the same host families.)

During lunch, Levy and I got to learn how to use chop sticks! The correct way, that is. And the food was amazing. Let me repeat that. The. Food. Was. AMAZING! I love the food here. No, I don't eat puppies or kittens. I eat the same ingredients as I had in the USA, but it's prepared A LOT differently. So to try to sum up how meals here work, you don't have your own meal. You have a bowl, smaller than the size of my fist, and you order a bunch of plates of food. You put what you want in your bowl, and you eat it. All of it. If you're unsure if you'll like it, only put a little in your bowl. And flavors mix because you put everything in that bowl, but it's okay. It's good. And you will have so many dishes. And they come out one at a time, so I never know how many plates are coming. It's a gamble on how much to eat. Like I've told other people, I'm pretty certain my stomach has doubled in size because I eat so much here.

After I was here for maybe 2 days, my family took me on a 22 km bike ride. Wow. I was in pain for a week afterwards, it was so difficult. There were a couple points where we had to go up very large hills. I tried so hard to bike up it, and I couldn't. So I would just start laughing and say nope! And I got off my bike and walked it up the hill

As for school, I love it. I don't like how I go from 8-5, but I enjoy it. This is my schedule: Monday, Wednesday, Friday- Mandarin Chinese classes at a college 8-12 and high school 12-5; Tuesday, Thursday- high school 8-5. Also, there is also another exchange student in my school. She's from Brazil, and I love her so much. We've become such good friends.

The other kids at school are so wonderful. And of course they aren't their stereotypes. Yes, they do a crap ton of studying, but they are the friendliest people I have ever met. I'll walk around campus, and I'll find people staring at me. I'll smile, wave, and say hello. I have made so many friends at school. But something I'm noticing about other exchange students is they soak up all of the attention, and then wonder why people stopped paying attention to them. The thing is, they are people. They'll love to talk to the foreigner, but the exchange students don't give them attention back. They don't ask the Taiwanese people questions too. They just answer questions given to them. And I'm so happy to have Taiwanese friends. They're wonderful.

Now here is a lovely adventure I went on after school. I don't understand the geography of New Taipei City. One day, I had to go home after school but I missed the bus. So I decided to take the MRT home. I understand the MRT (train) more anyway. Buuuuut, I didn't know how to get from the MRT station to my apartment. So what did I do? I walked around the city for an hour and a half until I found a familiar road. I was really struggling not to cry. But finally, I got home and was so proud of myself. I kept using the Chinese skills I had to ask where to go. Basically, I kept saying "dehe rou?" And pointing in the direction I thought it was. Most of the time I was wrong. I don't think I've ever been that emotionally strained in my life, but I got through it and now, I know how to get home, and I will never forget it.

And just to let everyone (aka parents) know, I was safe. Taiwan has to be one of the safest places on Earth. I have never felt more comfortable to ask strangers for help. And out of learned behavior, I still be smart about everything. I'm still careful. But I know I am not in danger.

As for right now, I'm on a bus. The inbounds in my district took a two day trip to Tainan and Kaohsiung for a big rotary meeting, and we're on our way home. This whole trip, I cannot help but notice the beauty of Taiwan. I say it so much, but I can't get over it. The cities, the mountains, the middle of nowhere... It's all just so beautiful. On the bus trip, we have managed to watch a lot of movies (the avengers is playing right now), and sang karaoke. The karaoke was so much fun, hahaha!

And it's so interesting the names I respond to here. I respond to Erica, of course. And 雯雯 (my Chinese name), Florida, USA, bear, panda, Burns, white girl, and (my personal favorite) That-one-girl-from-the-south-eastern-part-of-America. Yes, an exchange student calls me that, and yes, I respond.

I have a lot more adventures I could talk about, but I think that's enough for this journal haha. I'll write again soon!!!

再見! bye bye!

October 2, 2013

So it's been a full month guys. And just thinking about that is crazy!

Rotary teaches us about an "exchange cycle" which is basically how our emotions will go throughout the year. I can feel the emotions changing already to the next stage. Things here are starting to get routine, so not much is ever new and exciting anymore. I've had my holy crap moment, and I can tell you that's it's a difficult feeling to describe. It's exciting and scary and depressing all at the same time. Not depressing because I'm in Taiwan, but because I know that I'm going to miss out on a lot of stuff back home with my family. Exciting because, Well I'm in Taiwan! And scary because... I have no idea what I'm doing haha. It's very difficult to describe for me

There are some things the Taiwanese people say and do that make me think "wow.. They're so rude" but I really have to remind myself that I'm the one in a different culture. They aren't being rude to me. And I hear Al's voice ringing in my head, "nothing is ever better or worse; just different." And when I think about that, I feel a lot better

Now, despite what Al says, the best and worst of Taiwan!

The worst:

-the city. Yes, this is also in the best. But it's in the worst for the same reason. It's always alive. I can't ever have a quiet moment to myself!

-the rain. As an American girl, I LOVE to dance in the rain. It's so much fun. But here, there are so many chemicals and pollution from China in the air that sometimes we get acid rain (which will make your hair fall out). So no dancing in the rain for me. I like my hair right where it is

-the bus system. I cannot express how much I dislike the buses here. Not because of the actual bus, but because for whatever reason, I can't figure it out. Still. I've been here for a month and I still get off at the wrong stop, or get on the wrong bus, or go to the wrong bus stop. Taking the bus frustrates me more than reading and writing and speaking in Chinese all combined into one. Everyone else understands it, it's just me.

-studying. all of my classes are electives (an art class, two music classes, etc) so I'm not the one who studies. The Taiwanese kids can never hang out because they're studying. I've made lots of Taiwanese friends, but I can't spend time with them outside of school.

Best:

-the food. It's so tasteful and wholesome and it's so amazing. My stomach has doubled in size. I eat sooo much here! My favorite food is dumplings. Hands down

-the people. They're so nice and helpful, no matter what. Even if we can't understand each other, they'll do whatever they can't to help. One guy couldn't explain to me how to get to school once (because I got REALLY lost. I do that a lot) so he literally walked me all the way to school.

-the city. Again, it's always SO alive! I feel like I have so much energy because of how much is going on ALL OF THE TIME!

-the temples. Please understand that I'm not kidding when I say anytime I walk past, or ride past a temple, I lean over and take a deep breath in, savoring the smell. They burn a lot of incents, and it smells like the best thing on earth

-the MRT. I love taking the metro. I completely understand it. Even if I get on the wrong MRT for say.. Half an hour before I notice because I'm talking to another exchange student (not that it's ever happened before cough cough), it's an easy fix. I walk a few feet to the MRT across from the one I took and BAM! I'm on the right path again. And the MRT is fast. I like fast

-balance. I'm going to have amazing balance when I get back because of the busses and MRT's. I'm not sure how to describe how many times I've almost fallen on the MRT or bus because of the constant stoping and going or because we're turning

-mangos, pineapple cakes, lemon tea. Need I say more? Those three things I have become addicted to. All of the fruit is amazing, but I cannot get enough of mangos and pineapples. And the pineapple cakes are to die for. They aren't actually cakes, more like pastries, but they're amazing. And I've always loved lemon tea, but I only drink that and water here. I can't get enough of any of it

-mango shaved ice. Again, need I say more? Obviously it's shaved ice with the most heavenly mangos on earth topped with vanilla bean ice cream. Holy amazing

-bowling. My friends, exchange students and Taiwanese, go bowling here. But it is not the same as in the USA. For the bowling part, the main difference is everyone gets two lanes, which is difficult to get used to, but I love it because if one person is gone, you can keep playing without skipping them. But, what I love about this bowling a ally is they have a three story arcade that is free. Yes, FREE! It's awesome. End of story

November 18, 2013

I've come to the conclusion that being an exchange student is indescribable. My classmates are concerned sometimes about how fast my emotions can change. But how can you describe the joy feel when you begin to understand something your teacher says? Of course other people think "hey that's awesome! You're doing good!" But for exchange students, it's so much more than that. And the flood of emotions you get when in the MRT, your brain goes to read the Chinese before the English. The joy isn't because of the fact that I can read the Chinese, but the fact that I read the Chinese first. But how do you explain that to someone else? How could I explain the feeling I get when I come to my best friend's home- I consider them my true Taiwanese family- to a hug from my best friend's host mother? It seems so simple, but hugging is not in the Taiwanese culture. So why does she hug me every day? Because she know s I need one. She knows if I've had a good day I want to hug someone. She knows if I've had a bad day, I need to hug someone. She knows if I am homesick, a hug could make all the difference. But how could I explain the emotions felt because if that? On the flip side, how could I explain the frustration that comes from people telling me my Chinese isn't good enough? How do I explain coming to my own host family and being told that I'm not doing good enough? To explain the feeling of not being wanted. Just being someone in a persons house because they had to take someone in because they sent their daughter on exchange? People know the feeling must suck. But add in emotions from everything else, and I feel like a ticking time bomb. I just keep waiting to have a moment where the only thing I can do is cry. I won't be able to explain why, I won't be able to even look at the person in front of me. And I will cry for everything going on. I will cry for the laughter, for the joy, for the pain, for the love. And I know that it's okay. I know this exchange will forever be something in my heart and I'm not willing to give it up because my life has turned around. That's why I joined this program. I joined for the full experience. I knew I wouldn't be easy.. But no one could have explain how intense this would get.

January 5 2014

So I haven't posted for awhile, so here are a few large things that happened

I had my first earthquake. It was a 6.3 magnitude in Taipei but there wasn't any damage. I had locked myself out of the apartment and no one seemed to be home. My parents weren't answering my phone calls, so I ended up in my neighbors apartment.

My neighbors are a three generation family, and I was watching SpongeBob SquarePants in Chinese with the grandson and granddaughter. I was also sitting next to their dad on the couch.

Everything started to shake. Originally I thought it was the grand daughter wiggling on the couch because she was hanging on the arm. Then it started to get worse and I realize it wasn't her. Now, I've never been I an earthquake before, so I didn't exactly know what was happening. Then the dad said "huh. An earthquake" like he was saying "huh. SpongeBob is on" and I started freaking out inside. To him I said-very fast- "what!? Earthquake? What do we need to do? Do we need to get to safety? Why are we just sitting here?" And everyone just laughed at me and said it was fine. Seriously. We didn't even get off the couch. I started to really get nervous when I saw the glass chandelier swinging back and forth.....

Later, the news was reporting that it lasted a whole minute. For those of you who don't know, that's super long.

But everything was fine in the end. In fact, I was thinking about my day and realized that I should have been home alone when that happened- which would have been.. Not a good memory. and the days events leaded up to me being at their apartment.. So I guess it wasn't too terrible haha. but I will always look back and smile

Another thing I never posted about is a memory I will cherish forever.

We went on another trip with Rotary. Everyone was moaning and groaning because it was so hot, and we went to another place that no one had any care in the world about. It was another Buddhist temple. I kept trying to keep everyone's spirits up, but I'm not gonna lie, I wasn't interested either.

We walked around as a monk gave us a tour which only 1/3 of the exchange students were listening to. Then we went to a place that our guide said wasn't open to the public.

Everyone just kept talking until we came to the first room.

The room was completely made of dark wood with green mats in perfect formation on the floor. At the front of the room was a Buddha made of pure white marble. That's when our guide told us this was where the monks came to pray every day. Her voice echoed off the walls to such a degree, no one dared make a sound. All you could hear was our steady breathing as we took all of this in.

Conversation began again as we moved to the next room. There were tens of thousands of hand carved Buddhas on the wall. So many and so small that it took us awhile to even notice them. In the center of the room was a 15 foot handmade "house" for Buddha. No one was allowed to go in but we could pay our respects, which we did.

Then came the room. Even before we walked in, we could tell it was going to be bright. When we did, it wasn't what we expected at all. The room was completely made of white marble. The floors, the walls, the ceiling, all of it. But there were no windows, nor were there lights. I still don't know how the room was so bright, other than the marble.

In the center of the room, was a very large Buddha made of completely white marble with gold Buddhas on the "clothing." The best description I can think of is heaven. When people go to heaven in movies, it's always a completely white room, which there seems to be no end. That was the room we were in. Our guide didn't even say anything about the room.

This time, between the lack of sound and the scene in front of us, no one dared even breathe. If you looked around at our faces, I'm sure they were the same. In awe and some crying.

And that was it. The end of our tour. I don't know how long we were in there because the feeling of every emotion, every sense, was just gone. We felt calm, all of our stresses were none existent, peaceful. It's an experience I'll never forget

February 18, 2014

The holidays. We are all warned about how homesick we will feel around the holiday season. Not having a thanksgiving. Spending Christmas with another family, learning their customs. Not seeing the ball drop at a party with your friends. I'm not going to lie, it's hard. But when you make the best out of it, it can be amazing.

Let's start with thanksgiving. For me, thanksgiving is going around all of Indiana to see my entire family- and my family is huge (love you mom and dad!). So this year I didn't. I got to Skype a couple groups, but it wasn't the same. All of the Americans were upset because we weren't having a thanksgiving- so we decided to have our own. All of the Americans in my district (and an Aussie and a Brazilian) went to the most American restaurant (that was in our price range) we could find. We drew a turkey and put it in the center of the table (turkey is not common in Taiwan and is expensive if you can find one). We got burgers with a side of mashed potatoes and green beans. None of it tasted all that great. Then, we all of course wanted pie but they didn't have any. So we bought some kind of an apple desert. We sat around the table and shared stories from past thanksgivings and it made us feel a little more at home. And we all got a little closer.

Christmas was easily the hardest holiday to get through. In Asia, they obviously don't have Christian beliefs, so Christmas wasn't supposed to happen. But in Taipei, the government likes to advertise Christmas as a time of gifts and spending to make more money. So Christmas was everywhere. A lot of exchange students were getting really upset and frustrated because Christmas was put in their face but they couldn't celebrate it. And the meaning of Christmas was gone. However, just like thanksgiving, we threw ourselves a party- with the help of Rotex (kids who went on exchange before). We had a secret Santa, a dance, magic tricks, and so much more. We were able to forget that we weren't with our families back home, and had a Christmas party with our rotary family.

New Years honestly was so much fun. Exchange students from all over Taiwan came up to see the fireworks at Taipei 101! I saw Jess and Will and together we counted down to the new year of 2014! The fireworks lasted about 5 minutes and the smoke stayed in front of 101 so it got hard to see at some points. After the fireworks, I had to go straight home (curfew is really early here). Taxis were all rented out so that wasn't an option. So I had to take the MRT. I stood in line OUTSIDE the station for a little over an hour. Then in the station for about half an hour. I called my family to tell them I was safe but late (make sure you do that. Trust me).

But the holiday that made being in Taiwan all worth it was Chinese New Year! This year is the year of the Horse (馬) and my host uncle is a horse. For all of Chinese New Year, we went around Taiwan (including Taichung). I saw extended family and basically, it was like Christmas. It was a time to be with family and celebrate everything you have. We even had the people playing games in the corner (here it was mahjong), the people cooking, and the people watching tv (everyone else). Then we got red envelopes with money in them. Each one will more than likely have 600NT in it (6 is the lucky number) and we get a lot. And of course, we ate, and ate, and ate until we couldn't move.

If I can give exchange students advise, no matter what country you're going to, don't make the holiday season an excuse to have pity. It will be hard, but keep spirits high and make the best of everything- no matter how hard it may get.

April 22, 2014

Wow, I haven't written in awhile. Okay, so here's what's happened recently In Taiwan!

I've changed host families, and they're wonderful!

I have gone to Japan with my school which was so much fun! I got to go skiing for the first time in my life and I can't wait to try again

I have realized how little time I have left in Taiwan which makes me excited and sad. I want to go back to Florida, but I don't want to leave Taiwan!

I thought of some advise I'd like to give future exchange students.

1) be aware you're in a completely different culture, and don't think only from your perspective. In Taiwan, a very lucky number is 6. There is a bus number 666 in Taipei, which to Christian's, is a very bad number. But to Taiwanese, it must be the luckiest bus ever!

2) never say no. And I mean to everything. No matter how full you are, try just one more food item your host family gives you. Try foods you don't like. Try them more than once. You'd be surprised. Go on trips, even of you think it'll be boring. I got up at 5 am on a Saturday morning with my host family to go do something that sounded so boring, and it's one of the best memories I have now

3) become a family member. Especially in Asia, family is number one. I come home almost everyday to be with my family- rarely with exchange students. And they tell me all the time how nice it is to have an exchange student that cares about more than partying. I have exchange friends, and we hang out too, but family is very important. Don't forget that

4) never give yourself pity. Every exchange student has a hard time, just with different things. Some people have a really hard time with homesickness, some people don't get along with their families, some people have a really hard time learning the language. Don't think you're the only one with problems.

5) when learning the language- especially tonal languages- learn the hardest part first. Even if the hardest thing is grammar. For my total language people- TONES ARE IMPORTANT! They're the difference between coming home and saying "hi mom I'm home!" And "you're a horse! I'm home!" And pronunciation is important for the difference between saying "there's a dead mouse in the road" and "there's a dead teacher in the road" so PAY ATTENTION! Haha

6) learn how to make your favorite food. Even if you can't make it back in the USA, learn how to make it. And learn to make a food you can make in the USA too. Trust me

7) see things from your culture's point of view, not your own. For example, if rotary tells you to learn Chinese faster and better, understand it's because you're in a culture where studying is what they're about. Or if your family says your curfew is 9 pm and you can only hang out a few days a week, it's because the culture. Kids in Taiwan don't hang out hardly at all. That goes for people in every country, but I only have Taiwanese examples

8) people will say things to you that will make you mad. They will say things about America that aren't true, they will say things because they don't understand. Learn to explain with a smile, and walk away. Or just walk away.

I know you may be wondering what to do about host family gifts too!! This is what I've found effective: women like Bath and Body Works. It's very rare if they have it at all. And they love the smell; fathers tend to like Florida license plates. In other countries, they're plain with not much decoration, so they like America's license plates. All of my host dads hung them up in the main areas of the house very proud. Kids like Disney. No matter what their age. Trinkets, stuffed animals, etc, people love it

I hope that makes up for a long absence and helps you guys!