Lauren Ahmad

Taiwan

Hometown: Ponte Vedra, Florida
School: Ponte Vedra High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
Host District: 3480
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Hsin Tien

 

My Bio


Hello! Nǐ hǎo! My name is Lauren Ahmad. I am fourteen years old, and a freshman at Ponte Vedra High School. I was born in Keller, Texas, near the Dallas/Fort Worth area, but I moved to Florida a few years ago. I have three brothers, two of which are adopted, and two loving parents. I also have two dogs and two cats, including my kitten Skype, who I will miss dearly. Since I was a little girl, I loved to travel and learn about new cultures. New languages and countries have always made me curious to find out more about the world!

I look forward to going to Taiwan, and discovering a new way of life. I am so thankful to Rotary for this amazing opportunity, and I knew that from the first presentation of the club, I had to join and be apart of this incredible experience! Currently, I love to read, write, draw, and code websites, but I hope to try some new activities when I go to Taiwan. I used to love playing soccer, but I haven't had the availability to participate in the most recent years. Honestly, I am so excited to start this new chapter of my life, and what I feel will be my biggest adventure yet! I'm already enjoying learning the language, so I feel it can only get more exciting from here! I look forward to the challenges and bumps ahead, along with the fun and adventure. Thank you!


My welcome committee in the airport

My welcome committee in the airport

My host mother and I at the Modern Toilet

My host mother and I at the Modern Toilet

My group of fellow exchange students and Rotex at Inbound Orientation

My group of fellow exchange students and Rotex at Inbound Orientation

My host club at my first meeting

My host club at my first meeting

A group of my classmates and I (I'm the one with pomelo peel on my head)

A group of my classmates and I (I'm the one with pomelo peel on my head)

A group of my classmates and I at our Mid-Autumn Festival barbecue - thanks Hiro for the photo!

A group of my classmates and I at our Mid-Autumn Festival barbecue - thanks Hiro for the photo!

My classmates, teacher, and I

My classmates, teacher, and I

entry-121-img_4345

entry-121-img_4345

entry-121-img_4531

entry-121-img_4531

entry-121-img_4575

entry-121-img_4575

entry-121-img_4447

entry-121-img_4447

entry-121-img_4510

entry-121-img_4510

entry-121-img_4471

entry-121-img_4471

entry-121-img_4333

entry-121-img_4333

Journals: Lauren - Taiwan 2015-2016

  • Lauren, outbound to Taiwan

    Wait, what’s today? Are you serious? There’s no way it’s January 2016. Let me check all seven of my calendars again…

    Yup, it’s 2016… and this is only my second journal. Which means I’m in some trouble. But hey, instead of making excuses about how busy I was (am) in the hustle and bustle of daily Taipei life, I shall dive straight into the crazy stuff I’ve been up to. There’s a lot, so I won’t be as detailed as my last journal. All in all, I’m sure you guys will be satisfied. Just note, these are in loose chronological order - I’m using my camera roll to recall most of these because there’s been so much stuff.

    So in October, my Chinese class took our first field trip. We went to a traditional market that sold anything from entire chickens to live fish tied up in waterless barrels. It was what the kids call “culture shock”. After this, we went to the local university, which happened to be the most famous university in Taiwan. We toured the campus and then walked through a history museum about the Aboriginals of Taiwan. It was pretty interesting! There was a pretty scary story about a scalping tradition that gave me shivers...

    Later that month, my host club’s sister club in Japan came to visit us. I’ve been taking Japanese, so I was asked to introduce myself by my host father. I actually did alright (I guess, they understood me at least!), and it was a pretty fun night. We even ate some Japanese dishes that were delicious! Mostly fish, but hey, fish is great.

    And in November, I went on one of biggest trips yet - I stayed a night in Yilan with my Taiwan classmates on a school trip. This adventure was packed and I have pictures to prove it. We got at school at seven and loaded up several school buses (the whole entire school was divided into three different field trips). We took an hour to drive to the coastal city, where we boarded a boat and sailed to Turtle Island. Inhabited by few and rich with historical culture, we explored the caves, crossed lakes, and hiked in the hot sun.

    Despite being a bit motion sick, and my partner having an asthma attack without being able to communicate it with me (so basically while everyone was trying to help I was just freaking out trying to figure out what was happening?) it was pretty fun! Then we went to a beach, where as a class, we pulled in a giant net of fish. It took everyone pulling the rope out and then going back for more until finally, we brought in our pitiful basket of eight fish (plus a crab). It was still really amazing and we had a lot of fun doing it. After this, we went to try to local seafood that the area was famous for.

    Once sufficiently stuffed to the max with fish and equipped with ice cream, we headed to a local museum and learned more about the culture there. Finally, we headed out for the event we had all been anticipating. The night market! We only had thirty minutes, so we quickly bought some food before being ushered back to the buses. But it was my first market and it was incredible!

    The hotel was wonderful, though my classmates had no intention of sleeping. Dancing, KPop, candy, and fun. Also breaking glasses by accident and having to be forced to bed by our concerned homeroom teacher. The next day we woke up groggy but managed to get ready on time. We ate breakfast but had some time to spare afterwards, so we played a Taiwanese card game with KPop cards. My classmates even taught me some slang (though I can’t say all of it was necessarily stuff I would use often). The rest of the day was more subdued. We went to a wine/cake factory and observed the production, something Yilan was popular for. Then we went to an arts market filled with Taiwanese artisans and DIY activities. We made traditional Taiwanese bracelets (with a modern spin on them) before heading home. It was a great trip and I got much closer to my classmates.

    After that, the exchange students immediately were thrown into Rotary activities. A Halloween party, which was pretty ordinary (and Western). But afterwards, on my way home, I got lost for the first time in the city. It was a rainy night and I was dressed like a zombie apocalypse survivor. I called my host sister but my signal was horrible so I ended up asking for directions in Chinese (quite nicely I might add). He answered in English and directed me to the station I needed to go to. I ran in the dark and barely caught the last bus, making it home just before curfew. It was a great night.

    Not too long later, Rotary took us on the Yingge Pottery Tour, something I was excited about since I saw previews at the orientation. Yingge is a city famous for it’s history with pottery. After an hour train ride, we were taken to a building where we made our own pottery on spinning wheels and painted cups. After this, we went to the local market and browsed dozens of shops filled with unique pottery. I was amazed by the beautiful artwork (it made me wish my bowl was a little cooler…) Then, we went to a museum where we perused the history of pottery in Taiwan. It was pretty amazing, and much more interesting then you would’ve thought.

    Not long after, my Chinese class took another field trip. This time we went to a local temple where we learned about Taoism. We learned how to pray, the Grandfather (the “deity” of the religion, but as the name suggests, more of a comforting family figure to talk to your feelings about), how to use divination blocks and sticks. It was wonderful, as I love visiting the temples. Then we went to another traditional market and ate amazing food.

    Finally, I left instantly to get back to school because-
    That day, our school’s sister school from Japan sent students to visit! I rushed back just in time to greet them. Each school did a performance, before we all went back to our homerooms followed by a class each. My classmates were very shy, so I hopped around helping everyone get comfortable (since I was familiar with all of it). One girl in particularly followed me around everywhere talking to me in a mix of small Japanese words and English. It was really fun! Then we escorted them all to the Shilin Night Market where we spent the evening showing them our Taiwanese culture. Once it got late, we led them back to their hotel and traded gifts. Finally, I headed home with lots of Japanese candy.

    Not too long after, my school held a fair where we made food and listened to music as a big fundraiser. My homeroom teacher noticed how bored I was, so I actually got to help out a lot before getting really sick and going home. Still fun though!

    Our Chinese class also had all the exchange students participate in a talent show to show off our Chinese skills. So, I and two of my friends performed on ukuleles while singing a lovely Taiwanese love song. It was super cute and we did well.

    Christmas came and went with little celebration as expected. I got pretty homesick, but I kept it on the down low since my family in America was practically in pieces. But hey, guess what I got on Christmas morning? Essence of Chicken! I won it in the Rotary Christmas party raffle (I didn’t mention the Christmas party but it was fun. Mostly just karaoke, santa hats, and choking on octopus. I turned blue and nearly passed out but no one understood so I had to pull it out myself before anyone realized I was actually dying). Turns out it was a chicken soup-like thing that’s supposed to make you grow stronger.

    New Years was a blast though! First off, we didn’t have school, which is always great. We had our placement test for our Chinese classes and then we went to Ximen to waste time. I bought some clothes as a Christmas present for myself before we all headed to the Taipei Grand Hotel. Why? Well…

    Rotary organized us to do a giant dance thing. We were divided into two groups and each week of November, we practiced our dance. I was apart of the hip hop group, A.K.A. the actual shame of the event (I tried learned the dance but it became harder to participate when I got a concussion - a story I don’t remember that well). Nonetheless, we danced on New Years and I only tripped twice. It was amazing… Then the Lion group dance, and everyone forgot about our performance. The Lion dancers actually dances a traditional Taiwanese story that made sense with New Years. It was really cool to watch! They released us at 8 so we were free to go wherever for New Years.

    I tagged along with a group I trusted and we made our way to Linguang. There, we climbed a mountain (about twelve flights of stairs in heeled boots. With a headache. I can’t begin to explain the pain I went through that night). Nonetheless, we got a great view of the Taipei 101 (despite the fact a bunch of tall people blocked my way). It was beautiful and probably the best New Year’s I’ve ever had.

    And finally, we reach January. The first weekend I spent with my Japanese friend Nao at her first host family’s house. She was moving to her second host family, so I went to her going away party. We had a feast of Taiwanese food before making Japanese dessert. I helped her load her stuff in the car and went to her second host family where I was invited to dinner. We watched the news and discussed politics before I headed home.

    Then midweek I changed host families. My new host family lives in the mountains outside of Taipei, a twenty minute bus ride to the MRT station. And the bus only comes once an hour. This was all fine and dandy until the weather decided to turn into freezing rain everyday. Hasn’t changed, by the way.

    Nonetheless, I love my new host family! The mountain home life is totally different from mid-city apartment building life, and both are drastically different from my life in America. I love it!
    So, that’s my recap about the adventures of the last month. This is where most of you can feel free to clock out, as now I get into the emotional nitty gritty updates.

    My Chinese is going well. I feel like I’m really learning a lot. I can communicate my feelings, ask for directions, make small talk, make new friends, and even sing new songs! The culture feels second-nature to me now, and I feel so normal. It’s strange, as I find myself doing things that I would a. never think of doing in the last year and b. never have the opportunity to. Like for instance, eating flaming hot fish meat off it’s face (directly under the eyeball), with spices so hot that your nose runs. Or maybe competing in dance competition in front of the whole school to a military song remixed with three different KPop songs.

    It’s just hard to believe how much I’ve changed in this amount of time. It’s strange thinking that a year ago I was at an Outbound Orientation, terrified to make conversation with people and talking to Rotex thinking “Will I actually be doing this? Is this real?”. If this was a cheesy, cliche message to myself back then, I’d say “Yes, it’s real. Also study your Chinese. I’m serious. No really, go do it right now.” But this isn’t a cheesy message. This is now.

    Anyways, this is getting really long and my host parents are home. Like I said, I’m crazy busy (which is good right?). But hopefully, I’ll be able to update more often so I don’t have to explain every journal in a four page recap. Also, if any future outbounds are reading this, HIT ME UP. You guys are probably thinking, similar to how I was, that you’ll never need to worry about updating. “Pfft,” you think, “Like it would be difficult to update ONCE a MONTH.” And to that I say, good luck.

    To see my homepage click HERE


  • Lauren, outbound to Taiwan

    Being a Rotary Youth Exchange student is a lot like being a toddler with almost-adult responsibilities. You travel halfway across the world by yourself. You take public transport around the city, make new friends, and see things you've never seen before. You even have your own budgeting to manage. Yet, at the same time, you have the speech abilities and cultural knowledge of a six year-old. Everyone calls your name like a lost puppy if you lag behind the group, convinced you'll get lost. You forget where your house is. Oh, and you also cry for your mommy a lot.

    The day I'm writing this marks the one month anniversary of coming to Taiwan. Coincidentally, it's also the date of the Mid-Autumn/Moon festival. It's honestly so hard to believe everything that has happened has all been crammed into four weeks. It's been thirty-one days since I pulled an all-nighter as I anxiously waited to board an airplane that would take me into a new life. The next twenty-four hours would be the longest wait of my life (combination of excitement and inability to sleep a wink on any of my flights).

    Thirty days since I exhaustedly marched into the Taiwan Airport greeting room, meeting with two of my host families and some of my host club. We must've taken thirty pictures, before my host sister realized I was in desperate need of sleep. So we drove forty minutes to my new home in Taipei, only stopping to grab a bite to eat at McDonalds (still the only time I've eaten McDonalds since I got here).

    It's been twenty-nine days since I stared at my new bedroom ceiling thinking to myself "Oh my god, I'm in Taiwan.” I woke up to the most amazing smells of lunch: the day happened to be a celebration to honor our ancestors, so our living room was covered in a feast. The rest of this day would be spent frantically running around the city, exchanging money, taking passport photos, filling out forms for resident cards, and trying new food.

    It's been twenty-eight days since I went to my Inbound Orientation and made it my goal to meet as many exchange students as possible. I collected dozens of pins and made so many new friends. We played lots of team building exercises and even made our own barbecue.

    It's been twenty-six days since I took the MRT for the first time and went to Ximen, which is like a Taiwanese version of Times Square and very popular with the foreigners. As promised to all of my fellow exchange students, I went to the Modern Toilet, a toilet themed restaurant. It was everything I had hoped for and more!
    It’s been twenty-five days since I stood in front of my classroom for the first time and confidently introduced myself in Chinese. The rest of the day would be spent smiling and waving at shy students whenever they glanced at me - and eventually talking to some of my future best friends.

    It’s been twenty-three days since I had my first “uh-oh” moment and basically ran into the language barrier face first. My host mother had taken me to Chinese class, an hour bus ride away from our home and my school. We normally get out of class at 11, and to eat free lunch at school I have to be there by 12. But since we got out late, I knew I wasn’t going to make it to school for lunch. I tried to tell my host mother this the whole way home so she could let me stop for lunch, but our language barrier prevented her from understanding. So instead, I ended up having to sprint to school, running up six flights of stairs and two steep inclines. I managed to get to class with my lunch with a solid five minutes, with a small bowl of rice, a single chicken tender, and a sports drink. Honestly, this was probably the smallest meal I’ve had while in Taiwan (my host mother would have been beside herself if she had understood).

    It’s been twenty-two days since I got out of school early to go to my first host club meeting. I stood in front of the meeting and gave a similar introduction to the one I did at school. Though I confused two of my lines, everyone was forgiving and I managed to get through it. I was sent home with my allowance as well as a box of pineapple cakes from one of the host club members.

    It’s been twenty-one days since I went to the Eslite Spectrum: possibly the coolest department store I’ve ever been to. I explored a floor of artisans, selling everything from jewelry to soap to cacti. I even found a coffee shop-like area where you could rent paintbrushes and paints to sit with you coffee and make art. It was possibly the coolest thing ever.

    Afterwards, we went down the street to walk through an art exhibition with more artisans - except this one was based around food. I was offered dozens of free samples (that for some strange reason were only free for me - strange). At one point, I was offered the most bitter coffee I had ever tasted. But like a good exchange student, I downed it all, and managed to smile (after wincing and making my host mother laugh).

    It’s been sixteen days since I explored the Bitan Bridge, an amazing boardwalk beside a river. I tried out my language skills, naming the types of dogs I saw and learning new words from my host father.

    It’s been fifteen days since I explored a 24/7 night market, a European chateau, and the Fisherman’s wharf with some new companions. I met up with my host sister from my second host family, her friend, and the French exchange student (who currently is in that host family). We all walked together, taking selfies everywhere we went, and sharing umbrellas. I even tried sushi for the first time, which I have mixed opinions on.
    It’s been thirteen days since I met my extended host family for my host grandma (Ama)’s birthday. We celebrated at a fancy restaurant, where I met my various uncles, aunts, and cousins. Everyone was super welcoming, and despite the new wave of homesickness, I was so happy to be accepted into this family.

    It’s been twelve and a half days since I experienced my first earthquake, which nearly gave me a heart attack. I sat in my room, at 2am, trying to decide whether or not it was really happening. It was only confirmed by my friends at school the next day, yet no one but myself and my host mother had actually felt it.

    It’s been eleven days since I went on a huge field trip with all of my fellow exchange students. We ate Taiwanese pizza (we call it that because it’s always covered in strange assortments of toppings) in the Taiwan City Council meeting room, explored a museum on Taiwan/Taipei’s history, and gaze across the city on a balcony made especially for the city council. This normally was unavailable to the public, but they pulled a few favors for the Rotary Youth Exchange students.

    It’s been ten days since I dined on The Top restaurant. This restaurant is situated in the mountains just outside of Taipei, overlooking the entire city. My Rotary club gathered here to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival, dining for hours on delicious food.

    It’s been five days since my classmates tricked me into eating duck eggs, one of the less pleasurable experiences I’ve had here. But it was very interesting to try, and I managed to convince everyone that I actually enjoyed it by eating three pieces and smiling. This surprised everyone, who seconds before had been wanting to video tape my reaction. On the same day, my classmates provided me with a fruit, who’s peel is big enough to be worn on your head. After being asked by my classmates, I happily put it on, wearing it for the rest of the day.

    It’s been zero days since the Mid-Autumn Festival. I celebrated this by going out with my classmates for a barbecue. Since it was pouring rain (a typhoon was on it’s way), we sat in a pavillion near where my friend Hiro lives. We spent an hour getting our miniature grill started (we had to light the fire and tend to the coals ourself). Then we grilled our own food, dancing to music, and toasting marshmallows. It was a bunch of fun. I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get to see the moon on the Moon Festival (especially because this same moon, when viewed from America/Europe/Africa in a few hours, would be a Super Blood Moon). My host sister later assured me it was the same moon I saw in the United States, which I acted supremely surprised about (“It’s the same moon? I thought we had multiple moons???”).

    Overall, this month in Taiwan has possibly been the best month of my life. I’ve tried so much new food (my weight gain definitely shows it) and I’ve visited so many places that I never thought I would see in my life. I already have a bunch of friends: classmates, teachers, host parents, siblings, other exchange students. I’m so thankful to be here - thank you to all of the Rotary members back in the States that made this possible for me! I hope I can update this again soon, so my journal won’t be as long. Until then, I’ll try to get exploring so I have more adventures to add!

    To see my home page and some photos click Here

RSS Feed