At the time of writing, I’ve been in Taiwan for around 100 days. Let’s start by talking about how I’ve been here for 100 days and yet I’ve only found the time to write two blogs. Basically what it boils down to is that writing is actually crazy hard. Not only do I have to summarize the time I’ve had, which is difficult enough in its own right, but I also have to make it interesting? It’s crazy! But, exchange is literally all about doing things that are really hard for the sake of learning something really useful, so I’ve resolved to write again. I just hope that you can come to enjoy reading about my experiences as much as I enjoy living them.
While we’re on the subject of incredibly difficult things with extremely useful outcomes, lets take about Chinese. Have I mentioned that it’s hard before? Well… it kind of is and it kind of isn’t. The thing that most people know about Chinese is that’s it’s the “most difficult language to learn in the world.” Unfortunately, this is also the biggest misconception about the language. From the perspective of someone who doesn’t know a single thing about Chinese: it’s absolutely terrifying. I remember all the way back in December, when I first learned I was going to Taiwan, one of my first thoughts was “Oh god, how am I ever going to learn Chinese?” We in the U.S.A sometimes seem to think that Chinese is actually an impossible language. When you actually start to learn Chinese, however, you discover that it’s really not.
So how is one supposed to study such a vastly different language. Honestly, I have zero idea. I don’t really know that there’s one particular way you’re “supposed to” learn Chinese. To be honest, I’ve tried everything and continue to try everything. At school I go to the library and read children’s books, on the bus home I listen to Chinese music and, when I get home, I watch Netflix in Chinese. But of course, out of everything I’ve tried, the most effective way to learn has been having conversations in Chinese. Now, I’m gonna be real with you—this has been one of my shortcomings thus far. Until recently, if someone started a conversation with me in Chinese I would try to keep up but I would never dare to start a conversation of my own in Chinese. If somebody chose to speak to me in English, I would play along and respond in English. I haven’t been practicing what I preach. In my experience, speaking Chinese with native speakers has improved my language the most and yet for the longest time I’ve shied from it. Why? You could attribute it to my persistent and undying perfectionism, but honestly I think the deeper issue is that I’m not comfortable with my skills yet. But, and I wrote about this last time, exchange is about making mistakes. In this case, my mistake was not realizing that to speak absolutely perfect Mandarin Chinese I was first going to have to learn how to speak absolutely horrible Mandarin Chinese. It may be surprising that I’m being so candid about what is, admittedly, a huge mistake on my part. I feel it’s important, especially for an exchange student , to document mistakes. For starters, the first question of the 4 Way Test is “Is it the truth?” and it wouldn’t exactly be the truth if I pretended I was a Chinese prodigy from the beginning and I encountered no difficulties on the way. Additionally, if I ever want to beat that perfectionism that has held me back before, I have to admit that I can make mistakes. Documenting mistakes means documenting growth. Even now I look back on my notes from the first week and realize how much I’ve grown already. At the moment, my Chinese is far from marvelous and I’m struggling with perfectionism; by June I hope to read this blog and feel like I’ve grown since.
Continuing on the subject of difficult experiences with an abundance of knowledge at the end, let’s talk about the Country Fair: my district arranged for all the inbounds (foreign students in Taiwan) to set up a booth to display their country for future outbounds (Taiwanese students going to foreign countries). I’ve been told before that exchange students are ambassadors for their home countries and culture, but I never could’ve expected just how literal this can sometimes be. I don’t think there’s too many things you could do to be much more of an ambassador than standing behind a table with an American flag for 8 hours and explaining different aspects of American culture. It sounds absolutely exhausting (it was) and also kind of boring (it wasn’t). How could 8 hours of stress and hard work possibly be enjoyable you ask? Well we got pizza for lunch, first off. But as delicious as the pizza was, the more important thing is that this is part of the job. When you’re an exchange student probably a majority of the time you spend in your host country is hard work, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it. When I signed up to be an exchange student I knew it was gonna be really difficult and, like I talked about last time, that’s part of what drew me to the concept in the first place. So yes, I was standing behind a table for 8 hours and by the end of the day I was too tired to function, but I loved every minute of it. Second, not only was I standing behind a table explaining American culture to others, I also got a chance to stand on the other side of the table and have foreign cultures explained to me. I tried a TON of unique foods: French crepes, Italian spaghetti, Belgian chocolate, Polish bread, Brazilian brigadeiros, Spanish paella, Japanese snacks, and actually a lot of American classics. I got first-hand accounts about far-away places I’ve only ever heard of or read about before. But, most importantly, I got to learn more about my friends. Such international experiences like this one are not uncommon for exchange students; for this reason, I sometimes feel like I'm actually not on exchange with Taiwan, but instead I’m in Taiwan on exchange with the entire world. In addition to learning Mandarin, along the way I’ve picked up some Italian and improved my Spanish. In addition to getting myself accustomed to Taiwanese culture, being around so many Europeans has me learning some of their habits. In my last blog I said that one of my main goals for my exchange was to become a “citizen of the world,” and honestly this is the goal of mine that I’ve made the most progress in so far. Everytime I start to feel bad or wonder about how happy my friends are in Florida, I always come back to Earth when I remember that this simply would have been IMPOSSIBLE from the confines of a Floridian high school. No offense intended or anything, but it’s simply impossible to become a citizen of the world when you don’t leave your comfort zone. I realize this experience is one that so very few people will ever have, so I am extremely grateful that I’ve been lucky enough to be one of them.
Enough about what’s already happened, let’s talk about what’s in store for the future of my exchange. Right now is a slightly difficult time to be an exchange student because I know back in Florida the holidays are in full swing, yet in Taiwan it’s business as usual but colder. School in Taiwan doesn’t have a winter break until mid-January. BUT, on the bright side, Taiwan has a whole set of completely different holidays for me to experience. Honestly it kinda goes with the theme of my exchange so far: it’s so much easier to live around what’s familiar to you, but so much more worthwhile to live around what’s completely different. Suffice it to say, I’m living around a lot of things that are COMPLETELY different. I can’t wait to see what comes in the next season of my exchange. Thank you so much for reading and happy holidays! See you next time. 謝謝你們！下一次見！
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