Kush Gandhi, from India to Oregon
My exchange is going great, and like any other month here in the United States of America, November was a fun and interesting month.
It gave me fantastic memories with my family and friends, to celebrate my first Thanksgiving. Going out to the dinner with my family was fun, cooking and eating delicious food, meeting other people from the family.
The cold is a small problem as I am used to very hot conditions back in India, but it’s easy to protect myself. It was my host mom’s birthday, so we had a small family dinner and got a chance to make a gift for her and bake a cake for her. I attended a Blazers basketball game and an ice hockey game which were both new experiences for me and I enjoyed both of them.
I am relocating with my second host family; changing families is a little sad experience but my second host family will be great, too (like my first–Steve and Lisa Zich & family).
Overall my experience at my exchange is going great and I am planning to have a great Christmas break, celebrating my first authentic Christmas and expecting to go to the best new year’s party ever.
Zaidie Long, from Oregon to Taiwan
It’s hard to believe that it’s already been almost four months since I boarded a plane on my own and flew 7,600 miles across the Pacific Ocean to an entirely new life in Taiwan. Before long I’ll be halfway through my time here, and I still feel like there is so much I don’t understand, I don’t know how I can possibly learn everything I want to about the culture and the people in the time I have left. Already, I have grown so much, and have such a deeper appreciation not only for the culture here, but also in the distinct value of the differences in every culture. It’s surprising how many conflicts can be overcome simply by remembering these differences, and that the way you approach a situation might be fundamentally different than the person across from you. That neither of you is wrong or right, but that it is your job to adjust because you have come to be a part of this culture, not to force people to adapt to yours. I feel that the word culture often carries a meaning that is more superficial, that by seeing the temples, learning the history, and meeting the people, you have fulfilled the duty of understanding culture. However, the true realizations come after you have broken the surface level of polite interactions and have connected with the people who live this culture every day. Understanding comes with conflict, with confusion, with feeling frustrated, or hurt, or scared of offending someone because you don’t know the right way to express what you feel.
Recently I’ve had the opportunity to participate in numerous activities around Taiwan that have allowed me to see another side of the country other than the hustle and bustle of Rotarian life in Taipei city. I’ve traveled with my Rotary club on volunteer trips twice, once to a small town on the East coast of Taiwan, and once to a school near Tainan in southern Taiwan. On both occasions, we had opportunities to interact with kids and locals in the communities, and it really opened my eyes to how different life is immediately outside the fast moving, economically driven, technologically advanced city that is Taipei. While I certainly encounter differences in culture in Taipei with every interaction I have, there are still at least some recognizable Western influences to fall back on when the discrepancies feel overwhelming. The differences from American culture are even more significant outside of Taipei, By visiting with my Rotary club, I got to experience first hand not only those differences but also the unique and very culturally revealing tensions that exist between residents of the Taipei area and people who live further away from big cities.
Finally, I’d like to take a moment to talk about my host family. I’ll be moving to a new family in a month, and, while part of me is excited to gain a new perspective on living in Taiwan, I will certainly miss my host mom. Because she is a single mother, and both her daughters are on exchange this year, she was the only other person in my family. This was great because it meant that we had many opportunities to bond and get to know each other. She’s taken me to see the sunset from the tallest mountain in Taipei, Yangmingshan, to the famous Beitou library, and to the northern coast of Taiwan. She works a lot, but whenever we have the chance to go out to eat, she takes me to try a new type of traditional food, and I’ve been able to talk to her about life in Taiwan over many exceptional, and some particularly interesting, meals. I will miss watching TV dramas in Chinese with her, and going to class in the evenings, even if I don’t understand parts of either.
My new host family will have six people, the two parents, a 12-year-old girl, a 15-year-old boy, the father’s mother, and a woman from Indonesia who takes care of the grandma and also cooks dinners for the family, so it will be quite a big change. Based on what I’ve learned about my friend’s families, having such a big family that includes grandparents and live-in help is the most common, traditional family structure here in Taiwan, so I think that living with them will be a great experience. Still I have really enjoyed living with my current family, and plan to spend as much time with my host mom as possible during my last few weeks with her.
I miss everyone back in Portland, but even on my most homesick of days, I would never want to be anywhere but right here in Taipei, having the incredible exchange that I am, with the amazing people I’ve met here.