I have nine months and a few days of living in Taiwan, as a student of ICEM Master Program at National Cheng Kung University in Tainan City. Since the moment I got on the plane to Taiwan, I started noticing the differences between my country’s culture and the culture of the place I will call home for the following year or so. In many moments I’ve been aware of the differences between the culture of my home country (Nicaragua) and Taiwanese culture: sometimes subtle, other times obvious and completely opposite to what I was used to.

The first thing that you notice is that Taiwanese are extremely polite and always willing to help, especially with foreigners. People kindly help you whenever possible. And the ones who don’t help you, let you realize something very particular of this culture: Taiwanese are very shy (and that comes from someone many times labeled as shy, for Nicaraguan standards).

“Noooo! When you meet a Taiwanese girl, don’t even think about kissing her at the cheeks!” - my first mistake and the first advice I received in this island. Coming from a Latin country, where this is such a common practice (not doing it is considered weird and impolite), it was one of the things that made me feel disoriented at the beginning. Whenever I met someone (and trust me you will meet a lot of people) I was not sure of what to do. Even when I met some Latin people I hesitated “should I kiss her or no?” I did not know many things that are considered polite in my country are impolite from the point of view of a Taiwanese, and viceversa. So my first advice to lessen the culture shock: make some research about the manners and norms that are part of the Taiwanese culture before coming here, it will be useful and will save you some embarrassing moments. But even if you make some research beforehand, I guess that you never get the whole picture until you experience it. And, my second advice: a hand shake is enough!

For most people, food is something that contributes to the culture shock. In my case, I did not have problems with the food, I have tried as many dishes as possible and so far almost everything is OK. Well, except the sweet beans, that every time I try them I hate them more (at least in my country beans are supposed to be cooked with salt). I’m even starting to think that I will miss Taiwanese food once I go back to my country. Third, fourth and sixth advice: try everything (although you will regret it sometimes, you will have some nice surprises and love most of the local cuisine), learn how to prepare your favorite dishes, and stay away from the sweet beans!

Another thing that as a 外國人 (wàiguó rén = foreigner) you notice is that almost everywhere you go, you will attract the attention of locals, especially children. So, be prepared to hear: 媽媽! 外國人! (mom! Foreigner!) and to respond with a smile. And if they ask you to take a picture with them, don’t say no.

For most western people another thing that shocks us is Christmas and New Year, or the lack of them. For most of the local people, those are two days as any other. You might even be in final exams! So, if you miss celebrating those holidays, get together with other foreigners to celebrate them! 

Above everything else, I guess that the influential factor in the culture shock you experience in Taiwan is the language. The first days (well, months to be honest) the language becomes a huge obstacle to do almost everything, even more in the south of the country, where most of the people do not speak English (or if they speak it, are too shy to do it). Another advice: learn Mandarin! Although it is difficult, it will be extremely useful!

But I guess that the best advice to lessen the culture shock is to open your mind to new and unexpected experiences, forget about stereotypes and try to embrace all the good things that the Taiwanese culture can give you. At the end we come here to learn! For example, while making this short essay I learned that according to psychologists there are four phases in the culture shock: honeymoon, crisis, acceptance and adjustment phase. I think I’m still in the honeymoon phase, and I hope it last for the rest of my stay at Taiwan.

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