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28. What are the Benefits and De-benefits of Being a Foreigner, a "Wai Guo Ren" here in Taiwan

Being a foreigner in Taiwan is one of the most challenging and amazing experiences I have ever lived. Three years ago because of my last job I traveled to Peru, a beautiful country in South America, things were interesting there, but that experience was not even close to what I have experienced in Taiwan. Such an amazing island enveloped in a rich and totally different culture of what I am used to.
It’s either through the windows, behind the walls, above the crowd in buses, in the MRT, in the park, in a restaurant or even just standing right in front of you. The constant staring by locals is a ‘must-have’ scenario told by every foreigner who has come to Taiwan. Now, depending on your personality, this can be either incredibly awesome or incredibly annoying. However, I can promise you, it does get old- and really fast.
Ok, so maybe that ‘Celebrity’ feeling is an unusual twist to any traveler’s story; your pictures get taken, you attract a crowd of people, you get handshakes and hugs- kind of cool, right? Well, be it as it may that you have to ignore the angry looks, the mean and insensitive comments, the pushing, the lack of privacy and of course the ‘oh-man, a-weird-foreigner-is-coming-towards-me-I-have-to-avoid-him’ type of look. Student or not, you’re going to get it whether you like it or not.
Talk about getting attention, Taiwan’s the place to be as a foreigner. Although many begin their adventures as “Wai Guo Ren,” I began mine as “Adoga”. Both titles are given to the foreigners but with “Adoga” having a much deeper meaning to me in the cultural roots here. There are two aspects to this story, although both are equally fascinating. It is noteworthy to mention that there is a huge difference in benefits between foreigners that speak the local language and those who lack this skill. This point may be another topic of discussion in future newsletters.
Let’s begin in the sunny side, which entails a wide array of benefits. Being of Hispanic origin, I’m generally treated well in most cases and welcomed with much friendliness, and warmth. Such experiences are mainly in three environments: the university setting, the general public outdoor setting, and the hospital setting where I involve myself in doing medical skills exchange. Within the realm of university life, the staff and administration may give us priority over the locals to ensure our comfort and security for the duration of our selected programs. We are provided with the highest qualities of attention, study material, and of course a glorious scholarship. Such a scholarship is quite like none other in financial benefits and resources, in which only a foreigner would be eligible to receive this form of support. In the library and sporting facilities the local students always give us first priority in fulfilling whatever task or activity we desire to engage in. There’s never any tension, and if there was it rapidly vanishes and is dismissed as a simple misunderstanding.
There are definitely no shortages of activities in Taiwan, especially to someone who is far away from their homeland and has never had the opportunity to be immersed in a completely different environment and culture that is Taiwan’s. The Taiwanese have a long and rich culture that is apparent in almost all facets of their daily lives, so it is only right that as a foreigner you get asked the same questions a few times too many.
Anyone departing from their homeland concerns himself with settling in a new place. Different places where foreigners go have different rules so people tend to ask questions regarding any accident or unfortunate circumstances. Due to the survival needs, mankind places health at top of its priority. Healthy people are able to afford goods and services for their wellbeing and prosperity. Second to that is security, the decision to select a place to live in a country is driven by the need to feel safe. Those who have experienced security breaches have learned their lessons the hard way. Sometimes, one has no choice but select a place compatible with financial status. Taiwan is not an exception to these assumptions. Therefore, no matter how friendly the country is, it is worthy to know what is out there that can change or impact life in a less desirable way.
Who is not a foreigner and where cannot be found? states a question remarkably similar to the one written by Guatemalan writer José Milla y Vidaurre, Salomé Jil, almost two hundred years ago in his book "El Canasto del Sastre", and might still be used to go through the advantages and disadvantages of being a foreigner in Taiwan. This is because basically at any point in which we humans find a difference in language and culture in general we tend to make imaginary boundaries that identify us as a certain kind of people, which in my opinion is a barrier that will eventually disappear as the so called "foreigners" keep mixing up around the globe. Before this happens, we can still explore these benefits and drawbacks when coming from somewhere else and living in Taiwan.
I am Sintouma Dah, from Burkina-Faso in West Africa. I have traveled several times and also stayed in some bordering countries, but this is my first time coming to Taiwan, so far away from my country. Coming here where I look different by the‘’ color of my skin’’, my culture and so on. I did not expect this kind of life I am living as foreigner and I would like to take advantage of this opportunity to share my experience.
After staying here for one year, for me being a foreigner in Taiwan is only advantageous because even what I initially considered to be a a counter benefit (incapability to speak Mandarin which deprived me from something that I want to taste or I would like to buy) has become a benefit too, as it helps me to practice what I learned in my Chinese class and also to learn more. For example, even though I cannot communicate as well in Chinese I still have Taiwanese friends. I even have a Taiwanese family in another city of Taiwan (Taiuchung) where I use to go for my holidays. My Chinese Mom, Dad and two brothers also used to come to visit me in my school (Keelung) and I really had great times and so much fun with them. Besides, I discovered more and more their culture and dishes that otherwise I would have never known.
So far living in Taiwan has been a whole new experience, to be more specific in Keelung right in the Northern part of Taiwan. The experience regarding climate, people, culture, the changing society, and the advancement in technology; makes one realize that, we, human beings have a contribution towards the common good of humanity. Upon I received the admission letter that granted me the privilege of studying here in Taiwan, I was so excited that I will be traveling to an Asian country which had its own uniqueness. Being a foreigner (wei guo ren) in Taiwan has its own benefits and counter benefits. In the next few lines I would like to share some of the experiences I had since my arrival in this beautiful country.
Culturally people usually offer greetings with a slight bow of their heads forward. It was somehow new to me and I felt strange when I tried to practice it too. However, I learned to appreciate it, a simple act of showing respect to others with deep gratitude. Respect is the best form of love we can give to others and if you take a look around, you will see it is fabricated in everything within the Chinese culture. This is one of the things that I admire about people here in Taiwan. The friendliness of the people is amazing and gratifying that you feel safe and calm wherever you go.
I have being residing in Taiwan for over a year now and could therefore shade some light on the above-mentioned topic ‘’the benefits and de-benefits’’ of being a ‘’Wai Guo Ren‘’ implying a foreigner in Mandarin Chinese. I must begin by admitting that the benefits of being a ‘’Wai Guo Ren’’ in Taiwan by far outweighs the de-benefits in any way one looks at it. Against this backdrop, I would right away delve into the de-benefits which are really very few and to some extent trivial issues.
Firstly, as a ‘’Wai Guo Ren’’ in Taiwan you are confronted with communication problems as you find it difficult to effectively communicate to people due to a language barrier. Mandarin Chinese been the language of the inhabitants, is widely spoken and it is the main language for daily transaction. Therefore, inability to express oneself in Mandarin Chinese is an undeniable challenge which frequently leads to helplessness and frustration despite the fact that most locals do have a basic understanding of the English Language, it does appear most are not eager to express themselves in English.
The opportunity of living in Taiwan as a foreigner has been a great and unique experience. One year ago I came to Taiwan and I become a foreigner or how you would say in Mandarin a “wai guo ren”. During my first year living here I have experienced so many things that I will never forget in my life. In my opinion you will find different benefits and challenges in your daily life as a foreigner. Firstly, I want to start talking about what I consider are the benefits of being a foreigner. Well, when you are a foreigner a lot of things will be new and different for you. Thus, I consider a benefit the fact that I am able to acquire knowledge, try and learn new things every day. My Taiwanese friends have helped a lot on this part because they have introduced me different types of food, places and different activities around Taiwan. In addition, I also have had the opportunity to know people from other countries. For example, in my classes I have Taiwanese classmates but also I have classmates from the Caribbean, Africa and Latin America. Hence, here in Taiwan I have had the opportunity to learn from Taiwanese culture and also, I have had the possibility to learn about other different cultures. Nowadays, after a year I can say that I have learned something from each culture which is fantastic and interesting.