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45. What my Taiwanese Classmates taught me

"If youngsters have no dreams, the country has no future".

       My name is Tumentsetseg Enkhjav from "Land of the Blue Sky" Mongolia, a country of about 1.6 million sq. km and a population of about 3.0 million is the world's most sparsely populated country.  I have been accepted for a scholarship in the Master Program for International Human Resource Development program at the National Taiwan Normal University (NTNU) and I have been considered myself to be a representative of Mongolia in Taiwan because people see me as not just an individual person but they see me as a Mongolian. That is why I am still gaining tremendous opportunities such as making new friends who come from all over the world with different cultural background and we are everyday sharing our expectation, cultural values and life experiences.  I see that this incredible opportunity is the one way to open the door to reach "Future success" and "Developing diplomatic relationship between the countries".

       My name is Alejandra and I'm from El Salvador.  I've been living in Taiwan for 4 months and until now, has been the most wonderful and exciting experience in my life.  While I was in my country, I heard many times one expression: Taiwanese people is very friendly.  And now living in Taiwan I can give testimony about that: Taiwanese people is always willing to help when you must need it.  For a foreigner is always difficult to adapt to a new country, culture, food, lifestyles, etc., is so overwhelming when you go to a new country and struggle with all these drastic changes and furthermore, deal with the language barrier. For me was very hard at the beginning to adapt to a culture totally different than mine.  But during this 4 months here in Taiwan, I'm enjoying so much my life here, but to be honest, this is possible thanks to wonderful people like my Taiwanese classmates.

       My Taiwanese classmates are great people, I could notice this since the first day of class. At the beginning I could notice that my Taiwanese classmates were a little bit shy with the international students, maybe due to the language barrier or lacking confidence to speak in English.  But once we started talking, that barrier was shot down.  By talking with my Taiwanese classmates, I could realize that we are not that different! 

     Taiwan has been a wonderful experience since I arrived. The rich cultures are seen all around Taiwan in their temples, food and sceneries. The Taiwanese people are especially unique for their knowledge about traditional medicine, educational discipline and respect for elderly to name a few.  I was especially surprised how Taiwanese would interact with foreigners. They are very helpful when it comes to directions or translation from Chinese to English. I am so happy that I was able to make a Taiwanese friend.

I met my Taiwanese friend in a Seventh Day Adventist church.  She afforded to give me free extra Chinese classes on Sunday afternoon.  Unfortunately she got busy with her school work since she is a teacher and was unable to continue teaching me the Chinese language. She still became my friend and started to show me around. She has previous lived outside of Taiwan and knew how difficult it is to live in a foreign country with no family.  She helped me understand the different religions in Taiwan such as the large majority are Buddhist and the minority is Christian.  

      Having spent almost four years now studying in Taiwan has definitely had an impact in my life.  My name is Hari Hernandez, I am from Guatemala, and these are some of the biggest lessons and adventures I learned while sharing a shoebox-sized dorm room with Taiwanese boys.

     When I received my college acceptance letter and my application anxieties finally subsided, a whole new set of fears conveniently began to consume me.  Holy moly– I'm officially going to college.  Will I be able to handle the coursework? Will I make friends?  Will I be homesick?  Those were some of my most pressing concerns, however, I have never thought about who is going to be my roommate for the next year?.

     After arriving in Taiwan and get all set at my new dorm, I found out I will share a room with 3 more Taiwanese boys, I was very excited because I thought I could have the opportunity to go deep and learn more about Taiwan's culture, but at the same time all my concerns were about how are we going to communicate, because at that time my Mandarin was at a level I like to call "coffee shop Chinese."  That means I was great at ordering black americanos, but outside of that my Chinese still left a lot to be desire.  Needless to say, the benefits of learning foreign language (Chinese) were, of course, huge, having 3 local roommates.  Because one thing I learn from them is that once you show effort to know their language, they will totally open up to you and teach you the language you need

When I first came to Taiwan, I never thought that I would have the same bonds and relationships that I had before.  As the famous saying goes, "never say never", I have now found a great friend, a confidante, someone that's always there for me, my Taiwanese roommate. She has taught me numerous things: from skills I would need to be able to cope with my new found lifestyle to just basic friendship tools that would help me be a better individual.

Firstly being an scholarship student my contract stipulated that I had to acquire level three skills in Mandarin Chinese (Listening and Reading). Therefore she was a very vital part in teaching me, not only reiterating what I learnt in class but what adolescents my age would say. Reason being that our textbook content was very formal.

As I began thinking about all the stuff I've learnt over the past two years, I cannot help but to laugh about all the funny and interesting things I have learnt from many of my friends here in Taiwan. I remember my first encounter.  It was the day I moved into the new dorm just after summer break in 2014. My country mate (Tuworld Slader) and I were the first to move in, followed by our Taiwanese Roommates. It was a weird feeling!  I could not utter a single Chinese word so I didn't know how I would be able to introduce myself.  Nevertheless, I went over and said "Hi, my name is Stephen", then he looked at me and said "Hi,  I'm Rhett".  It was a sigh of relief as I found out that his English was very good.  At that moment we became instant friends.

As time went by, we became very close and he started teaching me Chinese. It started very interesting. The first couple of words he taught me were all BAD(壞話)! Later I found out from other friends that this was common practice between Taiwanese and their foreign friends. The first thing that I learnt was how warm the Taiwanese People treat us foreigners. To this day, I have never experienced any form of hate or discrimination from any classmates or Locals on a whole.

It has been a bit more than 2 years since I came to Taiwan, as every ICDF student, I have lived in school's dormitory all these time. Throughout this period, I have had many roommates including taiwanese and foreigners, but I believe my first taiwanese roommates really had a big influence on me and that is why I especially appreciate them.

I clearly remember the very first day I came to Taiwan, everything seemed so different and strange compared to what my country is like, it was a total new world to me,  I was excited but worried at the same time because I had no clue on how my daily life in Taiwan would be, but luckily, I had my two taiwanese roommates who guided me and helped me from basic things like buying breakfast which I did not even know how to order, to more complicated ones like doing school paperwork or understanding how the transportations works in this city.

They taught me many things about taiwanese culture. One of them invited me to her house for Chinese New Year. In my country, we do not celebrate it so I was excited to know what it would be like. I was so moved by how her family treated me, they welcomed me like their own family member. They taught me how to write chinese calligraphy and I got to eat homemade taiwanese food, set off firecrackers and I even got my first 紅包 ever! We also played lottery, won some money and used to buy ice cream and share with everybody, we went to a temple the first day of the year. It is very similar to how we celebrate 12/31 in western countries. I am sure that it is an experience I will never forget. 

After living in Taiwan for over a year, I have learned many things about myself and how to cope with living in a country where culture is very different from what I was used to in the past. Among them lies the fact that no matter what part of the world you are in, there will always be people who drift away from what is considered "the norm."  Even though I would often wish my roommates disappeared and never came back, I learned to adapt to their lifestyle, and cope with the fact that our habits are simply very different.  It may not be entirely because of it, but cultural difference definitely comes into play when sorting out the reasons why it was not entirely easy to get used to living with Asian roommates.

Even though people from the western world usually confuse Taiwan with Thailand or think that Taiwan is a part of China, when a person hears about pretty much any country in Asia, it is a common to hear that people think Asians are the most organized people in existence, and that their regular place of living will not allow any imperfection. I am sorry to say that as far as I have experienced, this stereotype is not very true.

One of the most life changing experience in traveling to a different country to further my education is being exposed to different cultures and learning what makes my culture different from the ones I get to learn about.  I have been living in Taiwan for over two years now and I have learned so much about Taiwanese culture and I know there is much more to learn before I complete my studies.  Every so often, I meet different people and there is always something to learn, and I get to compare it to my own culture.  However, in one conversation, I learned about the seating arrangement in a Taiwanese household especially for important gathering.

        In Taiwanese culture seating arrangement may differ, when it comes to being seated at a round or rectangular shaped table. A round table may be preferred for larger groups in order to allow easy sharing. However, the most basic seating is as follows, the most senior person among to guests will sit in the chair that directly faces the door. The primary guest will sit to the host's right hand side. 

In my time at National Dong Hwa University, I have had the pleasure of encountering many Taiwanese people from many different walks of life.  I strongly feel that each of them have impacted me and changed the course of my life for the better.  I feel that the most meaningful of these lessons are an openness to embrace another's culture and a willingness to take care of others when the need arises.

        I have found that my Taiwanese classmates are very interested and curious about the cultures of their fellow foreigner classmates.  Always asking to see pictures of unique, scenic areas and asking classmates who speak different languages to teach them some phrases like, "hi" or "how are you?" and broadening their scope of the world. In this sense so they have taught me about the beauty of the Taiwanese people being so friendly and open to embrace different cultures and learn from it rather than shying away from it.