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45. What my Taiwanese Classmates taught me

Since I came from my country El Salvador to Taiwan three months ago,  I have been learning about their culture, language, food and especially their behavior.  My experience takes place in two different environments: the first one in my Master's courses context and the second one in a Toastmaster club.

In the Master's courses, the interaction has been very limited, due to the methodology of the course--basically, go to the course, sit and listen to the professor, and when the time is up, everybody stand up and disappear.   This process limit us to know each other, and is a shame because I enjoy to meet new people, especially local, because they can give you some tips about touristic places to visit, where to eat or even activities to do in a weekend!  At this moment my perception of my classmates was diverse. I thought: "they have a serious personality but are good students however they don't like to interact with foreigners".

This is what my weak perception taught until one day I approach to one of them and ask for some advice about a bus trip to Taipei.  It was a simple question, I was expecting a short answer, precise and direct to the point about the schedule or general directions.

During my first three months of living in Taiwan, I have gotten to know many different people and the ones that stand out the most are my Taiwanese classmates, because of their warmness, friendliness and their hard work.

At first, I thought that it was going to be quite scary and difficult to adapt to this new culture and way of life, but it has been actually quite the opposite due to the fact that Taiwanese people are very welcoming, therefore I believe that having this once in a lifetime experience can help me grow as a person and would let me learn about this different culture.

The very first Taiwanese person I met was assigned to help me do all the paperwork of the university and to lead me around the campus. This girl was such a nice person and she is a reflection of many of my classmates, always helpful and friendly.

My name is Pari Irai and I am a student at the National Taiwan Normal University undertaking Masters In International Human Resources Development.  

I am a Seventh-Day Adventist (SDA) Christian.  SDA is a denomination within the Christian Religion.    Our worship day is on Saturday.  Our church doctrine forbids us to eat certain food such as pork, ham, beacon, and certain seafood such as prunes, crab, fresh fish that has no scales and others.

When I arrived in Taiwan for the first time to study, my roommate and few classmates have asked me if I have any food restrictions or allergies.  I told them "Yes I did."  with the list of food being mentioned.  Unfortunately I have been told that those foods my church doctrine forbids me to eat, are very popular here in Taiwan.  Almost everywhere in the night market or restaurants, you would find these foods.  

I have been asked to be careful whenever I am out to eat in the night market, convenient stores or in the restaurants.  They told that some pork meat and seafood are deep fried just like deep fried chicken and sometimes it is very easy to confuse yourself with the deep fried pork meat with the deep fried chicken meat. The only way out is to ask before purchase and I have been told about it.  Also most mixtures of food can have some pork or seafood in them and its very common.

What my Taiwanese classmates taught me was in a few words how to become a family with someone new. 

How to start talking about so many amazing people that I have met and be friend in my time in Taiwan there are way too many nice and fantastic experiences to talk about and is really hard for me to pick just one of them to write about, so I would talk to you about someone really important for me.

Vicky was my Chinese medicine club classmate. The moment I met Vicky, we had a connection that made me feel in lack of a better way to describe it, a feeling akin to the one you have when you are in kindergarten and do friends the very first day of classes, and are so excited you go back to your house to tell your family all about them. 

My First Experience Using "Kuaizi."  

It was the dawn of third September 2016, I and my friends went out to take a dinner because we were hungry. Since our school is in Taipei city, we in no time located a food canteen and we hurriedly waded in to satisfy our curiosity and answer the call to our stomach outcry. Little did I know that I was in for a serious business and a new "eating adventure." We took our seats and one of the server in the cafeteria came to us with the food menu. We skimmed and looked into the food menu with such immediate alacrity, first, being the first time and seeing the kind of foods i have probably never met in my life! 

After sometime, I was able to decide for one of the food items and I placed the order. In some minutes, the food was brought and I asked for cutlery. So I placed my order and patiently waited for the arrival of the food. In less than about five minutes the food was brought and of course we expected the cutlery. I was amazed, dazed and flabbergasted when two sticks were brought to me, not because I have not seen them before, of course at least I have seen them in Chinese, Japanese and Korean movies but this time, it looks like i am in the movies and now to be watched by somebody else! 

During my first three months here in Taiwan I have learnt many things that I cannot imagine how many things I will learn during this two years living is this beautiful country. I am so thankful that I have the opportunity to come here.

 

My big concern before coming to Taiwan was the language barrier that I could have when making new friends because I used to think that mandarin is one of the most difficult and even impossible languages to learn but thanks to my friend I enjoy learning this language. I also enjoy teaching them my language, furthermore, we think that is a huge cultural exchange the one that we have. Besides our differences we could have a special relationship that today we call "friendship."

As a young person in today's fast changing world it is important for individuals to practice actions of self-growth. Aging and maturing physically are a natural part of life's course, however, mentally maturing as we get older is what a lot of us sadly lack. My idea of self-growth is being open minded and receptive to things and people different from your norm, the willingness to learn and by extension try and experience some of the things you've been exposed to.

Earlier this year I was fortunate enough to be a recipient of the ICDF Scholarship. This award allowed me to pursue my Master's degree in International Health at the National Yang Ming University in Taiwan. After receiving the scholarship, I did some shallow research on the country itself and even less on the culture. Shallow because I did not want other people's perception of Taiwan to overwhelm me; I wanted to learn along the way once I got to Taiwan.

I actually wanted to be surprised by a lot of things, as in my opinion this is all a part of the learning process. This was an opportunity for me to attain a higher level of education, free of cost and in a part of the world that I probably would never had made it to on my own. I wasn't going to change my mind. Basically, whether or not I did intensive research on Taiwan I was going.

Learning never ends“Adding value, adding life, and my experience with my Taiwanese friend Chou Meng Chiao”

 

This statement seeks to share my experience in Taiwan and what my Taiwanese friend taught me.  During my first days in Taiwan it was difficult for me to communicate with people because of language differences.  My friend taught me how to say thank you in Chinese XIE XIE. I was so happy to learn this word because in my culture whenever you receive something you are expected to say thank you (NGIYABONGA). This word (Xie Xie) became the basis of my Chinese. I would sometimes find myself using it inappropriately because I was overwhelmed by the factor that I could say a word in Chinese.

 

The second thing he taught me was to say“Hello”in Chinese“Ni hao”.  I was even happier to learn this word because I could greet people. But to my amusement not every citizen was welcoming when I said Ni hao. Some people would respond to me but others opted to use their heads by nodding back. This total confused me and I asked my friend what it meant..... my friend busted into laughter and said that's how we respond in Chinese in some cases.


A short letter for my sisters:
I came with just 2 baggage cases. These are gone and most of what came inside too. I met you girls and from the start I knew we clicked. I never expected to live so well surrounded by you. You made my days easier when mid-terms and finals were tough. You taught me many things, such as keeping privacy even though sharing the same spot. I never felt bad or sad when you were there with me. On the other hand, I shared most of my dreams, bad days and food with you! I learned from your fashion sense and had the best teachers of wh at the Taiwanese culture is and how should I behave in certain occasions. We shared all this time together and time is running... I know there will come a time when I have to say“good bye”but remember, this is a“see you later”... because souls like ours must meet again sometime during this lifetime ;) and one final thought:“Thank you for accepting my eccentricities and crazy behaviors. You might not know this, but you lend a hand for me to discover joy in being the person that I truly am.”
Love