Moving to a new country, away from family and friends, shows courage. However, moving to a new country to pursue a master’s degree in a second language, shows resilience. Yolanda, a native of Taiwan, is finishing her M.A. in Communication and Leadership Studies at Gonzaga University. As an avid traveler, she has had the opportunity to communicate with people from all over the world. Here, she recaps her experience moving to the land of the free.
GXC: What is the hardest part about living in the US?
Yolanda: I can speak from my personal experience of growing up in Taiwan for most of my life. One of the hardest parts of moving to a new country is cultural differences.
For example, saying “How are you?” when you see the other person. In the U.S., you say ‘hi/hey’ first, and then you say, ‘how are you?” You both nod your head, or say ‘good, great’ and go your merry way.
If you stop and talk about how you have been, people might get impatient or confused. Why are they literally telling me how they have been?
Also, Taiwanese and Americans definitely have different concepts about “space.” If you grew up in a crowded city like mine, where millions of people shared a tiny island, you are used to squeezing on public transportation, shoulder-to-shoulder. You probably don’t mind sitting next to strangers in small restaurants. However, in the U.S, people take their personal space seriously. When you are talking to people, be sure to keep some distance. If you talk too close to their face, they tend to back up a bit, and that is a clue that you are entering their space.
GXC: What do you miss most about home?
Yolanda: Having been in the U.S. for almost two years, there are many things that I miss the most about Taiwan. First of all, the amazingly convenient High Speed Rail (HSR). Travel in Taiwan is quick and convenient with the HSR. If you’re on the west coast, you can easily get from the north to south in just a few hours.
Second, the tea stands. They’re everywhere. Most famous for serving the addictive and calorie-packed Pearl Milk Tea (Bubble Tea), you can also get any variety of fruit or Taiwanese style teas and juices. My favorite was the green tea with no sugar. With a large cup only costing less than one US dollars, I basically had at least one large cup per day. Next, the night markets. Our night markets are abuzz with life. They are famous for various delicious food stalls and beyond. It’s always packed with people, especially during weekends and holidays. And you can find so much cheap and authentic Taiwanese food there.
The last but not the least, the convenience stores. They are literally everywhere. You can sometimes find three stores at one corner. They are called convenience stores for a reason. When you feel hungry or feel like having a drink at 11 p.m., step out and walk for 3 mins and you’ll find one nearby.
GXC: What is the biggest misconception about Taiwan?
Most people who have never been to Taiwan think Taiwan is just like China. I must say, despite the politics of it all, Taiwan and China remain two distinct places, each with their own history, culture, government, people and food. Although Taiwan has a friendly and hospitable culture influenced by the Chinese, it’s also deeply influenced by Japanese, European, American and local Aboriginal cultures such as music, fashion, and TV shows.
GXC: What is one thing you wish people knew about Taiwan?
Yolanda: For people who plan to take a trip to Taiwan, I want to tell you that Taiwan has everything you need. Taiwan isn’t some backwater country with nothing in it. Rather, it is an extremely developed and relatively wealthy country and you will be able to find almost everything you could possibly need. There may not always be the selection that there is in the West, but in general you can find something suitable for whatever you need.
What is more, Taiwan is small but full of fun. Taiwan has so many fun things for people to enjoy. It is hard to get bored there. Whether you’re searching for cosmopolitan cities, ancient temples, beautiful beaches, lush mountains, or dramatic river gorges, Taiwan has it all.
GXC: What stereotypes have you encountered about Taiwan?
Yolanda: During my stay in the U.S., many people have asked me if Taiwanese eat cats, dogs, bugs or other “strange” food. First of all, we DO NOT eat cats and dogs. Bugs are not on the menu either, although they seem to be more popular in China and Thailand. However, some Taiwanese cuisine (which is quite good), might make visitors a bit squeamish such as pork blood cake, pig knuckles, chicken feet, and even parts of a pig, cow or chicken that Americans, for example, would not eat, such as the cartilage, fat and marrow, which are considered very healthy in Chinese medicine. Taiwan is especially famous for Stinky Tofu, which smells like dog poo, but actually tastes quite good if you can get past the smell.
Also, some people think Taiwan is a developing or under-developed country. Taiwan is quite highly developed. Taiwan has an excellent transportation system comprised of highways and freeways, buses, trains and a high-speed rail system. There is also a strong Japanese influence in the design of cities, transportation and some architecture. Furthermore, Taiwan has an abundant array of businesses from all over the world from Starbucks to Costco to IKEA to Zara, as well as very modern and well-designed shopping malls and other buildings. Even the latest car makes and models are well-represented with Mercedes-Benz, Audi, BMW and Toyota being the most common.
GXC: What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned living in the US?
Yolanda: I think the biggest lesson I have learned is the real meaning of freedom. While you are free to wear, pray, worship, eat, look and behave the way you want, you are always expected to follow rules and obey the law. The application of the law is one of the things that I deeply respect about this country and in most cases (there are exceptions of course) it is applied on everybody whether you are a CEO of a major company or a small worker in a factory. Freedom does not mean to cut roads, burn cars, not stopping for a lawful order, but it means that you can take the mayor to court if he did something wrong to you and win your case.
GXC: How has this experience changed your perspective on the world?
Yolanda: I believe when you’re living abroad, your life takes on a whole new take. People start to have more meaning. Places I used to go every day seem like the first time. Moments get carved and I hold on to them a lot more. I don’t live in the past or in the times I’m back home. But, I live it more intensively every time I’m there.
Most of the time I feel like I have a purpose and I’m here to do something. I actually discover a lot of things about myself during the time I am a foreigner. I realize I am and can be more resilient than I think. I’ve become tougher as time goes by and small things don’t matter anymore.