Teenager in Taiwan .pdf

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Author: Alex Miller

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“Teenager in Taiwan”

Back in 2009, I had the privilege of participating in the Rotary Club’s student exchange program
and spent a year abroad in Taipei, Taiwan. While I could go on about my time in the Taiwanese school
system and daily life, even drawing all the differences between Taiwanese culture and my own, I would
rather focus on something even a bit more general – simply being a foreigner in Taiwan.
These thoughts came about in the very beginning, as I really realized what “America as a melting
pot” really meant. Having grown up with people of all races, religions and beliefs, I had been exposed to
a wide array of people. However, this is not the experience I had while in Taipei. Instead, I felt
different, and was suddenly painfully aware of my skin tone and physical features. Things got even
more interesting once I started school and thus was wearing my school’s uniform each day while taking
the subway in the mornings. At first, I thought that it was just something that the Taiwanese students
did every day, but that sentence takes on a different context as I realized what it really was – something
that the Taiwanese students did every day. Other students from different schools began to try to take
photographs of me on the subway without my noticing (clearly, they failed.) I began to try to pose for
them, which in turn seemed to make the other students very, very uncomfortable. It was a nice little
joke at first that quickly turned into an annoyance through constant reaffirmation that I was different
and didn’t seem to belong.
These experiences were further reinforced by other interactions, even when not in school
uniform. Even after I had been there for eight months and had become at least passable at the
language, some people would only speak to me in English. Curiously, they would also speak to all my
other fellow exchange students in English, despite my closest friends being from Denmark, Germany,
Czech Republic and Brazil. I remember vividly one person in front of me while waiting in the line for a
movie. He was whispering with his friends before finally gaining the courage to turn to us and say, in
English, “welcome to Taiwan!” We had been there for nine months now, and responded accordingly in
Chinese, apparently to their horror.
I was an outsider, and no matter how proficient I got at the language, I was going to be an
outsider. My time there came to a close, but it left one massive impression on me – the thought that
“we have this at home too, don’t we?” I had been so blessed with ignorance that people were simply to
be accepted, that many of the notions I felt – being aware of my skin tone and appearance – were only
new to me, as a white male. Now, I can’t draw any further conclusions, but anecdotes about our own
citizens in the United States seem to cite similar feelings in different circumstances, particularly with
women or African-Americans. I am not claiming to know what it is like to be either a woman or an
African-American, but it puts greater context to this experience of mine. While my experiences were
fairly positive in people wanting to take my picture or wanting to speak with me, how would it have
been if it had been a negative reaction? To be so aware at all times that you are being watched by an
entire culture. It is a feeling that must be experienced.


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