Christian Wooddell is from Farmington, Missouri and participated in the 2012- 2013 NSLI-Y Taiwan program.
It’s been a little over two months now since the sweaty, tiring (albeit great) day of our arrival in the tropical city of Kaohsiung in the southern part of Taiwan. The past two months have thrown more experiences at me than I possibly could have expected. I, like many of my fellow scholars, have done the exchange thing before, and I have dealt with culture shock, but nothing could have prepared me for the amazingly enriching experiences that living on this Asian island have thrown at me.
I’ve been able to meet many extremely interesting people, whether they are teachers, fellow students, or just random people on the street. Trust me when I say that we have all had intriguing “cultural experiences” with people on the street. For example, an older man came up to me on his scooter while I was waiting for the bus, and after an extremely confusing conversation, I eventually understood that he was asking me to marry his daughter (luckily the bus came and I was able to avoid answering). Anyways, where I was going with this was that, despite all the interesting people I have met, perhaps the person who has so far had the greatest influence on me is my two year old host-sister, Sophie. Sophie, being a two year old, is in the primary stage for language acquisition! Now is the time in her life when she is really learning Chinese, just like me! What I’m trying to say here is that I feel like a two year old who is learning Chinese. Together, Sophie and I learn simple words like colors. My host-mom will point at something and say that it is “Lán sè de” and Sophie and I will repeat. Together, Sophie and I learned to count cats. Sophie and I learn from each other. She teaches me random words, like “seatbelt” and “dinosaur,” and I teach her random words, like “seatbelt” and “dinosaur.” Not only is Sophie learning to speak Mandarin Chinese and Taiwanese, but she is also learning to speak English. I was sitting in the living room with Sophie one day when she took a drink of water, looked at me, and proudly proclaimed, “water!” (in English, mind you). This was so shocking; it not only convinced me that Sophie is a genius, but it also made me think yet again about the fact that American children are not learning foreign languages like the rest of the world seems to be.
Sophie’s other most impressive accomplishment, in the eyes of an 18 year old American, was the fact that she accomplished a task that all of us NSLI-Y scholars had taken weeks to master – Sophie, at age two, can use chopsticks! It might not sound so impressive in writing, but for me that was quite possibly one of the most fascinating sights I have seen in Taiwan. In conclusion, it doesn’t matter who a person is, what they have done, what their career is, or even how old they are; the interactions we have with other human beings are the most valuable educational experiences.