During the first semester of my NSLI-Y Program in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, I opted to take an elective Cross Cultural Communications course at my host institution, Wenzao University. NSLI-Y students on the Taiwan program choose elective courses to supplement their daily Chinese Language classes. Ranging from Modern Chinese Art to Basketball, NSLI-Y Taiwan students have a wide selection of classes to choose from, however each course must be instructed using only the target language, Mandarin Chinese.
As I glanced through the course offerings, I saw a course titled “Cross Cultural Communications“ (跨文化). The course sounded interesting, so I signed up for the class. Before I entered the classroom, I expected the course to entail a vast overview of the interactions between different cultures from all around the world, however my original vision of Cross Cultural Communications happened to differ from the actual course itself.
I unknowingly signed up for the Cross Cultural Communications course required for all first year Spanish majors at the university. Taught only using Mandarin Chinese, the course began with the Spanish Colonial Era and concluded with Hispanic culture in the 21st century. The course focused on the cultures, traditions, and ideologies that make up the Spanish-speaking world.
Once I discovered the course was oriented around the Spanish-speaking world, I could not have been more excited. While in high school, in addition to studying Chinese, I was an International Baccalaureate Spanish student. Spanish was the first foreign language that I had ever studied and has a special place in my heart. I could not have been happier to have the opportunity to incorporate another passion of mine into my Chinese language studies in Taiwan.
The course was taught by a Taiwanese professor from the Spanish Language Department. Even though the professor had native level fluency in the Spanish Language and spoke with an authentic Castilian accent, the course was conducted exclusively in Chinese. As a result, I had the opportunity to learn a large amount of new Chinese vocabulary that I normally would have not learned in a traditional Chinese language class. In addition to learning the Chinese name for almost every Spanish speaking country in the world, I learned vocabulary that is valuable for everyday cultural discussion.
Taking Cross Cultural Communications taught me more than just Chinese vocabulary relevant to the Spanish speaking world; the course also gave me a direct platform to see how Taiwanese students view other cultures. I witnessed my Taiwanese classmates’ first exposure to concepts such as Spanish-style bullfighting, Latin American machismo, and Spanish Paella. My classmates squealed and covered their eyes as the “matador” took his final strides in killing the bull. While we discussed Spain’s gastronomy, I could sense the energy and excitement within the classroom that made every student want to book the next plane ticket to Madrid.
By observing how the Taiwanese students reacted to their first glimpse of Hispanic culture, I was able to make inferences on how the current generation of Taiwanese students accept and interpret cultures that are different from their own. I view the modern generation of Taiwan to be very welcoming and accepting of different cultures. In addition to appreciation, the current generation also chooses specific parts of a culture, and adopts them as their own. As a result, it is very common to see Japanese, Korean, American, and European influences in Taiwan.
I believe the professor of this class impacted my experience the most. Because of his educational background and experience in the Hispanic world, he was able to connect to the Taiwanese and Hispanic cultures in ways I had never thought of. For example, as the professor attempted to explain Spanish tapas, he directly compared the food to Taiwanese “小吃”, which directly translates as “little foods”. By making direct ties from the Hispanic culture to the Taiwanese culture, the students were able to make a heartfelt connection to the classroom material.
I love to engage in cultural discussions in Taiwan, but the discussions usually entail the cultures of either Taiwan or the United States. However, during this course I was placed in a unique situation where I had a neutral bias. Since I am neither Taiwanese nor Hispanic, I had no direct relationship concerning the discussion of the two cultural realms. Directly comparing the Taiwanese and Spanish cultures has allowed me to develop a new skill of transparency during critical discussion.
Overall, Cross Cultural Communications has had a great impact on my Chinese language studies and positively influenced my experience in Taiwan.
Anthony is a current student on the 2016-2017 Academic Year program in Taiwan.