Heather is from Inwood, WV and participated in the 2016-2017 Taiwan year program.

heather posing with her host family

Being abroad can be challenging sometimes, especially if you’re abroad for a longer period of time like I was.

At first, I had a little trouble connecting with my host family because they were so much older than me with both of my host parents being over 50 and all my host siblings living out of the house except for one very busy grad student at home. I was so afraid of saying or doing something offensive.

Because my host siblings were either away or busy most of the time and my host dad wasn’t usually downstairs for breakfast, it was usually my host mom I spent time with in the mornings. She always got up before me and I would see her cutting up fruit or making eggs for me to eat for breakfast. She was always so sweet to me and would often sit at the table with me to talk. I remember her being so concerned about what I would and wouldn’t eat that she kept asking me about it when they called me the week before I would arrive. I kept saying 都可以 (either one is fine) when she asked which I’d prefer. Little did either of us know that this was going to be a recurring dialogue between us, and even a bit of a joke. All throughout the program, she would give me choices and I would say either one is fine to the point where she would say “what do you mean either one is ok? You need to make a choice!” We joked around a lot and it made me feel really close to her like I was one of her children.

Whenever we would go out she would also joke about how tall I was and ask me to give her half of my legs, and I’d just tell her how troublesome it was to have long legs and that she wouldn’t want them. She would also get up a few steps higher on the escalator and say “there, now I’m taller than you!”. But besides joking around, she’d also often hold my hand - it was a sweet thing she would do when we were walking down the street. Of course, I found it a little demeaning at first but I later found out she wasn’t doing this because she thought I was a little kid that needed my handheld, and that it was really something she did out of the kindness of her heart.

Another joke we had between us was about a famous Taiwanese actor named 豬哥亮 , Zhu Ge Liang, who had a really terrible haircut that looked so bad I thought it was fake. The first time I saw him and told her she looked it up on Google to prove me wrong, and even though I was, the fact that there were websites for it showed I wasn’t the only one who thought so. From that point on, every time I saw him on TV I’d tell her it was fake and we’d go back and forth over whether it was real or not until we were both laughing too much to continue.

heather and her host mom crossing a bridge
image of heather and her host mom jumping in the air

Besides the jokes, she was always there for me when I needed advice or if I wasn’t feeling well. If I had something to say she’d always listen. I often had stomach problems and she was the one who convinced me to go to the doctor when I didn’t want to go and do anything she could to make me feel better. When I was struggling with my relationship she listened and gave me the advice to help me through it. She also helped me look at some of my essays and even appeared at the end of one of my vlogs, she would do anything to help me no matter what I needed. She even joined me on a few of my evening walks towards the end of the program in order to spend more of those precious moments together. But most importantly she’d always tell me how beautiful I looked, or how much my Chinese had improved because she knew I didn’t think as highly of myself as she did.

Looking back we bonded so much more than can be explained. She knew me even better than I knew myself. She jokingly said I should cut my beloved long locks short and my last week there she took me to get my hair cut and I surprised her by cutting it all off. She also joked that I should see other people even though I was already in a relationship, and in the last few months, I ended that relationship. She somehow knew things about me I didn’t know about myself, and I’ll never fully understand how.

We keep in touch often through Line (a messaging app) making jokes and having serious discussions about things just like before. We’ve even video chatted a few times so we can keep up with each other and so she can be the proud grandma she is and show me her adorable first grandson, my host nephew. To us, we have an unbreakable bond and I can’t wait to go back to Taiwan to see her and the rest of my host family again so we can stop joking about how much I miss grilled squid and hot pot and instead talk like we did before while eating squid or hot pot.

heather and her host family posing in front of a christmas tree