Daniel is an alumnus of the 2022 Chinese summer program in Taiwan from Moon Township, Pennsylvania.
My summer experience in Taiwan significantly improved my language proficiency and cultural awareness. I grew as a person from this wonderful opportunity and feel more worldly as a result. However, to achieve this growth, I did have to navigate through some challenges, such as managing the difference in characters and confronting the language barrier.
The switch between simplified (简体字) and traditional characters (繁体字) was challenging. In school, my Mandarin class taught simplified characters, whereas the commonly used characters in Taiwan are the traditional ones. Although the learning instruction was taught using simplified characters, the moment you stepped outside the classroom, the street signs, sidewalks, and storefronts were all traditional. Luckily, in-program, we were taught some strategies to quickly pick up these traditional characters, such as learning the traditional version of simplified radicals. As a result, I quickly learned to recognize a large majority of traditional characters, which proved beneficial in day-to-day interactions.
With my host family, I further developed my language proficiency by building upon my vocabulary. My host family took me fishing by the pier one day, and through trial and error, I picked up some new vocabulary terms. This was my first time going fishing, so I was a rookie in English and Mandarin fishing lingo. When we finally caught our first fish, my host dad told me to hand him a 手帕. I was clueless as to what this was, and I returned with some clippers. He then told me that that wasn’t it and motioned with his hands a rectangular-shaped item. Thinking I had it this time, I incorrectly returned with a box of shrimp. It turned out he wanted a handkerchief! This experience resulted in 手帕 being forever ingrained in my memory!
Lastly, a big takeaway I had from this experience was that everyone is kind and extremely supportive of your language learning, even locals. For example, one evening, my friends and I were stopped by a vendor selling fried seafood. Most of the items on the vendor’s sign were illegible to us as they were in a special font and in traditional characters. The vendor could tell that we were puzzled and thus offered us some free samples. We immediately fell in love with it and commenced chatting in Mandarin with the man. We learned that he was an immigrant from 越南 (Vietnam), and we held a conversation about international relations with him. Leaving with a bag of fried cuttlefish was when it dawned upon me how much the experience improved my language abilities and, thus, my ability to connect with the world. Thank you NSLI-Y for an opportunity of a lifetime!