Natasha posing in front of a building

Natasha, Chinese (Mandarin)

Natasha is an alumna of the NSLI-Y Chinese Summer Program in 2022 from Miami, Florida. As an NSLI-Y alumnus, Natasha is passionate about language, particularly, Mandarin Chinese, her community, service, advocacy, and STEM. In college, Natasha plans to double major in Psychology and Statistics and minor in Chinese Language and Culture.

My NSLI-Y program experience in Kaohsiung, Taiwan this past summer is difficult to summarize in a few words. I wouldn't do it justice.

My overall experience is marked by a number of moments, big and small: like sharing snacks with elderly Taiwanese locals at the top of a mountain hike; spending time with my host family; trying 臭豆腐 (stinky tofu) and 芒果冰 (mango ice cream/shaved ice) for the first time with my Taiwanese peer tutor; laughing with my Chinese language class's teaching assistant after making a pronunciation mistake before being encouraged to try again; or, in a moment of vulnerability, having a difficult but honest conversation about Taiwan's political state of affairs with my Taiwanese friends.

Natasha in front of a building

All of that meant something. NSLI-Y language instruction equipped me with the skills to build connections with people that I feel I will remain close to for the rest of my life.

The cultural and language immersion that NSLI-Y provides, by staying abroad for the course of the program, also accelerated my language acquisition. If not for the pieces of Taiwan's culture I experienced, I wouldn't have had such significant language gains by the end of the program duration. The satisfaction I got in watching my progress– starting with being barely able to get out a few sentences, to having 20-minute conversations with locals in my host language– made me feel so proud and encouraged in my language-learning journey.

Natasha standing in front of the ocean

I find that one of the most valuable parts of my experience with NSLI-Y that really contributed to my improvement in my program language was having the freedom and flexibility to explore and learn about the cultural diversity of my host location. Going to a local Taoist temple, museum, park, restaurant, or store placed me in situations that allowed me to learn the nuanced parts of the language that can only be learned through experience.

Those daily interactions with locals in Taiwan, whether I was taking a trip to the 方便商店 (convenience store) or going to an important cultural site, all had a role in strengthening my language skills and proficiency.

But, if my NSLI-Y experience in Taiwan had a trailer, it would look a little bit like this: