Erika bio photo

Erika, Chinese (Mandarin)

Erika is from Orlando, Florida, and an alumna of the 2019-20 Chinese Academic year program in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. She is also a Critical Language Scholar continuing her Mandarin Chinese studies in New Taipei City for the 2023 Summer program.

Participating in NSLI-Y in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, was undoubtedly a transformative experience that opened doors to opportunities I had never imagined. As I reflect on my time in Taiwan, I am filled with gratitude for the profound impact it had on my life and the subsequent path it paved for me to participate in the Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) program in New Taipei City today.

Erika playing the Erhu with her host siblings

My journey began with the eagerness to explore the world and immerse myself in new cultures. Applying for NSLI-Y was both nerve-wracking and exciting, but I knew that if I wanted to grow as a person and as a linguist, this was the perfect opportunity. When I received the acceptance letter, my heart soared with joy, and I eagerly embarked on my adventure to Kaohsiung.

Living with a host family (寄宿家庭) was a blessing that provided me with an authentic glimpse into Taiwanese life. The kindness and hospitality they showed me were beyond heartwarming, making me feel at home even in a foreign land. Attending language classes daily was both challenging and rewarding. As I struggled to communicate at first, I realized that language was not just a tool for communication; it was a window into a culture's history, values, and way of life. Throughout my time in Kaohsiung, I had the opportunity to explore the city's rich heritage, indulge in its delicious cuisine, like 臭豆腐 and 小籠包, and forge deep connections with both locals and fellow international students. These experiences not only improved my Mandarin skills but also expanded my global perspective and empathy for people from different backgrounds.

Erika with friends hiking in Taiwan

Although my NSLI-Y program came to an end early due to COVID, I knew that my journey with language and cultural exchange had only just begun. The desire to delve deeper into Mandarin and explore more of Taiwan led me to discover CLS.

CLS offered an intensive language curriculum that challenged me to push beyond my comfort zones and deepen my linguistic proficiency. My time in Taipei was an extension of the transformation I had experienced in Kaohsiung. Living with another host family allowed me to further embrace the local customs and values, enhancing my cultural understanding. Beyond the language classes, CLS has encouraged community engagement and involvement in diplomatic events. These experiences heightened my interest in international relations and diplomacy, showing me that my language skills could be a powerful tool to foster cross-cultural understanding and bridge gaps between nations.

Erika visiting Taipei for the first time with her host family.

Connecting my experiences in Kaohsiung and Taipei, I realized that participating in NSLI-Y was the catalyst that set me on this incredible language journey. The scholarship program not only provided me with a strong foundation in Mandarin but also ignited a passion for global engagement and diplomacy. As I reflect on my journey from Kaohsiung to Taipei, I am immensely grateful for the people I met, the friendships I forged, and the experiences that shaped me into a more open-minded, empathetic, and culturally aware individual. The combination of NSLI-Y and CLS has instilled in me a lifelong commitment to language learning, cultural exchange, and international cooperation.

Erika at the historic AMei Tea House in Jiufen

Looking ahead, I am excited to continue using my language skills to build bridges between cultures, advocate for understanding, and contribute to a more harmonious and interconnected world. My journey is ongoing, and I am eager to see how each chapter unfolds, thanks to the foundations laid in Kaohsiung and Taipei.