Ann smiling.

Ann, Chinese (Mandarin)

Ann, from New Jersey, is an alumna of the 2023 NSLI-Y Chinese (Mandarin) Summer Program in Taiwan.

Participating in NSLI-Y had a significant impact on my life, and living with a host family greatly influenced my character. By living with a host family, I found myself making unexpected connections and changing my own perspectives.

I opened my host family information form and read the names and ages of the family I would be staying with for the next 7 weeks. I told myself not to have any expectations, but nevertheless, in my head, I imagined having someone my age with pets. I remember my dissatisfaction seeing that I had three host siblings, all under the age of 10. I had never experienced having younger siblings. I was used to an empty house and spending time alone.

Table with many different Taiwanese foods.

I had always thought of myself as “bad with kids”. I simply didn’t know how to get along with them. I never knew how to respond. What if they throw tantrums? What if they don't find me interesting?

Of course, I was still pleased with the fact that I was able to study Mandarin in Taiwan.

Hand holding controller and Mario Kart playing.

Right after my host family picked me up at the airport, we went out for dinner. The number of children was overwhelming. A 5-year-old girl whose name I learned was Mi Dao talked to me the entire time about her favorite princesses and I was struggling to remember all the children’s names.

But as we shared more time together, I made the effort to join them when they played and even when they watched YouTube on the TV. They taught me how to catch crabs at the beach and how to do silly dances.

Two hands holding a small crab.

At times, I felt drained, and I could have gone to my room to be alone, but I realized that I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. I wanted to make the most of my time in Taiwan. Once I realized the program was nearing its end, I spent every bit of free time with my host siblings. Coming to Taiwan, I understood that it would be different from my solitary life at home. I made an effort to leave my comfort zone and experience new things. So I did silly dances in the street with my host brothers. I picked up horned beetles with them. I made sticker sheets with my host sister and braided her hair. In the end, I not only learned Mandarin but also formed deep connections with my host siblings, proving to myself that sometimes the most meaningful experiences come when we step outside our comfort zones.