Ni Hao!  February has been quite busy, what with Chinese New Year, the exchange student 3 day trip to the east, and the start of the new school semester. Chinese New Year was an interesting experience. Many Taiwanese compare their Chinese New Year to Christmas. The day or even week before Chinese New Year Eve, the family cleans out the house. It is a very thorough process because the Taiwanese believe that they must clean out the old and sweep away any of the evil spirits to welcome the New Year.  On Chinese New Year’s Eve, the family- usually consisting of a family and the father’s grandparents- gather together and eat dinner together. Before or after the dinner, the small children and students (including those in University) tell the parents and grandparents “Happy New Year! Please give me a homebao (red envelope that contains money)”. Many students and children are able to collect many red envelopes from their relatives and by the end are able to buy their favorite items- in essence… their “Christmas gift”. Parents (those who have a job) then give money to their parents. It all sort of balances out. You get money as a student and then give money away once you start working.

During Chinese New Year, I went on a two day trip with my second host family. We went to Taizhong and stayed at a small hotel where we could make pottery, ride bikes, and just enjoy the peace and quiet of nature. It was great spending time with my second host family because I knew I would be leaving in less than a month from their house. I’ve really grown close to my second host family- well as close you can in a Taiwanese family as most are very busy and are always rushing to a class or something related to their work or school. But my host mom and host sister always came home and we always ate together at home. My host mom also helped me on my Chinese speech I had to prepare for Chinese class, helped me when I was sick, watched TV together and laughed at the funny movies and freaked out at the scary ones, and just had a great time. I’m very fortunate that I got to know my second host mom. I know I will miss them. Taiwan has taught me to appreciate every moment.

After the Chinese New Year vacation, we all returned to our normal schedules. This included going back to school as well as Chinese classes- my Rotary district provides Chinese classes twice a week for all the students in my district. For my new school semester, I have been placed in the baking class which includes a cooking class every Friday morning and afternoon. This means that I also have a new set of classmates, which while to most exchange students may seem to be an unfortunate situation, I’ve actually learned to love it because I am able to meet new people AND actually get to know them. I don’t know why it is… but there seems to be a sense of fear or nervousness whenever a foreigner wants to talk to a Taiwanese student – at least at my school, and it was great to be able to start a clean slate with actual communication skills. While my Chinese is nowhere near fluent, I’ve reached a point of conversational fluency that with a smile and some fun (in some cases funny) expressions, hand motions, and any other body language you can imagine, I’m able to hold a conversation in Chinese, as well as have a great laugh with my classmates! At the beginning of the year, my lack of speaking Chinese truly inhibited me to communicate and students, for fear of being embarrassed of their English speaking skills, tended to steer clear of talking to me no matter how much I tried. Now, all the students are just plain shocked that I can parts of their conversations. I’ve made more friends in my new class and have been more interactive which has made me very happy.

I’ll let the pictures speak the rest.

Love from Taiwan,

Akiko

 
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