My journey began on August 19th, 2017 with a plane departing at 01:45am to Taoyuan, Taiwan.
I never really felt any “shock” at the airport, but it came! About 12 hours into the flight, I thought, “What am I doing?” and all I could think was, “I don’t know”. I can’t explain that feeling, it’s so specific to this situation.
When I arrived at the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport at 04:45am, I didn’t know what to think as I was greeted by my 3 host families and members of my hosting Rotary club (the Rotary Club of Yung Ho). I was excited, nervous, anxious, and a little sad all at the same time.
The first few weeks were almost unbearable. The average daily temperature was 40°C-45°C, while just a few days before my departure, I got overheated eating a BBQ’d sausage – true story! One day it had reached a high of 48°C (humidity included). As we’re entering into late October – early November, it’s rapidly cooling off to a comfortable mid-20’s. I never thought I’d be saying, “Oh, it’s 26°C, might need a sweater!”
I extremely enjoy living with my first host family. They are very nice and help me with my Chinese as much as they can and are very interested in learning about anything that differs from their Taiwanese culture.
My community is very crowded in comparison to St. Marys. I live and go to school in New Taipei City – a residential city located about 5 minutes outside the capital. When I first arrived, I looked around thinking everything was very “sketchy”. I vowed to never walk outside alone because it didn’t feel safe to me. However, as the weeks went on I realized that there’s nothing to be afraid of because everything around me started to become familiar. I just told myself that it wasn’t weird, just different.
The food is nothing you can’t get used to. What surprised me the most was that their steak is the thickness of ham slices and most of the meat is 50% fat. They eat a lot of western foods like Domino’s Pizza, Starbucks, and McDonalds so you don’t have to wander very far to find something familiar. However, I can’t seem to find a Tim Hortons! I’d really love a Double Double and a Boston Creme donut.
There’s a 7 Eleven and Family Mart on every street corner that do so much more than sell snacks and sandwiches. You can buy concert tickets, pay bills, and mail packages too! I often find myself buying lunch at one of their many stores around my house.
School took a bit of getting used to. Getting up at 6:30am was nothing new but instead of getting home at 3pm and going to work, I now get home at 5-5:30pm. I feel like the school day in Canada is going to go by very quickly after this! It takes me 30 minutes to get to school, I walk 15 minutes to the bus station, take the bus for 5 minutes, and then walk another 10 minutes. My school has over 3,000 students with both junior and senior high school. I got placed in first year senior, which is the equivalent to Grade 10, but they do Math I’d have no idea how to even start solving.
The language has to be the most stressful part of this exchange so far. For those who aren’t aware, the main language in Taiwan is not Taiwanese, but Mandarin Chinese.
I attend language classes on Tuesday and Thursday mornings for 4 hours provided by Rotary at the National Taiwan Normal University. The classes are a big help because I can ask questions and completely understand why something I said was, or wasn’t, correct.
My host parents help a lot by trying to talk mostly in Chinese, but at the end of the day, it is one of the hardest languages in the world. However, I was successfully able to talk to a resident of my apartment building completely in Chinese in the brief moment we were in the elevator.
I want to thank my mum, Sandra, and my dad, Doug, along with my grandparents, Brian and Anne for supporting me because without them I wouldn’t be halfway across the world right now having the experience of a lifetime. I also really want to thank my sponsoring Rotary Club, the Rotary Club of St. Marys, and Rotary District 6330 for telling me about this program. If any teens are interested please contact the Rotary Club of St. Marys for more information! This is something you’ll never regret, I promise!
(If you are interested in learning more about Rotary Youth Exchange or in hosting a student please contact Mark Oliver via email at email@example.com)