My cultural journey to Taiwan began a few days before I met up with the CCIP group yesterday evening. I traveled to Taipei before the group arrived and did a bit of traveling around the country with another student. The first few days I spent in Taiwan are a blur—rushing from the hot springs in Beitou (北投區) to the natural beauty of the coast in Yeliu (野柳) and Jioufen (九份).
During those days, I took everything in stride—focusing more on having fun and packing in experiences than learning the meaning of what was around me, or even what was in the delicious food I was eating! Today, however, my first full day with the CCIP group was an exhilarating reminder that traveling for pleasure and traveling to deepen cultural knowledge are very different experiences.
As a tourist over the past few days, I didn’t take time to reflect on the culture I am interacting with. But as I walked the halls of the National Palace Museum with the group, I felt keenly aware of being immersed in a culture with rich and complex history, traditions, and norms that I am only beginning to understand. Museums always make me feel a bit like I’m entering an otherworldly place, and today was no exception. The collection at the National Palace Museum was overwhelmingly large, and we only had the time (and energy!) to see a small portion of it. I realized while at the museum that this is a good metaphor for what I imagine will be my journey here. While I plan to be intentional and learn from the guidance of cultural ‘tour guides’ in Taiwan, I know that in my short stay I will only be able to experience and appreciate a small portion of Taiwanese life and culture.
After leaving the museum, we spent a more lighthearted afternoon in Dansui (淡水) sampling exquisite foods and experiencing the busy city streets. As I walked with the group, I reflected on how it feels to be an obvious an outsider in the culture, what questions I want to ask, and how what I experience can add to my understanding of Taiwanese culture. I have always loved to travel on vacation, and relaxing for a few days in Taiwan before CCIP was wonderful, but I am very glad that the CCIP has officially begun! I hope that approaching my daily travels and experiences with a reflective attitude will make this trip unique, enriching and lasting in a way that my past experiences as a tourist abroad could not.
- I learned through the National Palace Museum visit just how rich, long and diverse the histories of China and Taiwan are, and that the culture I see around me is the product of thousands of years of change and development in China and Taiwan. (I knew this before visiting the museum, but the experience gave the knowledge context and deeper meaning for me).
- Traveling with NTNU students and meeting NTNU faculty, I learned that hospitality and kindness toward others, especially guests, is a tangible part of Taiwanese culture–and it’s one I am extremely appreciative of!! We discussed this in CCIP class before arriving, but it is powerful as a visitor to Taiwan to feel what that cultural value really means.