I have been in Taiwan for exactly two weeks today – though it feels as if I have been here for at least a month. I decided to travel to Taiwan before the cross-cultural immersion program began to explore southern Taiwan and to further my own cultural competence journey. During these two weeks I have been reflecting on my experiences here in Taiwan and what it means for me as a person and as a future psychologist. One of the most salient learning experiences I have had thus far have to do with language and privilege. For example, while in Kaohsiung city I realized I could not eat exactly what I wanted because I did not have the language ability to order my preferred/desired food items. I noticed being drawn by the delicious smells to a particular restaurant yet feeling incompetent because I could not understand anything in the menu.
(For those of you in Columbia, Missouri – the menus at some of these restaurants are like the menu at Which Wich, where you have to circle or list the quantity of the products that you want.) So I faced the decision to check random boxes or to walk away from this restaurant, I thought I would rather walk away. I was finally able to find a place where the menu had images at which I could simply point. So I ate that.
After being in Taipei city for a couple of days I realized that I felt more comfortable navigating this environment than I had felt in Southern Taiwan. Maybe, it was because I had been traveling for a few days, but rather I think it was because the new environment was not unfamiliar to me. In fact, with the easily accessible McDonald’s and 7-11s, plus the bilingual writings of street names, buildings, city maps, and MRT (subway) train station services – it reminded me of being back home in Oakland, California’s Chinatown, or San Francisco Chinatown. Also, I quickly realized that many more people spoke English in Taipei than in other areas I had been in. The fact that locals spoke my language greatly diminished my struggles and early encounters with limited accessibility. All of the sudden, I was finding myself with the privilege to navigate a foreign culture because other people had made an effort to learn and to speak to me my language. At the same time, this privilege made it really easy for me to no longer attempt to learn more Chinese or better ways to communicate with people. At times, I have even found myself expecting others to speak to me in English, as if I was entitled to it. Overall, I think this awareness is very important for me because it reminds me of how my privilege identities may change depending on the context I find myself in.
Finally, Taiwan has been great to me thus far. The people are kind and generous and do not hesitate to extend a helping hand. I’ve tried some delicious foods and teas. I’ve developed meaningful relationships with locals and have had an amazing opportunity to explore various parts of this wonderful land, including the very north tip of Taiwan, Yehliu.