It’s difficult to know what to expect from a cultural immersion, as it does not necessarily imply that you will come to new realizations or learn anything at all. My understanding is that I had to be active and intentional in this process. Knowing myself, I knew that I was going to make every attempt to cease the moment and absorb all of the beauty in this unique experience. I asked myself: what will this journey look like, what do I want to learn, how do I want to grow?…I was blessed to have the opportunity to travel to Thailand, before my formal immersion and experience Asian culture from multiple perspectives. The city streets and beautiful beaches took me to a state of bliss. In vacation mode, I began to grow anxious of the transition into the immersion program, and only hoped my experiences in Thailand would supplement my cultural journey, and not hinder the anticipation of experiencing Taiwan.
As I expected, the transition from one culture to the next was less than perfect. Language quickly became an issue, having to scramble my brain for scattered Mandarin, just as I started to pick up Thai. However, taking time away to re-center, I was able to quickly reclaim my experience. I took solace in a language I knew was universal—dance. I found a few studios in Taipei city that allowed me to reconnect with myself while still engaging in cross-cultural experiences. Now that I felt immersed, I was in search of my journey.
The more that I let myself feel, the more I was struck by the cultural learning I began to undertake. It has been important to learn about the history and traditions of Taiwanese culture, as well as the nuances of our profession within a collectivistic context. However, I have found that my deepest cultural learning has come from my own self-awareness. A simple comment from a Taiwanese student that I “looked like a dancer” at first glance brought me so much joy. What satisfaction it was to hear someone recognize one of my salient identities, in a context where it was not obvious or relevant; equally, what pain it felt to have one of my most salient identities dismissed. To my surprise, this random moment had me thinking about my cultural identities crossing national borders.
Leaving the U.S., a context where I strongly identify as Haitian-American, to one where only my American identity seems to hold significance has exposed me to a whole new path on my cultural journey. Prior to my arrival, I had not realized how the shift of my ethnic identity would be challenged cross-culturally. I find myself grappling with the complex feelings of privilege, while also balancing feelings of its impact on my identity as a woman of color. My personal realizations fostered professional conversations with Taiwanese students about the Western concept of multiculturalism in the cultural context of Taiwan. I was especially curious as to how that would relate to Counseling and cultural issues within Taiwan. Finally, the wheels were spinning and I felt myself arrive.
Now feeling emotionally and intellectually invested in this experience, it feels natural to ride the adrenaline from day-to-day as I continue to experience new things. I’m enjoying myself—gallivanting through the city, indulging in Taiwan’s incredible cuisine, critically thinking about culture and essentially wearing myself out trying to embrace the entirety of this cultural journey. I’m thinking nothing of it, until I am struck by an experience at the Meimen Tea House in its gallery.
There I stood in one of the most peaceful and serene places I’ve been in, since leaving the States. I felt myself caught up in the nature, the air, the carefully placed stones beneath my feet, symbolically representing the five Chinese elements—wood, fire, water, earth, metal. I stood gazing in silence, embracing a moment I didn’t even know I was yearning for—the silent sense of peace. I remembered then that finding peace in the small things was just as important on this journey, as the educational understanding of it all. The balance between the two was what I needed to reflect on and acknowledge my growth, allowing me to take a deep breath for more to come.
I hadn’t grasped the full truth of this, until my home-stay in Haulien. My Taiwanese buddy and her family took me to Chihsing Tan beach where I experienced the power of peace and beauty necessary for deep understanding and realizations.Stunned by the breathtaking view of the mountains meeting the ocean,
I was reminded to stop searching for my journey and to be present, open and grateful. The whole point of the immersion is to simply immerse. It is not necessary to analyze everything to make the most of it all. For me: the planning, the predispositions, the expectations only get in the way of the process, when the real significance of cultural growth and learning happens outside of analysis, but in the moment.