Spending the last ten days in Taiwan has been a life changing experience, and one that I have been looking forward to for quite some time. However, it feels quite impossible to communicate the power and lifelong impact of this cultural immersion experience. While spending the past weekend with my host family I realized that our family trip to Yangming Mountain might best symbolize my cross-cultural journey thus far, so as to help others better understand the value of cultural immersion experiences.To begin, it is important to think about the process and purpose of climbing, or in my case driving up, a mountain. Traveling to the top of a mountain takes time and a considerable amount of energy. Additionally, the view from the top provides new perspective, a new understanding of any environment, no matter how familiar one may or may not be with the area. This is akin to making the journey toward multicultural competency, which is a lifelong journey and requires much effort and consideration to gain the necessary knowledge, skills and awareness. Cultural immersion experiences aim to challenge one’s current worldview in order to adopt a more inclusive perspective.
As we drove up the mountain, the weather worsened. It became quite foggy and rainy, which prompted my host mother to drive more slowly and cautiously. Despite the conditions, she handled the roads expertly. This describes how I first felt when I arrived in Taiwan. The new surroundings were overwhelming. I approached my interactions with caution and concern, not wanting to offend others or make mistakes. I also believe that the expertise and guidance both the MU and NTNU professors and students have been instrumental in my learning. They have guided each of us through periods of confusion and frustration, as well as the heaviness that sometimes comes with cultural immersion experiences. Just as in the case of my host mother’s expert driving, I know my cross-cultural development is being guided with care and concern by those with experience and expertise.
When we arrived at the highest lookout point, I had expected to be able to see the city; to view Taipei in all its glory. However, I was disappointed to discover that the rain and clouds made it impossible to see Taipei, yet alone twenty feet in front of me. This describes how even when you take risks to learn more and attempt to better understand another culture in its entirety, there may be barriers and challenges that delay your journey. For me, not speaking Mandarin is a significant barrier. I have found that things I took for granted, such as ordering coffee or buying lunch, is much more difficult when two people do not share a language. Luckily, many of my Taiwanese friends have been willing to act as language and cultural brokers. I am grateful for their diligence and patience. I appreciate their willingness to convey cultural information and translate both written and verbal Mandarin so I may better understand and become immersed in Taiwanese culture.
As we began our descent from the mountain the skies slowly began to clear. I could make out the outline of hills and houses that were previously hidden in the rainy weather. Eventually, the sun began to shine and I could see Taipei! And what a sight it was! I had been exploring Taipei from the streets for the previous ten days, but never had I seen it as it was at that moment: beautiful, bright and diverse. The new perspective made me feel so connected to my surroundings; to better understand the beauty of all that is around me. I believe this is how I am beginning to feel now. It is the interpersonal relationships and friendship gained, by both spending a weekend with my host family and visiting with NTNU professors and students, which is the culmination of my cross-cultural learning. No combination of coursework or reading can result in this type of learning. Cross-cultural growth cannot happen without personal interaction, without relationship building. What a beautiful new perspective I have gained!