A Month in Taiwan: Part Two

Taiwan

After ending a fun two weeks in Taipei, the small group who decided to add on the extra two weeks awaited the rest of the group at the main train station. I was sad to leave the adventures of Taipei, the friends I made at the university, and the streets of ShiLin. In a Foreign city with a different culture and language, I actually began to feel as if I was a part of it. That being said I was also excited for a new adventure! Honestly, we did not know much of what was planned. I was also uber excited to meet up with old friends and spend time with people I have never really met.

We all piled into the train and went off to Hualien to start our journey as camp counselors/teachers. The trip before seemed to be put in the past because at this moment we are all going to a new place and unsure of what lays ahead. At this point, all we knew was we would be in Taiwan for two weeks and we were going to be helping students with their English conversation skills. Little did we know that these next two weeks would be full of adventure, laughter, and even build a traditional ama tribe roof.

After a long train ride through Taiwan, we see our camp. It was in a very rural part of Hualien, Taiwan in a town only made up of the camp, and a small ingenious Taiwanese Ama tribe. Although, we did discover a beach that was just a 5-minute walk away that was basically our own private beach.

A little bit about the camp: 1) the food was incredible! We were served traditional Taiwanese food three times a day. Which included a lot of rice, soups, and cabbage (cabbage is basically the salad of Taiwan). A couple of nights, the tribal leader would bring us fresh fish, chicken, and a traditional warrior banana-rice dish. I have never eaten so healthy in my entire life, and at the end of the trip my chopstick skills were level 9,000. 2) The beds were on the floor, and side by side with each other. 3) Everyone had to hand wash his or her clothes. Which, if we're being honest, this was probably the least enjoyable part of the entire trip. We tried to make the most out of it by doing our laundry together, and listen to music, but hand washing is tough and time consuming! 4) The camp staff was incredible. They would show us traditional ingenious dance during a late night bonfire, go with us to watch the sunrise on the beach, take us on snail hunts, and above all become our friends.

After looking around the camp and getting to know all of the camp staff, we had to start planning for the camp itself. Each of the 14 students were split us and put with one or two Taiwanese camp counselors that could speak English, and Mandarin. We were in charge of facilitating English conversation, problem solving, and making sure everyone was having fun. As a high school student, I would have loved to attend this camp! However, it was different from your average U.S. summer camp. The camp was designed to be a learning camp, and one of the big emphasis to parents/students was international students would be there to help with English skills. Taiwanese students study English at a very young age and almost everyone at the camp had a high level of English skills. Even though many students could understand what we were saying we had to encourage them to try to answer in English. For many of the students this was their first time ever seeing someone from a different country. Lot of people went up to be and were touching my beard, and told me they had never seen blue eyes before. Alongside of English skills, selected students from OCU were to present 90min presentations over various topics that included globalization, US fashion trends: the importance of individuality, Basic international economics, and more. If you fell asleep during that sentence do not worry we did fun stuff t0o! We went to the beach, star gazing at night, tons of fun games during the day (for me lots of basketball), and even had a field trip the students have to plan!

Funny story of the week - Being in a different country we had to rely on translators for almost everything. The students could speak English but it was much easier for the native counselors to give directions in mandarin for the students to understand. After the instructions were given, I ask my partner to explain what is going on, and she said the students have to plan a day trip just using "x" amount of money. Fun! That is a cool exercise. The students were just speaking mandarin at this point to work out all of the details. I would chime in every now and then to see what they had planned. I would suggested, “oh let’s just walk it’s not that far and it will save money” and “ oh we don’t need to eat that much we can just got to 7/11.” Well little did I know that this was not an exercise! The next morning the entire camp heads to the train station, I am asking around why we are here, and my group leader said we are about to go on the trip the students planned… Haha, I had no idea… That day I put my day of travel in the trust of 13-17 year old high school students. Without any help from me, they planned an awesome day! We went on a beautiful bike ride through farms of Taiwan, ate traditional food, and went to new places.

Best part of the camp - The last night of the camp was my favorite of the week. At the beginning of the camp, the students were nervous, shy, and lacked the confidence to speak English with us. As the week went on, and we started to form relationships with all the campers all the campers could see a difference in the confidence levels. On the last night, they surprised us by teaching us a lesson! All of the campers set up stations to teach all the OCU students about difference aspects of Taiwan. We learned old traditions, some mandarin language, and different popular spots in Taiwan. Learning was great but seeing the excitement and joy on the campers faces was the highlight. They were so eager to share everything about their home, and wished we could have all stayed longer to see everything. The final day was filled with emotional goodbyes. Once all the campers left, our supervisor called us over to read us a note one camper left for all of us. The camper talked about how over the week she felt empowered by our encouragement, and feels confident to go back to school knowing people believe in her. After hearing her words, I started reflecting over the week and why we were sent to Taiwan. Over the week we spent hours and hours each day to help them with English conversation and having to take the backseat on a lot of projects. Through all the struggles, her note made me want to do it all over again. That being said… there happened to be change in our plans. We were supposed to be doing two full weeks of camps of two different set of campers but they ended up combining the two camps into that first week. As I said earlier I would love to do it all over again but I was thrilled when I heard we were getting an entire week to our self with fun activities planned! Being a camp counselor is exhausting. The last week was filled with amazing sightseeing adventures, hiking/biking, and even helped out the Ingenious Ama tribe.

Highlights of the second week

Dolphin watching - We were able to witness hundreds of spinning dolphins during mating season! We all climbed on a boat and sailed out into the ocean. There were dolphins EVERYWHERE! And Because they were in mating season the males were constantly jumping out of the water and doing 360 spins. This was the first time I have ever seen a dolphin in its natural habitat!

Beach Bonfire - One of the nights we decided to go to the beach, and make a fire. Probably the most beautiful nights of my entire life. I am from Oklahoma City, that being said before this trip I have not seen the ocean in two years and due to city life I never see too many stars. Well that night I was able to lay back on the sand while the fire kept me warm, and in the background, we could hear the waves crashing in. All of us looked out at the stars because there were more than we had ever seen before. As I am writing this blog months after this trip ended, I still remember that night because how beautiful the stars were.

Ama Tribe - We were able to learn and help the tribe located inside the town. The Ama tribe was extremely grateful for all of the help we provided them with fixing damaged roofs, and cleaning out old abandoned buildings, and even creating a plan for them to attract tourist to build revenue for the tribe. Although, we were even more thankful for all the leader did for us. Honey Ge-Ge (yes he told us to call him that lol) brought us fresh fish, and chicken throughout the two weeks, and even taught us how their tribe catches fish, and crab.

Sidenote- Ama is the best way I can spell out their tribe name due to my lack of knowledge of Chinese characters. Also, “Ge-Ge” (哥哥) means older brother in Chinese!

Honestly guys this is just a tidbit of what the entire trip entailed. I’ve reduced the blog multiple times and I didn’t even talk about all of the great people that were a part of the OCU DOERs group. I was extremely blessed to be able to go on this trip. From studying at Soo-Chow University to singing karaoke on a bus full of high school Taiwanese campers I loved every minute of it. I learned a lot about myself, but the most important thing I took out of it was the power of positivity. There were days were none of us really wanted to work; it was hot, we were tired, and didn’t know what was going on half the time (let me just say it was so hot I took ice cold showers every day for an entire month). However, our group stayed positive through the good, and the not so good. The motto for the month has been “Rally” and honestly just saying, “We can rally” when times got hard made life much more fun. There is not a single doubt in my mind that I did not get the most out of this trip! Every day was adventure.

Taiwan has a special place in my heart. I am grateful to add this trip into my collection of adventures. Thank you for all the people who made it possible! I am also proud to announce that I will be returning for to Taiwan with DOERs program the summer of 2017! I can not wait to see old friends and make new memories.

Any questions about the trip? Head over to the contact tab to get in touch with me!

P.S. I want to give a shoutout to group four! #fearthebeard. You guys rock! I was so impressed by my campers and all they achieved during that week. In addition, for the other camp counsellors in my group, I could not have done it without you. Also, the real MVP of the month in Taiwan was MR. BROWN. Mr. Brown is a super cheap, tasty, double shot coffee drink found at every 7/11 in Taiwan; I needed this caffeine more than anything! If you want to try if for yourself you can find it at your local Asian super market for about 75cents.