Today, I wanted to reflect on a particularly impactful weekend of my study abroad journey. Thanks to scholarships like FEA, I have had the opportunity to visit my brother in Taiwan. He’s an international student there, and, due to immigration and money related difficulties, I haven’t been able to see him for the past twelve years. Since I didn’t have to worry solely about affording my study abroad program, I was able to afford the plane tickets and other relevant expenses for this weekend trip. I was also really looking forward to seeing my brother’s wife, Olga, and his son, since they stayed with my family in the US a little over a year ago. The last time I saw my nephew, he was only seven months old. Now, he’s almost two! For an entire long weekend, I could play with him, eat lots of delicious Taiwanese food, and chill out with my family. This was a well needed change of pace from my intensive Japanese studies. As the program progresses, I’ve been feeling more homesick everyday. Even though I don’t have a lot of memories of being with my brother from when I was a child, our whole family video calls frequently, and we were quickly able to find our footing in our new brother-sister dynamic (now that I’m nineteen years old, instead of seven). Even just hearing him and his wife speak Mongolian together made me feel instantly at home, not to mention how comforting and joyful it was to see my nephew.
Taiwan was the second country I’ve visited so far. In many ways it is different from Japan, but there are a lot of familiar sights – Japanese chain restaurants, convenience stores, and traditional Chinese characters (known as kanji in Japanese), to name a few. I think the biggest culture shock I experienced was the scooter/motorbike culture in Tainan. Scooters dominated the streets so, naturally, my brother and wife each had one. Sitting on the back seat of my brother’s motorcycle every night, enjoying the urban landscape of nighttime Tainan and feeling the breeze on my face was definitely a highlight of the trip. When I wasn’t holding on for dear life, I tried to read the restaurant and tea shop signs, neon and lit up during the busy Taiwanese nights. I would quickly realize there were way too many characters I couldn’t recognize, despite my kanji studies. Since I’ve gotten back, I’ve been fired up to continue my kanji studies. Even if I was missing out on valuable schoolwork time for this excursion, it seems that everything leads back to learning Japanese!