Hello, it’s Paul here! I’m a 17-year-old exchange student in the United States during the 2019-2020 school year. Study in America has always been my dream. Thanks to this exchange program, I got a chance to “try out” American life and experience the culture here at this young age.
I was really excited during the summer before coming to America. I took everything very seriously because I knew that this chance to study abroad for a year is not a chance that everyone can get, and it cost a lot for my parents too. I made sure I did every procedure that was needed, checked everything that is required, and practiced my English speaking skills more often. I didn’t want to waste the year in America, I wanted to grow and thrive!
I was assigned to Washington State and I ended up living in Arlington. With a family that had 4 kids, 2 dogs, and another exchange student from Colombia. The family was very nice, and the host mom was also the area representative, so soon after I arrived, we had our first ISE exchange student meeting held in our backyard. I made lots of friends during the gathering, including another girl from Taiwan as well. It was awesome that we got to know these people from all over the world and from different countries.
左圖：At Airport，右圖：1st host family
I was put into the senior class of Weston High School and there were four other exchange students also there. It was an alternative school, so there were no clubs and sports teams. If we wanted to participate in those activities, we had to take the school bus after school and went to the nearby Arlington High School.
I joined the Cross Country team at Arlington High School. It was a difficult sport for me at first, but I accepted the challenge. Sports are not a big value in Taiwan, in addition to competing with other same-age Americans, I practiced hard and my teammates and couches supported me a lot too. They were kind and courageous, and soon I could catch up to my teammates. I felt that the team treated me like family, especially when we went on to the meets. The teammates would root for me loudly and sincerely, it’s a nice experience to have.
A little more about the cultural differences I found. I feel that the atmosphere here about sports has significant difference than we do in Taiwan. Grades are important to the parents of Taiwan students, with less importance focused on sports. In American schools, the school ends at 2 pm, the sports teams around the school have already started practicing, they care about the attitude more than how good you are at the sports. Being diligent, perseverant, and work hard for the team is what really matters. In Taiwan, as we know, most of the students go to cram school after school, and never stop studying, less free time and fewer clubs, sports activities, lead to the high-pressure life for students, and not healthy in the long term. I learned a lot during the time in Cross Country team, my body and my overall fitness were improved. If you have the chance to join a sports team, I highly recommend you give it a try!
Cross Country meeting
Besides school, I also enjoyed going to church with my host family a lot. I am a Christian, so I didn’t feel extremely uncomfortable in church. I will say churches in America are very different from churches in Asia. For instance, in America, I was in the youth group, so the members were mostly high school teenagers, and the pastor in the church gives us lots of flexibility and freedom to hold our own activities, service and Sabbath. We’ll also play games together more than often, sometimes have dinner together, it was like a bunch of friends hanging out more than a group of people practicing religion. In Taiwan, although the church I was in would also hold events once in a while, but the rules are stricter and focus on good behaviors more. I would also recommend that don’t be afraid of participating in church activities, it’s more fun and relaxing than you think it would be.
After 2 months of me arriving in America, I got the notification that my mom was critically ill, so I return to Taiwan as soon as I could. My mom passed away a few weeks after I arrived in Taiwan. It was a very hard time for my family and me, but I knew my mom would have wanted me to finish my exchange year and continue learning. After the funeral and discussing it with my dad, I ordered the flight ticket back to the United States.
During the time I was in Taiwan, there were some issues that occurred in my host family in Arlington, so after I communicated with my agency, ISE New York, and Washington representatives, I was placed in another town, Gold Bar, to the Nye family.
This was also a Christian family who has a little baby, who just had his 1st birthday. I like kids, so I looked forward to living with them for the next 6 months. Gold Bar is a tiny town next to Sultan and Monroe. I was placed at Sultan high school, a medium-size high school with approximately 500 students. Since this was a new environment for me, I needed to get used to everything once again, but thanks to this family’s kindness and generousness, I got my life back on track very soon.
I arrived in December, and Christmas coming, my host family took me to many places to experience this grand holiday in America. We visited both host parents’ families and had meals together. What really surprised me was that although I was new and unfamiliar to everyone at that time, they were still very kind and friendly to me, gave me lots of gifts. We also went to the Christmas light show, which was impressive. It was extremely cold during the winter season here, but the lights and the love I received from people have absolutely warmed my heart.
2nd host family & Christmas Light
I missed my friends in Arlington as I came back to the U.S., I couldn’t wait to go to the next ISE exchange student meeting. During the meeting, I got to chat with them and told them why I left America for a while. It was really nice to gather all of us once in a while, so we won’t feel that lonely and scared. Because we can share our American experiences with each other, we can encourage each other and grow together. But since I lived farther now, we couldn’t hang out as much as we used to, so I knew I needed to start meeting some new people, make friends here in Sultan, and try to start over!
There were three other exchange students here in Gold Bar. One of them was from Spain, one from Korea, and another one was from Germany. We became friends very soon and all of us joined the soccer team, sometimes we would hang out together. One-time the exchange student from Germany and I had a quick visit to Seattle with my host family. We went to the Science Museum and looked around the Space Needle, it was really fun. I was also involved in the church here in Gold Bar. The people here took care of me a lot, especially the youth group I was in. The church leaders were very thoughtful and lovely, I hung out with them a lot and I enjoyed it, church really played an important role to help me get used to my new life.
In January, cold winter was coming. I was so excited when I heard the weather forecast said it was going to snow soon. I have never seen snow before in my life, when the school and work were canceled because of the snow, my host family and I went out in the yard, playing with the snow, and of course, building snowmen. This is probably the coolest thing since I came here, my first snow!
Seattle Space Needle
Unfortunately, we’ve only enjoyed these outdoor activities for about three months, the government banned all crowd gatherings due to the coronavirus in February. Soccer season was canceled, so there were no more practices at all, church services were not allowed anymore, and the school was also canceled, there were no Prom and graduation anymore.
Speaking of the school, the classes here were amazing. In contrast to the education I received in Taiwan, classes here are more flexible and vivid, the teacher gives you a lot of freedom to learn stuff in your own way. For example, in chemistry and biology class, we would do experiments in the lab frequently. In history class, the teacher will show us movies, online sources to elaborate how did these historical events happen beyond just letters on the textbook. Presentation is a common way to show your work in the class. It’s also a good chance to learn to cooperate with others, and practice how to express your words to people in a different language.
Once, in history class, we were talking about recent international news, and the teacher asked me to share how Taiwan reacts to the spread of coronavirus, and why it was more successful than the United States. I didn’t waste the chance, I introduced Taiwan to them and told them how our medical system works, and I think I was a pretty decent diplomat!
The education didn’t stop totally after the lockdown of the country, the school turned to online classes, we used zoom meetings to meet up with teachers and kept learning. We still had to do homework, luckily I bought a laptop with me, I was able to keep learning through this period of time.
Although I was upset about all the closure due to the coronavirus, I had to accept it. Some of the exchange students went home soon after the pandemic started to spread around America. For me, after I talked to my dad, we had an agreement that I’ll stay here until I finish my exchange year, and also he thinks it was safer for me to avoid traveling back then.
During the quarantine, I tried to keep myself busy, by keeping my fitness up and practicing my hobbies. For example, I went hiking at the nearby trails once in a while, and sometimes I would jog around the mountains or ride a bike around the community. When staying at home, I also tried to cook some Taiwanese dishes for my host family every week. They also taught me how to bake cookies and cakes. With more time being spent at the house, host family and I will do more house activities such as gardening, mowing the lawns, milking the goats, playing board games, etc. We also went fishing few weeks ago. It was nice to experience all this kind of stuff that I’ve never tried before.
Yeah, that’s basically my exchange year. Although it has been a chaotic year for me, I still learned a lot through this year. I used to be an introvert person, I would only hang out with the people I already know for a long time, afraid to meet new people. Through this exchange program, I came to a new environment without knowing anyone, I had to force myself to meet new people, and I did it! I got to know what American students are like; how they live their life here and how their culture is different than others. A culture of a country includes lots of things, but the core of a culture is always the people. In the beginning, you might experience culture shock, but after you adjust your mindset, you will be impressed, because there are new behaviors and habits that you have not seen before.
Being independent is challenging. From the moment I said goodbye to my family and entered the airport, I was alone, try to adapt it was the hardest part. Being an exchange student made me a more mature person. I represent my country-Taiwan here, so do others. Some people have never heard of Taiwan, and I was the first impression for them of Taiwan, I have to be responsible for all my behaviors and every word I said. For example, the race has always been the most sensitive issue in America, which means you have to think twice before you say anything about other’s color, like if I said something controversial about race, people might think everyone from Taiwan are such racist like me. I’m lucky that people here were very nice to foreigners, so we must show them the same respect, no matter white, African American or Mexicans.
My time in America has opened my eyes and expanded my vision. One of the things that stood out to me the most is the size. Everything is big in the U.S., in Taipei, the city I lived in, it took me less than a five-minute walk to the nearest restaurant, bank, school, mart, etc. Here, you can go nowhere if you don’t have a car, it was this inconvenience that frustrated me for a while. But on the other hand, the size advantage also benefits a lot. For example, there’s a huge stadium, soccer field, and basketball court in the school, for students to enjoy, more importantly, the wilder view makes me feel more comfortable and relaxing. Not like most of the city in Taiwan, everything is so close together, and unconsciously we all lived under ginormous pressure.
In conclusion, this year for me was irreplaceable. There were too many things to share and you can only understand it by experiencing it yourself. My goal is to study graduate school in America in the future. I will work hard to fulfill it, and I will say the year here definitely helped me rethink about my future, and clarify my life plan.
Taiwan X U.S.A.
With Spanish exchange student