Category Archives: Cultural Exchange

Teaching in Taiwan

By Tanya Chen

“Good morning, teacher!” Twenty-three little bodies greeted me in English with heavy Mandarin accents. Looking at their gleaming smiles that seemed larger than they were, I couldn’t help but smile. Compared to our first meeting, many things have changed.

On my first day of teaching, I entered the room with a sunny and exuberant persona that quickly dimmed when it was paralleled by blank faces and defensive stares. For a couple of 4-foot kids, they sure held a lot of hostility. But the inner-teacher within me refused to get discouraged that easily. I realized that by growing up in rural Taiwan, many of the values these kids had were not the same ones I possessed. They lived sheltered lifestyles and many had never even seen a plane. As someone with an English accent from a foreign land, I must have appeared frightening.

With each day, I began devoting my time to not only teaching English but also furthering my knowledge of their world. From conversations at lunch and sly observations, I learned that my students were obsessed with a British pig. In an effort to make the task of learning English less intimidating, I swapped out my Google Slides with a more amusing theme: Peppa the Pig. The lesson plans I came prepared with were altered to include underlying examples relevant to Peppa.

As I learned more about their interests, I began to connect the gap between our two realms. These small efforts proved successful when I saw their growth in confidence. Gradually, I became their friend, not just their teacher.

When I submitted my application for this month-long teaching program, I had spent months preparing formulaic lessons. I was confident that the warmth I had made those lessons with could be conveyed into the interpersonal relationships between me and my students.

However, lesson plans could only do so much. This experience has taught me the importance of maintaining personal skills when faced with the task of forging real, human connections.

In a changing, globalizing world filled with differing perspectives, empathy and understanding have continued to play an increasing role in how I develop my personal and work relations. As a young adult faced with opportunities that will invariably lay outside of my comfort zone, this experience has positively impacted how I communicate and perceive others.

During my short time at USC, this has become extremely evident. Having lived in an ethnic enclave my whole life, I lived in a sheltered bubble that prevented me from reaching out to people who are different than me. Upon my arrival at a school as diverse as USC, I have interacted with peers from all across the globe in addition to individuals who come from different ends of the socioeconomic spectrum. Rather than defining these interactions through stereotypes or our differences, I dedicate myself to finding similarities and connections that bring us together as two individuals who each have a unique perspective to bring. As the year progresses, I am excited to see how my experiences will continue to enrich my interactions.

Featured image from Wikimedia Commons

Tanya Chen is a freshman studying Business Administration. She is from Southern California and enjoys taking advantage of the SoCal beaches. After teaching Mandarin to kids in underprivileged communities, she realized she had a strong passion for social work. On campus, she is involved with LA Community Impact and a Marshall Research Assistant. In her free time she enjoys watching film analysis videos, designing graphics, and playing with her dog, Mochi.

I’ve been trying to make more Korean food lately.

By Jacqueline Choe

“Trying” is the key word in this title. So is “lately”–I have never made much Korean food before, aside from instant Shin Ramyun with green onions and cheese (the best) and curry rice, which isn’t exclusively Korean and therefore barely counts. It’s hard to learn how to make Korean meals, namely because a) I wasn’t a spectacular cook to begin with, b) the nearest Asian supermarkets are a trip away if you don’t have a car, and c) nothing ever is, and probably never will be, as good as the food my dad and grandma can make.

I grew up in a Korean household with Korean parents making Korean food; I have very fond childhood memories of digging into those packages of green, white, and pink rice cakes with sweet juice in the middle of them (I still have no idea what those are called). We still eat tteokguk (rice cake soup) every New Year’s, which my grandma makes with just the right amount of salt and egg; her tteokguk is probably, legitimately, my favorite food. The most meaningful thing I did this summer was sit down over a hot bowl of sullungtang with my father as we got to know each other a little bit better, one trip to the restaurant at a time. But what is it about food that makes it so powerful?

It took a while for me to notice, but the act of cooking itself is a bizarrely human occupation. It’s an expression of creativity AND an homage to tradition, a means to an end that is sustenance and survival AND a powerful social connector. It’s a foundational block of culture, and of companionship. Many of our memories with our loved ones might be formed over a dinner table, through the vivid weaving of scents and textures that never really escape us. Food is the part of our identity that tells us where we come from, regarding our relationships, our heritage, and our sense of home.

And for someone like me, a college student a bit far from home, who is learning how to build a relationship with herself as well as with others, and who has just entered the horrifying ordeal that is her twenties (learning one day at a time that her parents and grandparents are only growing older, and that if nobody learns her grandmother’s tteokguk recipe in the coming years then something very meaningful will have been lost–cooking is a way of keeping those connections alive. After all, the connections we cherish are part of what defines who we are.

If you’re ever homesick, try cooking something from your culture or hometown, or just something your loved ones made for you once. It’ll make you proud, even if it doesn’t turn out so great. Or better yet, try cooking with a group! I’m getting together with my friends sometime next week–we plan on making gimbap, among some other dishes from other cultures that will not be nearly as good as our families made it but will be good enough for us. And maybe we’ll play some games and have some conversation while we eat, who knows?

As long as there’s cooking involved…I think it’ll be one of those days that I’ll take with me even after it’s over.

Featured image from Wikimedia Commons

Jacqueline is a junior, born and raised in the suburbs near Seattle, Washington. She is a Linguistics and East Asian Languages major, as well as an avid reader and writer, so she loves everything to do with the English language–and all other languages as well! Currently she is studying Japanese, and plans to start next with Korean. In her spare time, aside from reading and writing, she likes to draw, watch movies, learn new recipes, and volunteer for various educational programs.

Being a Conversation Partner

By Virginia Bullington

I really enjoyed last semester as a conversation partner. Both of the people I engage with on a regular basis are Korean graduate students, and learning about their transition to the United States has been totally fascinating. Neither of my students had lived in this country prior to their arrival at USC a few short months ago, and we have discussed the trials of being immersed in a totally new language and culture. Oftentimes, I am able to relate to this, as I studied abroad in Chile for a semester when I was a sophomore. However, I have found that there are several differences between our experiences. First of all, learning English as a native Korean speaker is far more challenging than learning Spanish as an English speaker. This is obviously because English and Spanish use the same alphabet and both share Latin roots, whereas English and Korean have no real links at all. YoungJoon, one of my students explained how for Koreans, it is fairly simple to learn Japanese as a Korean speaker if you are willing to dedicate a year or two studying. English, on the other hand, requires far more time and discipline to master.

 A popular tactic of both of my students to practice English regularly is to watch TV shows and movies in English. However, this only aids in listening and understanding, which is why my partners have sought a forum where they can practice their speaking skills. I was lucky in this respect when I studied abroad, because I stayed with a host family and was thus forced to converse in Spanish on a daily basis. As graduate students, neither of my partners live with English speakers so must seek outside chances to converse. 

 One of my favorite things to talk about with my partners is their views on Los Angeles and what they do for fun in the city. It is such a sprawling and diverse city with so much going on; there are events and activities for everyone. At the same time, because the city is so huge, it can be intimidating to navigate at first. I know this first hand, as after living here for four years, I feel that I have only recently begun to feel truly at home in LA. 

Central to my love of this place is the amazing food that the city has to offer, and I have had a lot of fun trading restaurant and cafe recommendations with my partners. Korean BBQ is one of my favorite things, and we have had long debates on preferred LA locations. According to both of my partners, Koreatown resembles Korea…. But thirty years ago. One of my partners described it as feeling like a time capsule, before Korea was an extremely globalized hub with skyscrapers, it looked very much like Koreatown with strip malls and small family owned businesses. 

Talking with my partners is always a treat because I feel like I get to travel and learn from their experiences and perspectives. Our conversations are symbiotic too, as I have noticed my partners progress in the fluidity of their speaking as they grow more comfortable. 

Featured image from Pxhere

Virginia is a senior majoring in Narrative Studies. She grew up on an island 30 miles off the coast of Massachusetts called Nantucket. Through high school and college she has traveled as much as possible, studying for extended periods in South America, as well as visiting Europe, Hong Kong, and Azerbaijan. As Virginia is interested in learning about other people and cultures, she has experience tutoring students in the English language, both one-on-one at her local high school, and as a literacy volunteer at her library. Virginia loves being outside, especially going to the beach, because it reminds her of home.