First and foremost, I think that if the goal of this program is to attract young people of Taiwanese origin to learn about Taiwan and think about coming back to work in the future, it did have its success with me. The last time I came back to Taiwan, I had found myself feeling like a complete foreigner and believing that the idea of me coming back to Taiwan to work is almost foolish, as I felt that there is too much of a cultural divide between what I have grown up with and the customs that exist in the Asian culture. Nevertheless, the eight weeks that I have been there, especially because of the local Taiwanese people with whom I have worked and gotten to know, has made me re-evaluate my position and is seriously considering going back and hopefully find a suitable job there, at least for a few years.
My first impression with TTT was one of pleasant surprise. During orientation, I felt like an honored guest, an undeserved one at that, because the question that keeps arising in my mind is, what did I do to deserve this special kind of treatment? But what I have learned, while working in Taiwan for these eight weeks was that a part of it is, in fact, keeping with the Taiwanese tradition, where a guest is treated with extra consideration to ensure their comfort. But this also leads to my next question: am I a guest here or do I belong here? My answer was slowly revealed throughout my internship.
I think one of the most important impacts that TTT has made on me is finding a resolution for my identity crisis. I’ve always felt that I had strong ties with Taiwan. When I was 7, half way through grade one, my parents uprooted our family and went to New York. For two full years while I was there, I had refused to learn English and cried about wanting to come home. “You are home,” my mother would tell me. But I would tell her that this was not my home, my home is in Taiwan. In grade 3, when our family moved to Canada, I began to slowly immerse into the North American culture; however, when people ask me what my background is, I would always tell them proudly that I am Taiwanese; I can speak Chinese fluently, I can even read fully, I love Chinese literature. Nevertheless, two years ago, when I did come back to Taiwan and met some Taiwanese people, I was told that I am a foreigner (外國人) and, for the first time, heard my own accent when I spoke Mandarin. When I go out in Taiwan and talk to a sales clerk, they would ask me “where are you from?” The answer “Taiwan” seems to be no longer acceptable. But can a外國人be able to work in a Taiwanese institute? Will I be able to make any contributions to Academia Sinica?
During my internship here at the Academia Sinica, working at the Program for Historical Demography, the professor for whom I worked, Professor Yang, had put me on two major projects (and some minor ones) and each of them made me realize that I did have something to contribute. My first major project was researching on foot binding. Throughout the eight weeks, I pored through both English and Chinese books and journal articles on the subject and was able to put together a draft research paper as an aid for Professor Yang’s final paper. There were two things I felt that really aided in this research. First was that I was able to do the research in both Chinese and English and compiled the research paper in English. One of the important things that Academia Sinica wants to promote is publications of journal articles in English in order to maintain an international status in all fields. Having compiled and translated a paper with a thesis and proof all in English is an important step for this. Another thing that aided in this research was the fact that I have already written several research papers throughout my Masters degree, with one pending publication, so that Professor Yang and I could work relatively fast in terms of knowing what type of material to look for this type of format.
The second major project I was assigned to work on was giving seminars on writing academic papers (both for journals and conferences). Having obtained my Masters in English Rhetoric (英語修辭) while having had many lessons and experiences throughout my degree on how to write effective academic papers, I was able to put together some useful presentations for the Masters and PhD students on writing English papers. This experience made me realize that I can do more than just teach English in Taiwan, but that I can provide very specific and useful knowledge in the academic realm.
In sum, working on these two projects at Academia Sinica made me realize that I do have a place in Taiwan. While I was in Academia Sinica, I did not feel like a 外國人. I felt like anyone who was working in Academia Sinica and made some wonderful friends while I was there, with whom I am continuing keeping in touch with. At no point did my co-workers made me feel like I am not like them (though they are sometimes extra nice to me because I felt a little homesick and make fun of my accent and grammatical errors from time to time) and they all came to support me during our final presentation at the Technology Building. They told me how proud of me they were and made me feel like I really did make a contribution to the work that they are doing.
So in answer to my question of whether I am a guest here or I belong here, I have to say that my internship in Taiwan has transformed my experience of from being a guest to actually feeling at home in Taiwan. I felt that not only was I able to contribute to a working environment in Taiwan, but I personally have gained so much in terms of learning about the people, the culture, and the history of Taiwan in the past eight weeks that the maximum words allowed in this essay cannot possibly sum up. And last, but not least, what I am missing about Taiwan at this moment, is not only the shopping and the food (which were both unforgettable), but the people in Taiwan—their cleverness, their determination to continuously improve their lives and culture, and, most of all, their kindness. The idea of coming back to Taiwan to work no longer feels foolish, but desirable. Thank you for this wonderful experience.