Foreign exchange student soon to return home to Taiwan
Liu: 'I’m sure there will be reverse culture shock'
For Sherry Liu, leaving Pierce City and returning to her home in Taichung, Taiwan, will be bittersweet.
“When I first came to Pierce City, it seemed like it would be forever [before going home], but now, it’s going really fast,” she said.
At 17, Liu spent her junior year at Pierce City High School, experiencing a lifestyle radically different from her previous experiences in Taiwan.
“American classes are very different,” she said. “My class in Taichung had 55 students, and instead of us going to different classrooms, teachers would rotate in to ours.”
In Taiwan, students start learning the English language in kindergarten, so Liu had a good grasp on her communication skills prior to applying for the program, at her mother’s urging.
“She wanted to be an exchange student, but wasn’t able to be, so she encouraged me to apply,” she said. “She wanted me to have that experience.”
Although she has enjoyed the adventure, for the most part, there are some costs to taking a gap year while still in school.
“I’ll have to repeat my junior year when I return,” she said. “My school won’t accept this year because the classes and studies are very different.”
Coming to Pierce City, with a population of 1,270 residents, compared to the 2,709,764 people living and working in Taichung City, Liu experienced a decided culture gap.
“Here, everything is open,” she said. “You can see cows from your window. In Taichung, we live in a very tall building. It’s very hard to see the sky.
“The weather here is very different, too. I had never seen snow before. Or hail. The thunderstorms are extreme.”
While living in rural America, Liu has experienced a major difference in social activities and foods, as well.
“Here, you have to drive everywhere to go to a restaurant,” she said. “In Taiwan, I would just take a bus or walk to the stores. We share a culture with the Chinese, and the Asian food here is not authentic. It’s sweet and oily. In Taiwan, my friends and I will often grab dinner from a street vendor.
“We will also go to the night markets, where there are open air food stalls, games, shopping. But I will miss Mexican food, the nachos and tacos. We don’t have that in Taiwan.”
While she has stayed in touch with her friends via social media, Liu admits they have drifted apart during her time away.
“We’re not in the same environment, not shared the same experiences,” she said. “They will also be a year ahead of me in school, so I will have to make new friends when I return to classes.”
Her friends will likely be focused on studying in their final year of school, preparing for a college entrance test.
“Our school hours are very long and stressful,” she said. “Students there don’t really enjoy life. We have to wear uniforms, while here, everyone is allowed to dress how they want, individualized. It’s unique not to have to wear a uniform.”
Liu found most of her classes at Pierce City easy.
“My favorites were psychology and western civilization, they were both fun. I’m kind of a nerd. In trig, I felt like some of the students didn’t catch on as quickly as I did, and that was sometimes frustrating. The teachers here have very different methods.”
Since she didn’t enroll at Pierce City until November, after classes had already started, Liu felt apprehensive about making friends.
“I’m not super outgoing,” she said. “But people were really friendly and everyone here has been really nice to me.”
She also joined the school’s softball team.
“I’m not athletic, but this is such an American sport, and I wanted the experience. Practice was hard, but all of my teammates would sit in the dugout to cheer me on and encourage me.”
Although she is taking back a number of American experiences, she’s also leaving some of her Chinese culture with her host family.
“They allowed me to cook for them on Chinese New Year,” she said. “I made a hot pot. I also gave them red envelopes and shared some of the Chinese customs for New Year.”
A hot pot involves a simmering metal pot of stock at the center of the dining table in which thinly sliced meat, leaf vegetables, mushrooms, wontons, egg dumplings, tofu, and seafood are cooked and then eaten with a dipping sauce.
The tradition of bestowing red envelopes, containing money, to family members is a way to send good wishes and luck to the recipients.
“I’m really happy they allowed me to introduce a bit of Chinese culture,” Liu said. “I also taught them calligraphy, a decorative handwriting skill.
“Jeanell and Ryan have a very close family and I’ve loved watching how they interact with their children. They have a very big family, and everyone cares for each other.”
Liu said she sometimes wonders if taking a gap year was worth it, but in the end, decided it was a special experience and she would encourage others to do something similar.
“It’s turned out really good,” she said. “Because my whole year didn’t go smoothly — I had a change of host families — I was able to finally relax and learned to just be myself. I enjoy new experiences, I’m eager to try new things.
“I would encourage other students to apply to the program. It’s a cool experience to come to another country, but the best part is having a family in another country.”
Reading, writing and arithmetic are not the only things Liu has learned in the past several months.
“I’ve grown, and learned a lot about myself,” she said. “I know that circumstances might be bad at the time, but I will get through it. When I first got here, I would make judgements about others, but I’ve learned to embrace our differences.”
While Liu didn’t get to cross every item off her “to-do” list, she did manage to accomplish quite a bit while living with her host family.
“Some things shouldn’t be crossed off because I would have to be living in a much bigger city, like St. Louis or Kansas City,” she said. “But the space here, the nature, is really nice. I’m going to miss that. I’ve take a lot of photos to show friends and family back home.
“I have mixed feelings about returning to Taiwan. I’m excited to go home, but I’m very sad to leave. I’m going to miss my host family, the big spaces, my brother, Mekhi, the dogs, and the friends I’ve made in here.
Liu said when she goes back, she plans to stay in contact with her host family and, hopefully, return to visit one day.
In preparation for her return to Taiwan, the Stockton family is hosting a goodbye party for Liu on Sunday.
“I know it’s the same day as graduation,” she said. “But, with my brother’s ball schedule, it’s the only weekend open before I have to leave. I just hope people can come.”
Liu will have a few days between the end of classes on Thursday and her departure date of June 1.
“I want to spend time at the creek, play with my brothers and spend time connecting with my host family,” she said. “I’m grateful to have had this opportunity.”