Sonia Su (TISLP 2017)
After an eye-opening study abroad experience on the Taiwan Intensive Summer Language Program (TISLP) during the summer of 2017, Sonia Su returned to the United States and reflected on his experiences abroad in an interview with American Councils:
American Councils (AC): How did you first become interested in East Asian language and culture?
Sonia Su : What initially began as a pure desire to understand more about my family’s language and culture has developed into one life-changing experience after another. Over the years, whether it was studying abroad in Shanghai or participating in TISLP, my language-learning journey not only has brought me around the world, but also has transformed my life path and ambitions. After having spent a wonderful week traveling solo in Taiwan previously, I knew I had to return for the hospitality and, of course, the food.
AC: What were your impressions of Taiwan when you arrived?
Sonia: As in other Asian countries, living in Taiwan is incredibly convenient, from the cheap and reliable transportation networks, to the 7-Elevens literally around every block. Arriving in June, one inevitably faces the shock of Taiwan’s summer heat and humidity, but that’s all the more reason to cool off with frequent bubble tea drinks.
AC: Tell us about your experience in the academic program.
Sonia: It was an absolute pleasure to have studied at one of Taiwan’s top universities with some of the best teachers I have ever had. I very much valued the small class sizes, which enabled us to challenge ourselves and speak up more often. The program undoubtedly was rigorous and improved my Mandarin significantly in just eight short weeks.
AC: What type of extracurricular activities did you take part in?
Sonia: Outside of classes, I took advantage of being in the smaller city of Tainan to bike and walk throughout the streets and alleyways, discovering various local cafes and shops to chill, do homework, and chat with the locals. There was something incredibly freeing in spontaneously exploring parts of the city, either by myself or with new friends. Especially at nighttime, after the daytime heat had subsided, I loved taking long, aimless walks, both throughout the streets and alongside other locals at the nearby track field.
AC: What do you believe you got out of this experience?
Sonia: Academically, this experience has directly informed my decision to pursue further study of U.S.-Taiwan relations as a master’s candidate in Asian Studies. Personally, I gained lifelong friendships that I truly value with both fellow Americans and the Taiwanese people.
AC: What are your plans for the future, and how did American Councils help shape them?
Sonia: Having spent such an amazing eight weeks in Taiwan, I knew I had to seek other opportunities that would allow me to return to the country I fell in love with. Fortunately, I received a yearlong Boren Fellowship to continue my Mandarin language study in Taiwan. Such an exciting opportunity would not have been possible without my experience with American Councils.
AC: What was the most interesting/special experience you had living in Taiwan?
Sonia: Taiwan boasts thousands of well-preserved Chinese temples, each having its own deities that are worshipped for various reasons, from getting good grades to getting a boyfriend. On one Saturday morning, I biked to a temple that is home to the Yue Lao God of Marriage and Love. There I met my language partner, who had gone to the lengths to write me a script so that I could pray for a boyfriend in Chinese with very specific details, including my lunar calendar birthday, Tainan dorm room location, American address, and what exact conditions I would like in my “other half.” Afterward, the tradition required me to keep a small red string in my wallet and pat “wishing powder” on my face for the next three days, while waiting for Yue Lao to “hear my prayers,” or when my red string disappears. Would you believe, within weeks, I found a match?
AC: How did the American Councils staff help while you were overseas?
Sonia: Our group was lucky to have had a very friendly and all-around awesome resident director, who helped everyone in some way or another throughout the program. It was great having him take us out to try the local food and even bring some of us on a day trip to the hot springs.
AC: What was it like living with your host family?
Sonia: Living with my host family allowed me to catch an insightful glimpse of the lives of a young Taiwanese family. My host mother took her kid and me to a woodworking shop, where we helped to make our own chopsticks and lunch boxes.
AC: What advice would you offer future students preparing to live in Taiwan?
Sonia: Because some of my best and most memorable experiences were due to spontaneous decisions, I would recommend future program participants to act a little more impulsively when it comes to exploring your country. While keeping in mind basic safety, sometimes the best experiences are unplanned and unexpected.
Sonia in Taiwan while on the Taiwan Intensive Summer Language Program (TISLP).
Published by AC Study Abroad staff in July 2020.