The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences

Diana D'Souza '23 RGLP Reflection: Bridging Intercultural Awareness from America to Taiwan

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I had my first international travel experience during a two-week high school class trip to Taiwan. After a sixteen-hour flight, we explored eleven major cities, each strikingly different from my hometown in central Jersey. Although we did frequent some tourist attractions (making pineapple cakes, bargaining at night markets, paddling at Sun Moon Lake), there were several cultural barriers that brought me out of my comfort zone. Most obviously, there was the language barrier; I had been studying Chinese since freshman year of high school, but I was still uncomfortable with the language. This was dangerous, indeed, especially in the night markets, where sellers could pick out accents and price gouge non-natives. My friends and I adapted by emptying our wallets beforehand, showing the vendor we had no money, and they’d usually agree to sell at a lower price.

Eating was also an entirely different experience in Taiwan. Instead of ordering separate meals, everyone ate family-style at a large, circular banquet table. Furthermore, there wasn’t a concept of “breakfast” food—a typical morning meal would include rice, dumplings, roasted duck, and a whole fish. As for lunch, I have vivid memories of eating at a local Taiwanese restaurant, where my teacher pointed to an innocent looking plate of “cow.” I skeptically took a bite, and he later informed me I had eaten cow intestines (honestly, not too bad). I was also hesitant to try a Taiwan delicacy, stinky tofu; however, I was able to forgo judgement, try a bite, and engage with diverse foods.

The final cultural barrier that I encountered in Taiwan was the notion of race and skin color. As someone who is ethnically Vietnamese-Indian and nationally American, I was significantly taller, darker, and foreign-looking compared to the Taiwanese people. In fact, a five-year-old native stopped me on the street to ask me, “Where are you from?” When I responded, “America,” she clarified her question: “No, where are your [parents] from?” Reflecting on the trip, I would have better navigated my time in Taiwan had I been in college. I wish I could have applied the lessons I had learned from the RGLP Sharahad Simulation to my travels in Taiwan. During the simulation, I was uncomfortable immersing myself in a new (albeit fictional) culture of religion, small talk, and Zoom conduct. When I participate in the Beijing LSA in Fall 2022, I will shed that hesitancy and fully immerse myself in the culture by actively seeking out unfamiliar situations or interactions.

Written by Diana D'Souza, a member of the Spring 2021 Cohort of the Rockefeller Global Leadership Program

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