Travel Gives One a New Perspective: Lessons from Taiwan By: Lawson Bishop – 11th Grade

Let me take you on a journey to an island called Formosa. When explorers first saw Taiwan they shouted, “Formosa!” Formosa means beautiful island, and I had the blessing to experience this beautiful island firsthand. I was selected to attend The 7th International High School Youth Leadership Conference in Changhua, Taiwan for eight days in October 2012. The committee invited eleven students from Japan, four students from Canadian students, and two students (including myself) from high schools in the USA. Teachers accompanied the international students, and Mrs. Janine Maxwell, founder of Heart for Africa, was our US adult sponsor.

We gathered together, along with students from Changhua Senior High School, to discuss ways we, as students, can effect change in the world.  The conference theme was “Think Globally, Act Locally.” We each wrote essays prior to our arrival and gave a speech in front of the other student representatives. Afterwards, our audience asked questions and problem solved. At the end of the conference we gathered in a huge theater at the high school to watch and perform various forms of entertainment. There were over 3,000 students in attendance. We watched dance teams and musicians from Changhua Senior High perform dances, songs, skits and acrobatics. They had been preparing their entertainment all year and it was an amazing site to behold. Emily, the other USA representative, and I taught the students the Macarena. We had many Taiwanese, Japanese and Canadian students join us on stage to dance. It was hilarious, and I am happy to say someone got it on video.

The next three days of our trip were spent trying to “live out” our desire to effect change as we walked 100KM to raise funds for fresh African drinking water. Over one hundred students walked thestreets and traveled to various cities throughout Taiwan on a 100KM walk asking people to donate money. All funds raised were donated to Heart for Africa to provide water for Project Canaan in Swaziland, Africa (Specifically for the El Roi Baby home which houses seventeen abandoned babies).  People in Taiwan are so generous. We walked the streets in groups of seven Taiwanese students, two “foreigners” (as anyone not from Taiwan was called) and one adult. Every group had a box to gather the money. My job was to smile and nod as one of the Taiwanese students asked pedestrians for money in Mandarin Chinese. Apparently we were very successful, but I still have not confirmed the total we raised.

The last day and a half of our trip we were able to sight see in Taipei. I saw the second tallest building in the world, Taipei 101, and got to go to the eighty-ninth floor. The building has a total of one hundred and one floors and the fastest elevator in the world. We visited the international affairs building and the Taipei night market. We also visited Freedom Square.

There was so much about Taiwan that was culturally different from the US. Mannerisms of people were very diverse, but I think the most unique aspect was the food. Taiwan has had many different countries ruling it over its history, including China and Japan. Additional diversity occurred due to the exodus from communist China in the 1940’s and 1950’s.   Therefore, the food is a mixture of many different cultures. I tried lots of foods I had never experienced before, but the most adventurous eating experience took place at a beautiful restaurant in Taipei.  During dinner they put out a wide array of ethnic delicacies including a whole chicken (head, beak and feet), an entire fish, a full plate of whole shrimp, and many other Taiwanese foods. In an attempt to shock us, one of the Japanese students reached out with his chopsticks, took the eyeball out of the fish, and ate it whole.  He convinced a Canadian student to eat the other eye. The meal was fantastic, but the food was something I would never get in the US. I loved being able to see and “get a real taste” of Taiwanese culture.

During my time at Changhua, I lived in a host home. My 16-year-old student host, Fanny Hung, took us out in Taiwan so we could experience what her life was really like. We went to a local restaurant where I was not brave enough to try the food, but we enjoyed the company of Fanny and some of her friends. Afterwards, they took us to hand paint lanterns and fans. My painting skills were not very pretty, so Fanny took over painting my lantern after I had effectively butchered it by trying to write Mandarin Chinese characters on one side. The next day after we walked, Fanny took us to a flower festival. We rode in a four-person rickshaw with her younger cousin. It was very fun, and we snacked on Taiwanese sweets in the shape of SpongeBob. That night we met up with Fanny’s friends again and went out to dinner right next to the high-speed railroad.

I felt like a superstar while I was in Taiwan. They were so polite and hospitable. Most importantly, they were dedicated, passionate, and wanted to help the people in Swaziland, Africa even though most of them may never travel or set foot on African land. They showed determination that I strongly admired, and I hope to be able to match one day. My trip was truly life changing. I experienced a culture completely different from my own, and got to share my faith with people who do not know Jesus. I met people who were full of generosity, kindness, compassion, and determination. Lastly, I heard ideas of people from around the world on ways to change and better our world – it gave me a new improved perspective. I learned that the world is a very small place due to today’s technology.  I learned that together, we as students can make a difference.  One way that we can begin to change the world together is to travel on a mission trip this summer.  Students and teachers from Pisgah will be headed to Swaziland, Africa in July 2012 and we will work along Taiwanese students to make a difference in a country wrecked by poverty.  Now that is a connected world!

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