Welcome to a new series, called Tuesdays in Taiwan.
Our oldest daughter, Greta, is currently at Wenzao University in Taiwan. She is working as the Resident Director for a group of American high school students. She has been in Taiwan for approximately 72 hours. And there have already been a number of reportable events which just beg to be shared.
Before heading to graduate school, Greta decided for one last international adventure. While in high school, her Chinese teacher told her about the NSLI-Y program. The National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) is run by the United States State Department. NSLI-Y provides “overseas critical language study opportunities to American youth through merit-based scholarships to spark a lifetime interest in critical foreign languages and cultures.”
That’s a mouth-full, so let me extract the essential phrase: merit-based. Which means free. So thank you for paying your taxes. If anyone reading this has high school age children or grandchildren, I highly recommend looking into NSLI-Y. It is a phenomenally run government program. And I know it isn’t often that those words belong in the same sentence.
Greta studied in Zhuhai, China, in the summer between sophomore and junior year of high school. After graduation, she studied in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, for an entire gap year. These incredible experiences deepened her love of the Chinese culture and formed her future plans. She decided to return to the same program and ferry a group of high school students to Taiwan for the summer.
Now that you have the background, let’s move on to this week’s update. My plan with this series is to curate Greta’s communications and select the most interesting. Or entertaining. I certainly don’t mean any cultural offense with this content. But living in a foreign country is fraught with challenge. And the most effective way to deal with challenge is to laugh about it.
The travel group gathered in San Francisco for several days of orientation. Originally, there were supposed to be 40 students. But only 31 actually made the trip. Thankfully, Greta didn’t lose anyone. Several kids tested positive for Covid or had trouble obtaining a student visa. I can only imagine their disappointment at missing the trip.
During this orientation time, we had several phone calls from Greta regarding the frustrations of paperwork and cell phones. She also asked for some practical advice.
Greta: “Should I allow the kids to carry their own passports?”
Sam and Kathleen (in firm unison, on speaker phone): “NO!”
Greta: “So, I should collect them and keep them?”
Sam and Kathleen (in firm unison, on speaker phone): “YES!”
Greta (with concern): “But what if I lose them?”
Sam and Kathleen (in firm unison, on speaker phone): “DON’T!”
Sam (summarizing): “That’s not an option.”
Welcome to the adult world, dear one.
After the 13-hour flight, Greta successfully shepherded the group through customs and Covid protocols. Taiwan maintains strict entry requirements which include the generous use of spray sanitizer. Greta reported that she was first Covid tested. Then she stood like the letter “T” and was sprayed all over with sanitizer. Her luggage was also hosed downed. The group proceeded to a quarantine hotel where they were locked into their rooms.
Initially, they thought the quarantine would last 3 days. But Covid regulations are unpredictable and confusing. It turns out that they will be staying in their hotel rooms for 7 days. At least Greta enjoys her view.
But has mixed feelings about the seaweed-flavored Cheetos.
There have been several video chats.
And we receive a running commentary about the meals delivered outside her hotel room.
Some dishes are better then others. Here’s her evaluation of this particular offering: “I love Taiwanese food but man quarantine food is the worst! Here’s a sandwich with butter bread, cheese, ham, eggs, sweet white sauce, and weirdly seasoned chicken. I couldn’t stomach it so I tried a piece of bread instead. All was fine until I discovered that the bread was stuffed with meat floss 😂”
Greta has made small decisions to vary the days. She sits on one bed during the day and uses the other bed at night for sleep. She’s also using fitness apps to workout. Nevertheless, quarantine days must be long if Greta is watching golf with Chinese commentary.
And studying the hotel evacuation map. She made the following observation: “Check out all the room numbers missing because of superstition.” Apparently, there is no 4th floor in the hotel. Angela noted that there is a 4th floor, but they won’t call it by its proper numerical name.
One final message: “I received a text from the Taiwanese government informing me to wash my hands if I touch the snot or saliva of another person (which is impossible given that I am in isolation). They also wanted me to know that they care about me. Oh and I lived through an earthquake! It’s been an eventful morning.”
It’s going to be an eventful summer.