Host a foreign exchange student from Taiwan
A true representation of the expression when East meets West, Taiwan was once known by the Portuguese as the ‘The Beautiful Island’. Located off the coast of China, its mountainous rugged coastlines are easily accessible by the high-speed trains, combining nature with technology.
By understanding more about our exchange students’ lives back home in Taiwan, it will help you gain insight into their culture and background and prepare you for a successful hosting experience. Let’s start by learning about what’s typical in Taiwanese communication, home life, education and food, as described by our program participants.
Students begin school around 7:30 am and finish at around 5:30 pm. Attending cram schools after school until 9:30 pm is common. These are specialized schools that prepare students for high school and university entrance exams. Students may spend up to 16 hours a day, seven days a week, for a full year preparing for college entrance exams. Taiwanese students study English grammar in school, but rarely have a chance to speak it. Their written skills are generally much stronger than their speaking. Students are required to repeat their exchange year upon returning to Taiwan, however, studying abroad is seen as a competitive advantage over peers and a great life experience.
Tip From EF: Education in Taiwan is taken very seriously, and students tend to prioritize academics over social and family activities. Speak with your student about the differences at their American school and encourage a balance between academics and activities. It will be helpful for them to sit down with a counselor or registrar when getting set up at school to know their options and the expectations of them in class.
Taiwan’s official language is Mandarin Chinese. However, some residents also speak Taiwanese. Communication in Taiwan is quiet, respectful and less direct. People are generally friendly, generous and reserved. Students may not interact with their parents when they are home together, as they are expected to study and get good grades. Much of their time studying in their room. The traditional greeting in Taiwan is a nod of the head, wave of hand, bow and smile or shaking of hands. Kissing or hugging is not a common greeting.
Tip From EF: Students may appear to understand or agree with something they don’t because they don’t want to offend you. Ask open-ended questions instead of questions that can be answered with “yes” or “no.” This will help encourage conversation. Be aware that your student may not feel comfortable verbalizing that they disagree, so be sure to rephrase in different ways to determine their true perspective. It may be helpful to ask your student to write down any concerns or questions as they grow more comfortable with the language.
Ni hao ma?
How are you?
Breakfast in Taiwan is generally heavy. Steamed buns, rice, fried bread sticks, breakfast burger and fried egg pancake rolls are common. Milk tea or soy milk is usually served with breakfast. Dinner is considered the main meal and generally includes soup, rice, meat and vegetable dishes. Dining out at restaurants or outdoor night markets is convenient and popular. Rice is served with almost every meal. Most foods and vegetables are stir-fried, and sauces are an important part of the meal. People in Taiwan do not eat large portions of food at one time.
Tip From EF: Food in Taiwan is different than in America, so allow your student time to settle in and talk to them about the types of foods they prefer. Scheduling a few meals together as a family each week can make the student feel welcomed and at home. Encouraging them to help with grocery shopping and meal preparation will also help them adjust.
The Taiwanese respect their elders and value relationships with extended family. It is common for several generations to live in the same household. Access to public transportation is common in Taiwan. Students spend their time studying, therefore they are not expected to help with household chores. Removing shoes before entering a home is common as is wearing slippers inside the house. Taiwan is densely populated so living in apartments is common.
Tip From EF: Sit down with your student at the beginning of the year and go over all rules, schedules and expectations; write them down. Be sure to explain and demonstrate how to do any chores and use the washer and dryer. Take time to explain how transportation will work and the importance of curfews and checking in with you. Lack of public transportation will be a difficult adjustment for your student. Help them to understand the best way to get around and how to communicate with you about this. Make time to sit down once a week for the first month to discuss differences they have noticed.
Wo hen gaoxing jian dao wo de taiwan jiaohuan xuesheng!
I am so excited to meet my Taiwanese exchange student!
Ni you meiyou qu guo da bei?
Have you ever been to Tapei?
Hosting advice from our Taiwanese exchange students
“I wish my host family knew that in Taiwan we are asked 2-3 times before giving a true answer on whether we want more food. It is polite to say no first.”
Tip From EF: Start by asking the student 2-3 times if they want something, and expect them to decline. When they do decline the first time, remind them that in America we normally only ask once. Point out that they might miss out on something they really do want.
“I wish my host family knew using a lot of eye contact was an adjustment for me when I came to the US.”
Tip From EF: Understand that making eye contact makes your student uncomfortable; in their culture, lack of eye contact is perceived as a sign of respect towards adults. Be patient and talk openly with them while they adjust to American norms of communicating.
“I wish my host family knew that I stayed up late studying for tests and doing homework. This is why I didn’t spend more time with my host family. In Taiwan we spend many hours per day studying at school and late into the night at home.”
Tip From EF: Talk to your student and encourage a balance. School is not their only priority on exchange. Work together to make a schedule that allows your student ample time to complete schoolwork but blocks off specific time for family activities. Taiwanese students often struggle with free time because they aren’t accustomed to structuring it and holding themselves accountable. Help your student by teaching them best practices for time management.