By Ao Yu Hsiao
One morning last fall, I got out of bed with the excitement of getting breakfast. The moment I got out, I realized that there are no traditional Taiwanese breakfasts in the US—no Chinese omelet, Shao Bing (baked wheat cake) or You Tiao (Chinese cruller), but merely eggs, sandwiches and pancakes. I am 10,904 kilometers (6775 miles) away from my home, Taiwan.
There are more than 2,000 international students studying at UC Santa Barbara. As an international student from Taiwan, I had to adapt to the new environment around me. I had to get used to the fact that the foods around here are not the same and there are different languages spoken here other than my mother tongue. What surprised me the most is that a car is needed to go almost everywhere, unlike the convenient public transportation in Taiwan.
Although I enjoyed experiencing the diverse culture and people on campus, a sense of homesickness would always strike me when I talked to my parents on the phone. I felt lost and disconnected from my own culture.
To reconnect myself, I decided to attend a course on Taiwan Literature from the East Asian Cultural Studies department. The course was taught by professor Kuo-Ch’ing Tu, director of the Center of Taiwan Studies. The course gave me a better understanding of how major writers influenced the Taiwanese people, which is something that I didn’t know even though I had been living in Taiwan for many years.
One of the Taiwanese writers I learned about was Pai Hsien-yung, who had introduced Western-style modernism into Chinese writing. I was fascinated by how he wrote about the theme of the wandering Chinese and how people adapt to their new life far away from their hometown. As an international student, I could easily relate to the emotions of the characters in these works. And it turned out that the writer had been a professor of Chinese Literature at UC Santa Barbara until he retired in 1994.
Taking the course helped me rediscover Taiwan Literature from a new angle. To fully understand Taiwan Literature, one should not only study it from the Chinese perspective, but also from a global perspective. Taiwan is an island that was influenced by many countries due to colonialism, which led to it forming its own distinct culture.
Similarly, I am influenced by the diverse cultures around me while studying at UCSB. In the process of learning, I also reconnected to my own culture by meeting people here who are from my country. Now, I find myself not merely content to rediscover my own culture, but having a new goal of exposing Taiwan culture to others at UCSB.
Ao Yu Hsiao is a fourth-year international transfer student from Taiwan, majoring in Statistics at UC Santa Barbara.