At 1 a.m., a plane took off from San Francisco International Airport. It was a direct flight to Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, and carried over 50 Mandarin students at Berkeley High School along with parent chaperones and BHS Mandarin teacher Xin Chen. Students in all of the Mandarin classes were eligible for the week-long trip and over 50 took the opportunity. The flight departed on March 31 and was a little over 13 hours long.
Everyone arrived on Saturday morning ready for a full day of exploration. Upon disembarking, everyone quickly piled onto two buses and headed to Sun Moon Lake (called Rì Yuè Tán in Mandarin), a popular destination located in central Taiwan known for its natural beauty. The bus, equipped with purple seats and karaoke, would be the main source of transportation around the island.
Taiwan takes five and a half hours to drive from top to bottom, and the class got to explore the entire island. They visited a temple in Taitung City, went to a mochi factory and made mochi themselves with an indigenous tribe, took boat rides, and visited multiple street markets. In Taiwan, street markets are a big part of the culture and they sell many types of Taiwanese and Chinese foods, as well as desserts, jewelry, clothing, and candy. Students enjoyed drinks from the countless boba shops selling beverages for less than two US dollars. In addition to all the food students were allowed to buy at the street market, all of the trip’s main meals were served family style at ten-seat tables. The students were able to taste a large variety of classic Taiwanese dishes while learning their names in Mandarin.
On the sixth day of the trip, students met with students from a Taiwanese high school. The Taiwanese high schoolers had been taking English classes at their school, so they were able to effectively communicate with BHS students and teach them about different gods and goddesses in Taiwanese culture. One god in particular was the god of love, Yue Lao. It’s said that he has possession over an invisible red thread which ties two people who are destined to be married together. While they were at the temple, BHS students were allowed to partake in the tradition of circling pieces of cut red string around incense for good luck in love.
Overall, the activities were outstanding, but Sonia Hochchild, a freshman in Mandarin 3, thought that waking up at 3:00am to go watch the sunrise from Ali Xian Mountain was the ultimate highlight. “It was such a great experience and it was so pretty and such a good way to appreciate the county’s beauty,” she said. Watching the sunrise on the mountain is one of the main tourist attractions in Taiwan, and Chen had to book the tickets far in advance to reserve the opportunity.
Taiwan has a tropical climate and beautiful scenery. Maya Hammel, another freshman in Mandarin 3, said her favorite part was “the theme park and roller coaster we went on on the first day and all the pretty nature we got to see.”
Chen partnered with Global Devotion Association (GDA), which specializes in culture exchanges in East Asia, to coordinate the trip. Julia Chen, who has at GDA for six years said these cultural exchange trips are important because “if you are limited to a single country, you cannot expand your vision as well and you cannot experience different cultures and ways of life.” When asked, she said the Mandarin class’ trip to Taiwan is one of the best ways for students to deepen their understanding of the language and also to learn how to comprehend it in a more interactive way. Julia Chen really enjoyed leading BHS students around Taiwan and is excited to continue to do more cultural exchanges in the future.