I am a rat. Not the mischievous, dirty creature that makes people shriek in horror when they come across one. But, rather, I am a rat by the Chinese Zodiac – the first animal to successfully cross the river to the Jade Emperor, as told in several myths. What makes me so proud to be a rat is the fact that I was born to a Taiwanese mother, and that I have relatives who live there today and value these traditions. Almost every summer from the time I was born, I have been lucky enough to travel overseas to visit my relatives in Taiwan. While I must admit that it is a tough transition from the more modern, perfect-weathered, diverse, California, getting the privilege to experience such a different country has inspired me to step out of my comfort zone and try new things, appreciate where I come from, have confidence to take action, and take pride in who I am as a person.
As a little kid, I didn’t always like Taiwan. The unbearably hot, humid weather made my nose bleed. The 40+ mosquito bites covering my body from head to foot sent me itching nonstop and made me look like I was attacked by a plague. The constant stares I got made me feel self-conscious because my light-colored hair and American appearance made me stand out like a light bulb in a dark room. The language barrier was a huge problem, since my Mandarin Chinese wasn’t so good and I’d throw tantrums in frustration as I’d struggle to communicate with my own cousins, my own aunts and uncles - my own grandmother. Eating foods such as duck feet, cow tongue, pig blood, and red bean soup weren’t exactly tasty to me, considering what us Americans call “Chinese food” is almost nothing like the food in Taiwan.
However, once I got to middle school and my Chinese improved, I started to really enjoy bonding my with relatives as well as all the fun activities there, and I realized that even though Taiwan isn’t a dream vacation spot for most California kids, it is a part of where I come from and who I am – and there is almost no place I’d rather be. My annual trips to Taiwan inspired me to open my eyes and try new things. It encouraged me to run for Student Government to really get to know my school and feel like I have a place in my community and could help make Woodside a safer and more fun learning environment for me as well as future students. My experiences inspired me to try out for the dance team, reinstate the Asian Club at my school, take Chinese language classes, and volunteer at an animal shelter to expand my love for working with animals. It also sparked an interest in me to eventually travel the world and study abroad in college.
Through my experiences in Taiwan, I learned what it’s like to come from practically another world, to be stared at and feel different, to be homesick, and to be forced to find ways to communicate with people when language is a barrier. It is challenging, but that is a part of life – to step out of your comfort zone and be open-minded to looking at new perspectives. College might bring about some of these challenges, but because of my experiences, I will be prepared to face them with confidence, ambition, and pride in my identity.