Communicating and Connecting Across Cultures with Caroline C. ’24

October 5, 2023

Professional headshot of Upper School student Caroline C. '24
Caroline C. ’24

Caroline C. ’24 spent this summer studying Chinese (Mandarin) in Taiwan through the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI‐Y) scholarship program. The U.S. Department of State initiative helps foster international cooperation by ensuring that young Americans who are selected for this competitive program have the linguistic skills and cultural knowledge necessary to effectively communicate across cultures.

Caroline, who began learning Mandarin at age three and more formally started studying it through Wheler’s Aerie Enrichment program in the 6th grade, had been preparing for this trip to China for the last three years. After initially applying for the program in 2021, she remained determined and tried again last year. “The application process required letters of recommendation – thank you, Ms. Purdy [Upper and Middle School Chinese Teacher Isabel Purdy] – two essays, a personal statement, a letter of introduction to my host family, and an essay from my parent,” shared Caroline. When she learned that she was accepted into the program for this summer, Caroline said she was thrilled to be joining the NSLIY Mandarin student cohort and begin preparing for her seven-week experience in Taiwan.

A view of the National Palace Museum in Taipei, Taiwan, with visitors walking nearby.
Caroline visits the National Palace Museum in Taipei, Taiwan.

“Some of my goals for my NSLI-Y experience were to have complete cultural and language immersion,” Caroline said. “Beyond the intensity of daily Chinese classes, becoming a member of my Chinese hosts’ family was uniquely thrilling. Over dinner, we would share experiences, perspectives, and interests, and these moments were one of the program’s objectives – to create these two-way cultural exchanges that narrow differences and promote understanding.”

Caroline said she was curious about all aspects of the Taiwanese culture, leading her to engage with a wide range of people including students, teachers, cultural representatives, and guides. “I even got to play squash with my host cousin at the Taipei Squash Center,” said Caroline, who is also a competitive squash player. “Just like at Wheeler, I was surrounded by like-minded students who were passionate about learning and pushed me to strive for excellence. I felt welcomed and included everywhere I went in Taipei.”

A photo of Caroline and her classmates walking in the streets of Danshui, Taiwan, to get lunch.
Caroline and her classmates getting lunch in the streets of Danshui, Taiwan.

Another highlight of her stay was reconnecting with Wheeler alum Naomi Blank ’22, who was also in Taipei studying Mandarin. “We had dinner at the Shilin Night Market right by my host family’s apartment…It was quite special.” Navigating restaurant menus (as well as street signs) were a challenge, though. “I was only partially familiar with Taiwanese writing because I’ve been learning the Simplified Chinese characters, which is the less complicated form of the Chinese writing system,” Caroline explained. “The People’s Republic of China implemented the Simplified system, which is now widely used there, whereas Taiwan and Hong Kong use only Traditional Characters.”

A photo taken by Caroline showing two plates of shaved ice dessert with Wheeler alum Naomi Blank's hand in the far right corner at the Shilin Night Market.
Caroline and Wheeler alum Naomi Blank ’22 enjoying some shaved ice dessert at the Shilin Night Market.

As the days of studying and living in Taiwan passed, Caroline said her daily routine, which included, her Mass Rapid Transit commute to Tamkang University in New Taipei, as well as bus rides around the area, soon felt familiar.

Looking back at her time in Taiwan, Caroline said that living with a Taiwanese family and experiencing the Taiwanese culture synthesized years of study. “I hope my NSLIY experience can influence others and spread positive attitudes about Taiwan and the Taiwanese.”

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