This summer was, hands down, the best summer of my life. I spent 6 weeks teaching neuroscience and psychology in Taiwan and Hong Kong through MISTI-CETI, and the experiences and memories are ones that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. While we did spend the majority of the summer preparing and teaching our courses, we also had a significant amount of time to immerse ourselves in the cultures and truly get to know the locals, and for that opportunity, I am extremely grateful.
My parents emigrated from Taiwan in pursuit of their PhDs, so I was born and raised in America. I used to frequently visit Taiwan as a child, but hadn’t returned in the last eight years. Through this program, I was finally able to return home and truly experience the country and culture that my parents spent their childhoods in. It was an amazing opportunity to practice my Mandarin Chinese and revisit all of the night markets and touristy locations I had always loved, but also to experience a side of Taiwan that I hadn’t seen before: the life of a college student. I was finally able to see my home country through the lens of a young adult—experience life on my own, without my family guiding me—and I came to love and appreciate Taiwan far more than ever before.
In Taiwan, I was a member of the four-person Team 1 (Joyce, Charleen, Leon, and Nitah) with a Computer Science focus. Our curriculum from MYcamp high school sessions is attached below. We taught for 40 hours each week, but Charleen, Leon, and I also regularly participated in all of the evening activities arranged by the phenomenal YZU Activities Group. These events ranged from insanely fun dance parties to talent shows, judged by the MIT students ourselves. It was a lot of fun getting to know the students on a more personal level; they were much more active and talkative during evening activities compared to during class time. They were very eager to hear about life in America, as well as life at MIT.
It was very interesting to teach the third section of MYcamp: the college students from Taiwan, Korea, and Hong Kong. The language barriers were very apparent in this subset, and it was clear that many of the Taiwan students were having a difficult time adapting to the more extroverted personalities of the Korean students. Perhaps the most difficult part was maintaining lecture attendance; many Korean students would opt to sleep in for morning lectures due to their exhausting nightly activities, arranged by the YZU International Office. Others would leave in the middle of class to stroll around outside, and many openly admitted that they hadn’t attended the camp to learn, but to have fun. Our team worked actively with the YZU TAs in an effort to combat these issues, but it was ultimately very difficult to resolve.
Honestly, the best part of MYcamp was our TAs. They were so thoughtful and helpful in class and during material preparation, but they also went above and beyond to give us the true Taiwanese experience. Charleen, Leon, and I spent many weeknights exploring night markets and eating tons of amazing food with a very regular group of TAs. On the weekends, they also took the three of us exploring in Jiufen, on an overnight trip to Yilan, and other exciting places. They took care of us far beyond our expectations; looking back upon those four weeks, we realized that we never had to search for any of our meals. The TAs always had new recommendations for places to try, and eagerly took us wherever we wished to go. They made it so easy for us to quickly adapt to our new lifestyles, and helped us in every way possible. From hiking, to karaoke, to Taipei 101, to Michelin Star restaurants, I will treasure each and every memory we shared with them. They became our best friends, going as far as sending us off at the airport and coming back to meet me during my 8-hour Taiwan layover, as I flew back from Hong Kong to America. Even now, I still maintain daily communication with several TAs through Facebook. I miss them terribly, but hope to see them again someday.
Hong Kong was a much different experience, as we had minimal assistance from THEi staff prior to the first day of teaching. Expectations weren’t too clearly defined, so it was a little frustrating trying to plan around the topics that Emma and I were instructed to teach for the Healthcare & Mental Health section. I was delegated the Mental Health portion due to my neuroscience background, but I was not too comfortable with the specific subject matter—my training at MIT had largely been in molecular neuroscience, but THEi was requesting mental disorders from a psychological viewpoint. I had to spend large amounts of time perusing my former psychology textbooks to learn and understand a wide breadth of mental disorders in order to plan those lectures accordingly.
After all these experiences, I can confidently say that my public speaking skills have improved since before the program began. My prior experiences in teaching had been limited to one-on-one tutoring, and I had been generally terrified of speaking before large groups of people. I grappled with this a lot during the very first week at MYcamp, but especially with the support from my team, quickly learned how to confidently deliver my lectures. The experience also taught me rapid adaptation, as we experienced a couple typhoons during the Taiwan portion that required immediate curriculum alterations to accommodate for teaching spaces and daily materials.
MISTI-CETI was a phenomenal experience, and I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. The friendships and memories are ones that I will hold with me forever, and I am so grateful to MIT and MISTI for providing this opportunity.
When I first heard that we were going to visit psychiatric hospitals, I was pretty shocked. The connotation of mental institutions in America is not positive and I didn’t know what to expect. However, after going to the area and learning about the people who are resident or visitors, my understanding on mental health has been changed. We met an artist at one of the hospitals. He had severe autism, and before coming to the hospital, he was having difficulty adjusting himself to Hong Kong society. However, the hospital held workshops where they were able to discover his talent for clay art and helped him turn that into a career. Many workshops were set up in this hospital to help those struggling with mental health to have a career and contribute to society. The clothing, bags, and art that the patients make are sold in tourist areas. Factories, restaurants, bakeries, and many other establishments were set up exclusively for those with mental health issues as a way to help them find purpose in their lives. A whole industry was created to help people integrate to a greater society. In America, the stigma is so strong that people are afraid of topics related to mental health, treating it like a disease that must be banished. Mental hospitals are thought of as prisons to keep the insane away from the normal. Yet we see in Hong Kong an entirely different dynamic. This was the most enlightening experience I’ve had, and I was very touched to see all the efforts that the people did to make sure everyone had a role in society. Those who have a hard time are not forgotten. I think this is something that I myself and many others living in America can learn from and incorporate into our lives. This mentality that everyone can contribute no matter how small is a lesson that I learned to help better my own life and hopefully others as well.
I couldn’t have asked for a better summer. For CETI, I went to Taiwan and Hong Kong to teach computer science to high school and college students. It’s an experience that I will never regret taking. At first, living in a different country was a bit of a cultural shock. I didn’t feel comfortable ordering food from the street or talking to the locals. But after a while, all of the scary new things turned into exciting novel things to try. The TAs in our program were so helpful and the students were so friendly. We laughed about all the weird differences between our cultures. We spent a lot of time with the TAs, hanging out around the area after classes. The local food in Taiwan and Hong Kong is absolutely amazing, and I miss it so much now that I’m back in Boston. I’ve never had such good milk tea or xialongbao or mangoes. In the weeks there, we made friends that we will remember forever. It’s not the same as travelling with friends or family. In a new country with new people, there’s nothing that predefines you. There are so many things each city has to offer. We sang our hearts out at karaoke, feasted on the variety of foods at night markets, walked through rural areas, and explored the many flavors of Hichew and Doritos. Whenever I think back on it now, I can only think of happy memories and more things I want to do in Taiwan and Hong Kong