By Raelynn Sheridan
Sabrina Chou sits in Trove Coffee on a Thursday afternoon, grasping a glass of wine. She explains how much she’s enjoying her online storytelling class, but how difficult it is to read her story in front of an audience and a camera each week, using different intonation and hand gestures.
Chou is from Taipei, Taiwan and arrived in the U.S. when she was 17 years old to attend boarding school in New York. She also attended boarding school in Taiwan, so being away from family was nothing new to her. Her parents had raised her to be independent from a young age, she said.
“I came for the American dream, for a better education, a better life,” Chou said as she smiled.
She came to the U.S. on an F-1 visa, which is a visa for long-term international students. She was scared to make the move to the U.S. but said she came for the American dream, a better education and more diversity. Other Taiwanese students made the transition with her, all coming through different agencies, but arriving in the U.S. as a group to attend school here.
She remained in New York for one year and then moved to Orlando, Florida to attend another high school, where she graduated in 2012.
Chou said back then she really liked moving around and trying new things, but now at age 25, she’s getting homesick and would like to spend more time with her mom in Taiwan.
After high school, she attended Green River College in Auburn, Washington where she earned her associate’s degree. She made friends with several international students at Green River, due to the large population there.
“It was really fun. I met many different students,” Chou said.
At Western, the international student population is smaller, so adjusting to Western the first year was not easy, she said
Her first quarter she had to take a W in all her classes, a withdraw, not because of a language barrier but because the transition was too hard, she said.
“I had no problem communicating with people, it was just the vibe,” Chou said. “I couldn’t fit in, when I walked into a class I was the only Asian.”
Life in Taiwan
Chou goes back to visit her family in Taiwan once a year.
Sitting back in her chair, she reminisces about celebrating Chinese New Year as a child.
The whole family would go to her paternal grandparent’s house. It was their yearly family reunion and the only time Chou was allowed to stay up past midnight.
Her grandmother would make her favorite food and serve an entire plate just for her.
“I loved seafood, especially shrimp, so my grandma always, always went to the market in the morning on New Year’s Eve and she would get fresh shrimp – just for me!” Chou said.
Chou and her cousins would play all night and receive red envelopes full of money, which are customary during Chinese New Year.
They would go to the river to shoot off fireworks, then come home to finish New Year’s ceremonies. On the fourth floor of her grandparent’s home the family would sit around a shrine honoring their ancestors.
The memories stick out to her as a remembrance of her childhood in Taiwan..
Chou spent her middle school years at Huideng High School in Yilan County, Taiwan, a boarding school in Taiwan. She said she learned discipline there and independence. It helped when she moved to the U.S.
After a hard first year at Western she is now months away from graduation. She will graduate in the fall with a degree in multidisciplinary studies and a Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages certificate.
She plans to try and work in the U.S. for a while but hopes to go back to Taiwan to spend more time with family and help her country progress.
Before going back, her dream would be to work at Western in the International Student Office.
This past school year, Chou and other international student friends started a program called the International Student Mentorship Program. The program’s aim is to have international students who have been at Western for a few quarters, mentor incoming students. Their goal is to build a community and give international students more peer support. Chou wants to stay and help the program get going so future international students do not have the same transition experience as she did.
She wants to create more jobs for international students through the program. In addition to this, she hopes to be an international student advisor.
Get to know Taiwan
(All information comes from the CIA World Factbook)
Taiwan is an island country in Eastern Asia, slightly smaller than Maryland and Delaware combined. It was originally inhabited by Austronesian people and today still has an indigenous population of 2.3 percent, spit into 16 recognized groups. In the 17th century Han immigrants from China began to inhabit Taiwan and now make up 95 percent of the population. After World War II, Taiwan came under Chinese control and in 1949, with communist victory in the Chinese civil war, two million Chinese nationalists fled to Taiwan. China still lays claim to Taiwan, although Taiwan governs itself.
The climate is tropical, with monsoon season June to August and clouds most of the year. The eastern two-thirds of the country is rugged and mountainous but in the west both flat and rolling plains lay waiting.
Most of the population resides on the coast, with the largest populations on the north and west coasts.
Most of the country is either Buddhist or Taoist and the majority of people are between the ages of 25 and 54 years old. Seventy-eight percent of the population live in urban areas and the life expectancy is 80 years. The fertility rate is one of the lowest in the world, at just over one child per woman..
Taiwan is a capitalist economy. Because of the aging population, low birth rate, reliance on exports, difficult political situation and competition from other Asian countries, Taiwan faces a challenging future, according to the CIA World Factbook.
Chou said she hopes to move back to Taiwan someday. She wants to help make the education system better. With graduation looming around the corner, Chou walks out of the parking lot of Trove Coffee, passion beneath each step she takes.