By Chunchi Tseng
This is Vivian Hsu’s story.
I was born and raised in Taipei, Taiwan, but I don’t have many memories about this place, because I moved to Belize when I was 12 years old. At that time in Taiwan, I kept hearing that Belize was a very backward region, located in Central America – “Central America is all cannibals!” Yes, it is a naive fantasy. But please forgive me, I was only 12 years old.
In my impression, Taipei is the political, economic, educational, and cultural center of Taiwan. Also Taipei is part of a major high-tech industrial area; railways, highways, airports, and bus lines connect Taipei with all parts of the island. All I could remember is that I had to study very hard, and I had to learn English because it was my parents’ expectation to speak English. Most parents encourage girls to learn foreign languages, and English is the first choice. Being able to speak different languages allows for people to reach out and communicate with other people in the world. Sometime I had to stay up late to do my homework. In fact, education in Taiwan is that students go to school during the day, and must go to cram school after class, because most parents require their children to get good grades in exams. Taiwan students [may] lack the motivation for learning, and the exam-oriented teaching environment suppresses students’ opportunities to pursue their interests. I remember that my parents were usually very busy with their work, therefore I spend half of the time with grandparents; my grandma used to pick me up from school and cooked for me and my little brother.
I moved to Belize with my parents and my little brother when I was 12. Belize is the only country in Central America with English as its official language. If you have an idea of paradise as silky, soft white sand, an incredible blue sky to the sea, tropical palm trees swaying, reggae beats, and friendly people always really happy and smiling – this is Belize. It’s not like a country full of cannibals in the legend. For me, it is the most beautiful place in the world. My parents took us there because they wanted us to learn English and wanted to give us a different environment to grow up in. They wanted to give us a happier childhood, rather than just cramming all day and night. I really liked the set schedule that the school had compared to Taiwan’s school. Children had breaks in the day and were able to go home for lunch. Being able to have breaks for children is important, because they can only take in so much information before getting bored. I always remember that every day after school with my little brother had the opportunity to watch animals in the natural habitat, sit down and listen to the birds and the wind, and watch the beautiful sunset – completely different than after school life in Taiwan. I think Belize is really a great place for children to study, because it had allowed me to have a unique opportunity to see another culture and country first hand.
My parents left a lot behind. They sacrificed a lot for us. They had to leave their own parents, family, and friends. They sold their factory and company, quit their stable job, and so much more just for us. At that time, honestly I did not have any special feeling since I was very young. I was very excited to move to a brand-new place. And I guess so was my little brother. For me, now, I think moving to another place can improve my life. Consequently, it is very important to have a clear definition of how I specifically plan to improve my life by moving.
I left Belize when I went to Mexico to pursue my Bachelor’s degree. It was then that I had mixed feeling. I think to some extent it depended on the degree I was seeking and my long term prospects; I thought I could get a lot of benefit from studying in Mexico. Actually, before going to Mexico, all I knew were keywords such as drugs, wasteland, and cactus. I had a series of questions in my mind, what is the law and order in Mexico City? I went to Mexico full of doubt and anxiety. Besides courage, some arrogance was needed. I felt excited because I was going to be independent and live a new life on my own. I usually went to the library to study alone, bought food alone, ate lunch alone, walked alone at school thinking about many things, studied alone, worked hard alone. Yes, in Mexico, I was always alone. I was nervous because I was going to Mexico and I couldn’t speak a word in Spanish. I was scared because I was going to leave my parents and learn to live on my own; I was worried because I wasn’t sure if I was going to survive. But I did.
Now I moved back to where I grew up again, in Taipei. It feels very different now. Being away from home for almost 12 years, it feels like I am moving to my third home even though this is where I first grew up. I am also learning to live on my own here. I have to not only keep up with the fast-paced lifestyle, but also get used to the people here, because Easterners tend to be more conservative. I can enjoy the beautiful and bright night view of the sky from Taipei 101 Observation Deck, the big city is brightly lit at night, and the colorful neon lights make Taipei more dazzling. I am experiencing cultural shock in my own country. But it is always great to be home. Home is where your family is.