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"I love Thai food!" exclaims Kerry after hearing about my home country, Taiwan. I made a firm and authoritative stare at Kerry in a small summer camp in Arizona — this is not happening today. "Kerry, Taiwan is located off the coast of China, and we are known for our bubble tea more than our Thai food," I responded. Kerry replied, "I'm sorry, Vincent, I just couldn't tell the differences." Our conversation ended, leaving me surprised that my firm worldview of Taiwan strongly contrasted with those of my campmates. I felt the need to educate him about how I see my country, and it sparked an unexpectedly significant conversation with my campmates on our cultural identity — an essential part of me I rarely notice.

Spending my entire life in Taiwan, I never realized how unique my country is compared to the United States. I was the only person foreign to America in the camp, and as we got to know each other, I shared with my campmates what Taiwan means to me. I started by jokingly mentioning the frequent physical fights in our parliament, such as when the issue of imported pork was so hotly debated that legislators threw pork guts and punches at one another. I told them that personal health and family life are deeply valued in my country, and societal expectations deeply reflect these values. Recounting my routine every Saturday morning, I told my new friends that I usually take a long walk up the hill to a breakfast shop run by a family of four. The parents prepare the eggs and unpack the food while their children cook and serve the customers. The warmth of the shop is always apparent as they call customers on a first-name basis and make people know that they are welcome. They consider their customers as family and value the time they spent building up their business with one another. This warmth and kind gesture are hard to replace, and it always comes off to me as a unique Taiwanese kindness.

As our conversation continued, I heard about my friend's identities expressed through personal memories and found many similarities that bond us together. I believed being unreasonably lovely was a uniquely Taiwanese thing, and I am glad Kerry proved me wrong as I connected his experience to mine. Kerry then shared that whenever he is feeling terrible, he always goes to his neighborhood Waffle House and talks with the owners there. "There is nothing that lifts my spirit than a cup of coffee and a dose of care coming from the family," Kerry said.

Our conversation then shifted to our shared love for fried food. I had to share the numerous night markets in Taiwan that sell delicious fried chicken. My fellow campmates share their late-night trips to Chick-fil-A, KFC, and their local restaurants for the same dish, with slightly varying differences. We had found a bridge that connects our differences and ultimately portrays the more remarkable similarity that is found in each of our stories.

From my interaction with various campers, I was able to draw connections between the U.S. and Taiwan, making me more curious about the specific details of daily life. Initiated by a conversation with a fellow campmate, I learned far more about myself and my worldview than I could if I had read a textbook or watched a video. The Taiwanese identity within me is shaped by the thousands of people I have interacted with. This identity propels me to learn more about the world's various cultures.

© Vincent Chu. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team and we can put you in touch with the author’s teacher.