Bonnie Lin '19 - Introduction

Bonnie standing in front of a wall covered in pink flowers

Writing introductions does not get easier the second (or ninth) time around. I am a returning blogger for the academic year, after blogging for the Office of Admission during the summer of 2016. Even though I have had two years of blogging experience and an even longer streak of reading blogs, I wish I could say that communicating on this platform has become second nature to me.

For those meeting me for the first time, hello, my name is Bonnie Lin! I am a junior majoring in statistics with a focus on neuroscience. I am one of the numerous students hailing from California, but I am one of the fewer lucky ones from San Diego. However, this semester, I cannot relish the chance to witness the thrill of the first snow for some of my fellow Californians because I am abroad. With a twelve hour time difference, I am blogging from Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, as an exchange student at National Cheng Chi University (政治大學).

My goals for this blog are to establish a more consistent publishing schedule, fire up my writing brain, and create a space for questions and reflections about Amherst. Whether you are a future, current, or past member of the Amherst community, I welcome you to follow me on this blogging journey. Together, we can challenge, grow from, and learn about each other and those around us.

Let's connect beyond this blog! Email me at linbonnieyz@gmail.com.

The Misunderstood "Welcome"

Step into any storefront in Taiwan and about 99% of the time, you will hear a chime ringing from employees. The first time you hear it, you might be confused about where the sound is coming from. Once you realize where it’s from, if you are just starting to get a grasp of the Chinese language, your first guess as to what they’re saying might be “Good morning”.  But what they’re actually saying is “歡迎光臨!” (huān yíng guāng lín, or simply put “Welcome”).

 

As a native Chinese speaker, I miss out on many entertaining experiences that many new Chinese language learners share. Misunderstanding common phrases, like “歡迎光臨!”, is surely near the top of the list. Like numerous other non-fluent speakers, some students on my abroad program took a stab at understanding that phrase. The most common interpretation is “Good morning”. However, even the most confident believers of this interpretation begin to doubt themselves the second or third time they stop into convenience stores for a late night snack and hear the same chime. They eliminate the possibility that the “Good morning” interpretation of the phrase and soon ponder other contending interpretations.  

 

Eventually, the definition is revealed and they can again enter stores and restaurants with peace of mind. What remains less understood, something that I learned this semester, is the phrase’s deeper meaning. “歡迎光臨” actually encapsulates a very heart-warming sentiment as well as a bit of historical Taiwanese values. Often translated as a simple “Welcome”, the phrase rarely gets broken down to expose the value of the individual characters, especially the last two. While ““歡迎” would suffice to imply “Welcome”, the entire phrase 歡迎光臨” is used to welcome “光臨”, which is “entering light”. Together, the phrase joyfully invites the joyous light that you possess through the door. Upon entering the building, you are thanked for bringing your individual radiance to the place as the employees respect and honor you as their valued customer.

 

After perusing the store’s goods or dining at the restaurant, you will most likely hear “謝謝光臨” (xiè xie guāng lín, “thank you”) on your way out. Regardless of whether or not you paid for a service or a good, the employees thank you for sharing your light with them, even if for a short while. Because of this tradition, you are almost always guaranteed a warm acknowledgement of your entrance and exit.

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Recently, my friend took me to dinner at  元禾食堂 Flourish, one of Taipei’s best vegan restaurants. And, wow, was I impressed. From the wooden Anthropologie-like setup of the restaurant to the thoughtfulness put into every detail of the meal, I could see why this place had become well-known within its first year of opening. Not only did the first employee we encountered bow while saying “歡迎光臨!”, but the whole body of employees also chimed their welcome greetings in unison immediately afterwards. I loved the energy captured in their echoes, and I still suspect that it boosted the flavors and nuances of my meal. I can assure you that, by the end of dinner, my body was filled to the brim with food and bliss.

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Next time you step into a Chinese or Taiwanese place, listen carefully to the chime, and you might be able to hear the beautiful intentions behind the individual characters. Now add this piece of knowledge to your bank where little facts, like the silent ‘h’ in “Amherst”, reside.

 

(Vivian, if you are reading this, thank you so much for showing me around 東區! I really had such a wonderful time with you.)

 

Volunteering with Tzu Chi

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To graduate from my high school, every student had to volunteer for 30 hours. Most of my peers held off completing this requirement until the last months before the deadline. However, after loving the first couple of experiences, my perspective on my school’s mandated minimum hours of community service morphed into a personal goal to contribute 1,000 hours before I graduated. For a short while, it was a numbers game for me, but as I sought out service opportunities, I found the overall process to be personally fulfilling. As such, I spent many weekends out and about, often forgetting to log my hours afterwards. Instead of participating in community events sporadically, I looked for a structured, consistent schedule. Starting my sophomore year, every Sunday of my high school career, I volunteered at the local hospital and convalescence home, Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center, as a piano therapist and an in-patient aide. Carrying the responsibilities my jobs entailed and interacting with healthcare stakeholders gave me a lasting sense of purpose, which sustained me throughout high school, where I began to form my sense of identity around a pre-health track.

As I was applying to study abroad programs, I was determined to make time in Taiwan for volunteering. The CIEE program director connected me with Tzu Chi, a Buddhist and Taiwanese international humanitarian organization. My mother introduced my brother and me to the organization early in our childhood and has since incorporated into our lives many Buddhist elements and teachings from Master Cheng Yen, the founder of Tzu Chi. As a result, I was familiar with the organization and was thrilled at the prospect of being able to learn from real Tzu Chi brothers and sisters in the founding country.

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Despite having set high expectations for Tzu Chi, I was delighted to find all of my expectations surpassed. The Tzu Chi members were so much more welcoming than I expected. They offered me a seat in their cars, where they happily commented about my youth and I chatted about my time in the States. We looped up into dense, green mountains until we arrived at one of the senior homes governed by the Taiwanese Ministry of Health and Welfare. We walked into a bustling room, where the Tzu Chi members that had accompanied me immediately fell into rhythm of work. They joined others in conversations with, giving massages for, trimming the hair of, and gleefully singing with the seniors. 

The Tzu Chi volunteers noticed how misplaced I looked, standing by the front door, and motioned me over. They showed me that every wheelchair noted the individual’s name and preferred languages, and then they began a conversation with a neighboring senior by introducing this Taiwanese-American girl. I later learned that most conversations would involve an initial exchange of compliments. For those who only converse in Taiwanese, I took it as an opportunity to practice conversing in Taiwanese. After sharing smiles and stories for a few minutes, I would offer them light massages. If they declined, I would ask if they wanted anything else before excusing myself and then starting a conversation with their neighbor. But if they gave me consent, I would rub their backs, arms, and hands, and together, we would enjoy the volunteers singing Taiwanese, Chinese, and Japanese songs. Sometimes, the volunteers would even drag me into singing with them.

These activities brought boundless energy and gave wings to the room, and the hours at the center flew by. Everyone loved my presence as much as I loved theirs. By the end of the day, I felt whole and complete. And because of this, I have again found a reason to cherish Sundays.

Bonnie massaging a senior's hand

 

TBH, Never Thought I Would Be Studying Abroad

You will be studying abroad in less than a year. Honestly, if I uttered these words to first-year Bonnie, she would nonchalantly wave me off, without even a single spark of fake enthusiasm.  Unlike most high school applicants, I was very adamant about not studying abroad in college, refusing to even entertain the prospects of a semester abroad. As such, when sending out college applications, I did not pause for a second to consider the strength and flexibility of an institution's international network.

During Advising Week at Amherst College, my first year advisor Dean Martini spent our first meeting surveying my goals. In creating a conspectus of her new advisee, she asked me if I was interested in studying abroad. Without hesitation, I shook my head, and said “There’s no need. The countries aren’t going anywhere in four years, so I’ll travel after my time at Amherst.” At the time, I was serious about my reasoning, but I remember her chuckling “I guess that is somewhat true”. Seeing my firm stance on studying abroad, she moved onto other questions.

Countless times after that meeting, I walked into Keefe Campus Center and passed by the Office of Study Abroad. Soon after, I would see earnest international program representatives hailing flags and brochures of places all over the world. Despite the temptations of the colors and energy, I silently walked by, assuring myself that I would be wasting my time browsing the pamphlets and posters.  

Yet, come sophomore year, these fervently anti-abroad thoughts began to dissipate. Talking to upperclassmen friends, I realized that many who had studied abroad or were currently abroad never regretted a single moment, while those who did not regretted not going abroad. Of course, there were exceptions in the mix, but my steadfast opinions began to sway. Starting small, I considered domestic exchange programs, where I would attend another U.S. institution for a semester or two. But when I spoke with my major advisor, Dr. Nick Horton, he supported my search for suitable domestic programs, but strongly encouraged me to set my eyes on international destinations, particularly New Zealand.

New Zealand was a strong candidate for four huge reasons: being non-European, having a reputable statistics program, having English as one of its official languages, and, admittedly, who could say no to those breathtaking Google images. Because I had not taken any language classes in college (learning Java from computer science class doesn’t count, right?), I was not eligible for many countries where the abroad programs required at least two semesters of language credit.

I scheduled to meet with an adviser from the Office of Study Abroad, where I met one of the greatest people on campus, Amanda Wright. Even though I started our meeting on a rather awkward note with “I didn’t start considering this until a couple days ago”, she understood where I was coming from and graciously pointed me in the right direction. She helped me realize that I had more options than I had expected and explained more nuanced differences between certain programs. Later, an independent exploration online brought me to the perfect destination: Delhi, India. Rather, what I thought was perfect.

When I was halfway complete with my application for India, I called my mom to update her. Already a considerably intransigent person, she wasn’t impressed with my reasons for going, and put her two cents in, “Why not Taiwan?” Of course, Mom, why had I not thought about the country of my roots? Although I had to get over the fact that I would be missing out on Hindi classes, I knew that Taiwan was ultimately the perfect place. It was about time for me to visit family, intensively pick up my Mandarin and Taiwanese skills, and educate myself about my parents’ homeland. With that in mind, I withdrew my application to India. Because I had been so indecisive, time was running out, and I hastily put together an application to a CIEE program in Taipei, Taiwan. Luckily, I received an acceptance back in time.

Since I have only been in Taiwan for a month and a half, I don’t want to jinx anything and declare absolutely no regrets from this program. But I will close by saying that it’s been so far, so good.