University of California, Berkeley Political Economy, China Studies concentration
It's hard to put in words what TASC means to me without coming across as cheesy and borderline inauthentic. I guess that's what most magical things are like though, right? They move you, inspire you, compel you to want to do more; they help you understand more about yourself and give you the unparalleled opportunity to build real, outstanding and meaningful connections with people who initially begin as strangers.
I didn't really know much about Taiwan before I participated in TASC. In fact, my story is a little different than others-- I was asked by some of my friends to design and facilitate a two-day leadership training at the beginning of the three-week adventure. I signed on because it sounded cool-- Taiwan was a new place to explore; TASC was a new opportunity to hopefully make a difference in people's lives.
So I dived in, not knowing what to expect. There were 15 Americans and 15 Taiwanese in addition to the core leadership team. Our lives centered around a single charter bus that ferried us from place to place, mountain top to valley village, bustling city to serene lake. The vivacious diversity of the island always brought a smile to my face-- always something new to explore, see, eat, experience, all pieces of a larger puzzle designed to build understanding and appreciation for life in all its vibrant forms.
The first two days, we did everything from listing stereotypes each of us had about the other culture (Taiwanese- studious, shy, not creative; Americans- loud, confident, fat), to drawing pictures about what the current and ideal Cross-Strait situation would look like, to throwing paper wads each other with our eyes closed, all in the name of breaking apart cultural stereotypes and breaking the ice among the participants.
At one point, I made them all stand in two Apache lines facing each other in an exercise where they couldn't talk or break eye contact while one person stepped closer and closer to the other person. The idea was to get them to put aside all the hesitancies, insecurities, unconscious assumptions about the 'other side' and see them just as people, just like them.
And it was powerful. After three-weeks of intensive discussions on identity, the role of media in influencing our perspectives, power & privilege, and language hierarchy (acknowledging that it exists and that people who don't speak English as their first language have to work harder to get to the native level as those who do, whereas that's not the case in the opposite direction with English speakers learning Chinese), we reached a point of community consensus that manifested in a deep love and appreciation for each and every person in our group.
We were suddenly not just "Americans" or "Taiwanese," but friends, friends dedicated to understanding one another and moving past the exclusive identity markers to something more, something deeper than just a socially-construed marker.
It wasn't easy, and it wasn't always pretty-- there were times when we argued, fought, experienced frustration and took it out on each other. But in each of these cases, we sat together in that bus and worked it out. Each person shared their feelings and we were able to overcome tensions and learn to respect and understand each other.
The only real way to get to this point is to spend time with people. We weren't distracted by other forces in the world or by the things on our phones-- we were almost forced to be together all the time in a closed space (bus, restaurant, lecture hall, hostel, beach), and that physical closeness augmented by three-weeks of continuous travel led to the development of some of the most beautiful friendships I've had the privilege to have.
Together, we sang songs in hotel living rooms, rapped on city subways, danced on street corners, shared our dreams while laying on the beach and looking up at the stars, ate the most massive fried things, and discussed the state of the world and what we could actually do about it.
These are the kinds of experiences that come once in a blue moon, but whose relationships last for a lifetime.
There are many different kinds of people in the world, many different cultures, but when we take the time and put in the effort to be together, be present, listen and understand each other, then we unveil the greatest thing about human nature-- friendship, love and respect for the dignity of another. TASC did that for me, and I hope that it can do the same for you too.
Lilly joined TASC as an Executive Committee Member in 2015. Her experiences at TASC later led her to return as a Fulbright-National Geographic Storyteller documenting Taiwan’s waste management system and innovations in plastics and electronics recycling.