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陳萊茵 - 哥斯大尼加UWC 畢業年度2018

18 September 2020

I will never forget the day I first set foot in Costa Rica, I will be honest with you, it was absolutely terrifying.

I will never forget the day I first set foot in Costa Rica, I will be honest with you, it was absolutely terrifying. It was the first time I ever traveled alone, I missed my family, my luggage did not arrive, and all the Spanish I had learnt prior to coming here was forgotten in the panic and confusion. Before I continue, I want to introduce myself. My name is Katharina Ganz (everyone calls me Kat), and I am half German and half Taiwanese. My journey to Costa Rica began all the way back in November of 2015, it was at that time when I decided to apply to UWC. I had known UWC prior to that year, I was interested in applying long before that but never got the chance because Taiwan didn’t have its own national committee yet. I had just transferred to a new school a few months before that so I wasn’t very sure whether or not I still wanted to apply but I did anyway and have not regretted my decision since.

Skipping ahead again to arriving in Costa Rica, like I said, it was absolutely terrifying. I didn’t know what to do, I was all alone, but not for long... Before I knew what was happening, I was greeted, no, more like overwhelmed, by a bunch of smiling faces, all super eager to meet me and get to know me. That’s when I learnt lesson #1, when you leave your country, you’re also leaving behind the norms of your culture - things you are used to will not be the same in other places. For me, the first culture shock I experienced was the way people greeted me with hugs and kisses to the cheeks, it was all super unfamiliar, especially the fact that it was with a bunch of people I had just met. (I must have hugged over fifty people that night)

After arrival in UWCCR, we had two weeks of orientation. Those two weeks were a blur to me, they were filled with a whirlwind of activities, emotions, memories, awkward first conversations, and cultural exchanges. As the first Taiwanese student here, people were very curious about me and my culture, especially about the issue pertaining independence from China. I also learnt tons from others about their culture and their stories, making me realize how privileged my life was compared to theirs. It was a real eye opener and although I was very shy, I enjoyed every moment of it. That’s when I learnt lesson #2, although it sounds cliche - step out of your comfort zone. Like I said, I am a very shy and quiet person and socializing can be hard sometimes, especially when i’m on my own in an unfamiliar environment, but it is so important to actively seek out new people to talk to and friends to make - afterall, they are the people you will spend two years of your life with.

Now, for the part I’m sure everyone is most curious about - dorm life and life on campus in general. It is very difficult to summarize life here. Dorm life took some time to get used to. Sharing a room with two other people from totally different cultures can be both challenging and interesting. Challenging in the sense that you have to make sure you respect their culture and their habits, but interesting because of all the late night roomie talks and unfamiliar stories and cultures you will hear about. Prior to coming here, I was a bit scared that I’d accidentally offend someone or say something that was totally unacceptable in their culture. That’s when I learnt lesson #3, you should never be afraid to voice your opinion and show people your culture, just as you have to respect theirs, they also have to respect yours. Just because something done in your culture is not done in theirs or vice versa, it doesn’t mean you can’t share it. Afterall, that’s what the whole UWC experience is about - learning the differences of different ethnicities, religions, and cultures.

School also took some time to get used to, for one thing, classes here are very flexible meaning that some teachers give you a lot of independent study time which means that you need a lot of self discipline (at least for the subjects I’m taking; I think my inner asianness freaked out a little when I heard about Biology class out in nature). A school day was also much shorter, starting from 7:30 in the morning ‘till 1:25 in the afternoon which gives you a lot of spare time after school to do CAS activities or just to explore the beautiful Santa Ana.

There is a lot more to talk about, but no words can ever describe everything that goes on here; one just has to come here to see for themselves. It’s definitely an experience one should not pass up. Personally, I can’t wait to meet my first years next year, it’d be great to have some more taiwanese students here so we can share our culture together. This brings me to my final lesson, never underestimate the power Taiwanese food has over you; if you come here either be prepared to spend a lot of money on food and fares to China town or bring ingredients so you can cook here! (trust me, I learnt the hard way)