After graduating from high school, Eduardo Jaramillo ’17 chose to spend a year in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. While there he studied at a traditional Taiwanese high school as a foreign exchange student through Rotary International Youth Exchange.

Sitting in homeroom with his new Taiwanese peers, Jaramillo struggled to participate in class with his limited grasp of Mandarin. A reprieve from this language barrier came through extracurricular classes in traditional Chinese arts that the school organized for Jaramillo and two other foreign students from France and Brazil. In these classes, Jaramillo encountered traditional Chinese art and calligraphy, learned to play the Chinese harp and even practiced kung fu and tai chi.

“Those were really nice breaks throughout the day from sitting in the class with the Taiwanese kids and just hearing Chinese and not being able to understand it,” said Jaramillo.

After school, Jaramillo would sample the local cuisine and culture with his host mother.

“We would visit temples and other interesting parts of the city, and she would try to teach me Chinese,” he said.

Jaramillo progressively began spending more time with the two other foreign students from school. 

“Those were my two best friends throughout the year and they’re still some of my best friends,” he said.

When the three got off from school they would go the beach, bowl and sightsee.

“We learned that we could rent these little mopeds, which was against the rules of our program, but we did it anyway,” said Jaramillo.
Transgressing at low to moderate speeds, Jaramillo and his friends would take their mopeds on the ferry to an island off the coast, which became one of their favorite hangouts.

“It was sort of its own little community and had its own beach and a street that was famous for its seafood,” said Jaramillo.

Another favorite jaunt was a trip to one of the many night markets in the city. A Taiwanese staple, these markets were full of clothing vendors, carnival-like games and booths selling all foods imaginable.

“There’s one night market that’s really touristy. They have this shop there that sells snake stew, so that was probably the weirdest thing that I ate,” said Jaramillo. “The snake meat was kind of like a tough fish meat. It didn’t taste bad though. It wasn’t the worst thing that I ate.”

Jaramillo said he mostly just ate fried shrimp in the night markets, but tried tripe soup once, quickly discovering that he did not like it. 

Jaramillo also developed a taste for oyster omelets, a popular Taiwanese snack.
The experience Jaramillo considers most memorable, however, took place far from the bustle of the night markets.

“Towards the end of the year, my host grandmother, whom I never actually met, died and I was able to go to a very traditional Taiwanese funeral in the countryside. It was a different world. It was really wild, especially after spending most of the time in the city,” he said.

Jaramillo looks forward to experiencing rural life again next fall when he will study abroad in the city of Kunming, China.

“I chose Kunming in part because it’s a less modern, less western-oriented city compared to Shanghai or Hong Kong,” he said. “I want to see how the rural part of China lives.”

This time, language should not be as much of a barrier, as Jaramillo has been pursuing a minor in Chinese. However, he does not believe his language education at Bowdoin lives up to his experience abroad. 

“I think that immersion experience is so much more valuable than this classroom experience I’ve been getting at Bowdoin,” he said. “Nothing against the Chinese department, but it’s really hard to improve a language when you can’t speak it organically.”