Hello World!

▮ Jerome Yang / 2018/01/29

Hello World!

Some friends have noticed that I started writing blog posts recently, and most of the posts are in my first language, Mandarin Chinese. Writing in English has always been my plan, but it takes a bit more time and effort. Since my first goal was to get the writing habit back, I chose to start in my first language, and had a plan to introduce English posts later.

A few weeks ago, a friend at church told me that she noticed my blog posts, and used Google translate to convert a complete article into English! (I have never translated my Chinese writing into English, although it would be interesting to know about Google’s ability to understand my text.) I also shared with some friends the topics I’ve writing: cross-cultural experience, history, travel, etc, and they expressed their interest in reading those. Therefore, I decided to officially start writing English posts.

But, what should my official first post be about? After thinking of a bunch of topics, I decided to start with some fundamental facts about myself – where I am from, how I came to the US, and things I’m currently interested in. This can be used as a self-introduction post on my blog, and provide some contexts for my future posts.

Life in my homeland Taiwan

I’m from Taipei, Taiwan, where I spent more than a half of my life.

A “night market” near my home

In case you don’t know, Taiwan is universally considered a sovereign state. The formal name is currently “Republic of China” (ROC), a continuation of the former mainland China government in 1912-1949 before the People’s Republic of China (PRC) took over the mainland. We have our own constitution and armed forces (which I used to be part of), maintain our own diplomatic relations, and elect our own president. We are currently not subject to any external sovereignty, although the Communist China loves to claim the opposite. Due to the separation since 1949, younger generations tend to identify themselves as Taiwanese rather than Chinese.

My favorite part of the island: the east coast

Growing up in Taiwan is really fun. The island is small but diverse, which creates a wide range of things to do. My home city Taipei is a typical vibrant, over-crowded East Asian metropolis (with about 7 millions population in its greater urban area), but beaches, farmlands, alpines, and even indigenous tribes are within the reach of a couple of hours. I was by far more interested in those than the normal life in the city. Therefore, before I could drive legally (the minimal age in Taiwan is 18), riding my bike to explore within and outside the city has been my most important pastime. I particularly enjoyed seeing different facets of a city - not only the shiny skyscrapers and burgeon shopping malls, but also the rusted streetscapes, slums, abandoned buildings and even graveyards. “The backdoor of a city” is the nickname I gave them. Seeing different people and observing their actual lives have always been my interest.

View of a typical Taiwanese city: a mixture of old and new, which always looks a bit sketchy

I also grew up in a Christian family and a Christian church. Since I made my personal decision to be a Christ-follower when I was 13, church has been an indispensable component in my life – not out of obligation, but because I was convinced that faith makes people different, and I’d like to be with people like that. I attended church events and served as a group leader, worship leader and pianist since middle school.

Other than that, I was raised as a very typical Taiwanese kid. I went through the public school system (which bases high school and college admission on test scores), and had to complete an one-year military duty after college. Nevertheless, before graduating from National Taiwan University (NTU), an important decision changed the course of my life.

Another iconic view of Taiwan: motor bikes are omnipresent and outnumber cars

Journey to the US

It was common for NTU graduates to go to top universities in the US, primarily for better postgraduate education (which also implies better career development). My story was similar while a little different. Before the junior year in college, studying abroad had never been in my plan, and English was my most hated subject. I told myself: there had been enough frustration in learning English, and by no means I would need it in the future.

This finally changed when I realized my desire to see a bigger world – Taiwan is great, but there are many other people and places that are drastically different. I’d like to experience that not just as a tourist, but as someone who actually lives there. As an adventurous explorer, it was too stupid to dismiss my ambition of going abroad simply because of my poor foreign language skills! In addition, my dream job then was college professor. It would be very helpful if I could obtain a doctoral degree from a US university. Therefore, I decided to go to graduate school in the US, as an opportunity to explore other parts of the world and pave the road to academic career.

Daily routine in my college: rushing to classes with a bike

As we all know, applying for a graduate school is a long and tedious process – GRE, statement of purpose, letters of recommendation, user-unfriendly online systems and endless deadlines. It is hard enough for an American student to do all these, let along for an international student like me, who had to go through all these in an unfamiliar language. There were also a couple of extra challenges I had to overcome:

Challenge #1:

Every male in Taiwan was obligated to a one-year military duty, and I could hardly leaving the country before completing the duty. Moreover, it was hard to predict when one would be drafted. If one was drafted late, his decommission would also come late, and this might delay his study in the US for up to a year. One way to make the timeframe predictable was to apply for the Officer Reserve Program (which always started and ended on a set date, while assuming more responsibilities), and I did it. That’s how and why I got a second lieutenant rank in the army.

Challenge #2:

Every applicant from a non-English-speaking country is required to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). The test involves reading, listening, speaking and writing, and it mimics the actual conversation and academia context in the US. Here is an example of the speaking questions:

Read this announcement posted at a student center. (An 100-word passage shows up. You get about 45 seconds to read and understand it…) Listen to a conversation between two students about this announcement. (A 1- to 2-minute long conversation…) Question: The man expresses his opinion of the Student Association’s recent purchase. State his opinion and explain the reasons he gives for holding that opinion. (30 seconds to prepare. 60 seconds answer orally.)

It’s a nightmare for many, as the English we learned at schools is very far from the everyday communication in the US, and the n-second limits put even more stress on the test takers. Some of my friends took the test as many as 6 times just to meet an admission requirement! And of course, it’s not cheap – it costed 150 USD each time (which has increased to 195 USD recently). I took the test three times. My score didn’t improve, but I decided to go with it.

After all the hassles, it also took some efforts to choose the right school. Foreign students usually learn about the ranking of a school via web forums and US News, but they know very little about the atmosphere on a campus, and almost nothing about the life in a city or town. Many of them have to make decision based on fairly limited information. My choices were limited to southern California, Massachusetts and upstate New York. Considering various constraints, I chose the geographic information science program at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts.

I spent two years at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts

This is how I came to the US. There were a lot more interesting stories after I actually moved here, but I will save them for future posts.

Why I started writing blog posts, and what I am going to write about

Writing blog posts is not new for me. In my college years, before Facebook got popular, I had written short posts almost everyday on a large Taiwanese web forum. My readers were mostly classmates from college and church friends. However, I stopped doing that after moving to the US, and the reason may sound a bit absurd: I was afraid that writing too much Chinese would slow down the progress of my English learning. Later I tried to get the habit back multiple times, but it simply became harder and harder. Sometimes other tasks were prioritized over writing, and other times I just didn’t know what to write, although thoughts and ideas had never stopped coming across.

What eventually prompted me to write again is the desire to be “not just an engineer”. Working in technology industry is great – the pay is high, the job security is great, and the prospect is promising. Nevertheless, I know these are not the reasons why I felt excited about going to work everyday. What makes me more excited at work is the opportunity to interaction with people from different nations, ethnicities and cultures, and to see a bigger world through them. If these are the the areas I’m truly passionate about, I should write and share about them, instead of keeping them to myself. “Maybe after a while, I can find a way to integrate my engineering profession with these topics!” This thought successfully motivated me to write again.

Therefore, my blog has restarted. It’s currently titled “from Boston to the Globe”, focusing on the people, culture, language, history, everyday life I see in Boston, particularly the multiethnic facets of this city. Here you can expect read topics including:

  • Immigration and cross-cultural experience. Acclimating to a foreign nation is a long and hard process. Even though it has been 7.5 years since I moved here, cultural differences and things to learn are still present everyday. It’s worth to write them down. You can expect to read both my own stories as well as other people’s.

  • Travel. I travel A LOT, and mostly on my own. There is always plenty of stories and pictures to share. I have shared them occasionally with colleagues in office, but now would like to turn them into blog posts.

  • Other topics I’m interested in. Those can range from software engineering, linguistics, history, theology to comments/recommendations on TV shows, movies and other performances.

A major focus of my posts is the multiethnic facets of Boston

A couple more notes

There are a couple more things I’d like to mention about this blog:

  • As of now, I don’t plan to translate between my English posts and Chinese posts. I’d like to keep them as two separate “threads”, with some overlapping information. This means my English and Chinese posts may contain the same stories or topics, but they will be written differently and have no one-to-one mapping, as each is targeted at a different audience.

  • Comments, questions and corrections are always welcome. Some of my Chinese posts have generated very long discussion threads, and I really enjoy interacting with people on the threads. Therefore, please enrich my posts by sharing your thoughts!

If you are still with me until this final line, thank you for getting aboard!