Sophomore Elizabeth Butcher has a long way to go before she graduates from WVU in May, 2013. She has a long way to go just to get to West Virginia.
Butcher is in Taiwan, Republic of China, at Ming Chuan University (MCU) for the
spring semester immersed in Mandarin, the official language of Taiwan, and learning
about another culture as part of her double major at the College of Business
and Economics and the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences.
Butcher, of Apple Grove, W.Va., plans to pursue a finance degree and to earn certified financial advisor status to work in the international arena, but she is also keen on learning Chinese, the other half of her double major.
She arrived in Taiwan in February for a semester abroad and immediately experienced cultural shock. Her first few days were difficult, and, on her arrival, she couldn’t explain why her dorm bed didn’t have a mattress, sheets or a blanket. Later she learned that students must buy bedding separately.
“Since arriving I have learned many things,” she said, offering advice to students travelling abroad. “Do not expect your host country to be anything like yours. If you are so focused on finding a restaurant with food you’re used to, only speaking your native tongue, and you visit only tourist locations, you will be blind to the rich culture awaiting you.”
By early March she was much more comfortable with the culture and the language, which she struggled with despite her classroom knowledge from high school and classes at WVU.
“After two weeks of classes and many hours studying outside of class, I feel much more comfortable in class. My studies at WVU prepared me well for the culture and language barriers I would face,” she said. “Without them I definitely would have had a more difficult time adjusting to Taiwan.”
With some command of the language, Butcher has been able to explore her surroundings. During her first days in Taiwan, she experienced the annual Lantern Festival and discovered that, like West Virginia University, or even more so, Ming Chuan University is built on hilly terrain. “There are a LOT of stairs,” she wrote in her blog. “Stairs going up, stairs going down, stairs going UP to get DOWN and DOWN to get UP, backwards stairs, upside down stairs...well, maybe I'm exaggerating a little, but you get the point….”
Butcher said she likes learning and using other languages and took Spanish in high school. At one point, she changed schools and discovered her new school had a foreign exchange teacher who offered Chinese.
“She and I became friends,” she said, “and I learned much from her in my four months studying the language. She introduced me to the beauty of the culture, and I grew to love it. It was her hope that I would continue to learn, so I made it mine as well. The more I learned, the more I wanted to know. Now here I am, two years later, fully immersed in the culture I learned so much about from a lady I met by chance.”
Butcher said she enjoys the “triumph of communicating with someone in a different language.”
Recently, a new Taiwanese friend announced that he had been accepted into the MCU study abroad program, and his choice for a host school was WVU.
“When he first approached me to ask about a few schools in the United States, he had no idea where I was from. So, obviously, when he opened his booklet and said his first choice to attend was WVU, I was through the roof in excitement,” she said. “If all goes well, Ray Kuo will become part of the Mountaineer family this fall semester!”
One of her fondest memories of her trip was a visit to a traditional temples. Religious observance in Taiwan is about evenly split between Buddhism and Taoism, with about eight million residents aligned with each. However, the Taoists have more than three times as many temples in the country, 18,000 plus. The total population is about 23 million.
“One of the most eye-opening experiences I have had was visiting a traditional temple and observing the worship,” Butcher said. “Something about walking the long halls, seeing the beautifully decorated shrines and hearing the stories behind each, was breathtaking. The temples are most definitely a wonderful look straight into the beautiful soul of Taiwan.”
The MCU main campus is in Taipei, on land donated by China’s former leader Chiang Kai-shek and his wife Soong May-lin. Butcher, who, back in Morgantown, works with the College’s Information Technology Department as a student intern, said she strongly advises other students to participate in a study abroad. Her experience has been “everything I had hoped for and much, much more.”
Studying abroad isn’t always easy, though. In fact it can be downright trying, but it’s worth the effort, she said. “I have encountered many of the expected road blocks, as well as many I never imagined. All in all, it’s about overcoming the unanticipated—letting go of what you’re used to and trusting the culture to catch you when you do. I have learned so much, not only about Taiwan, but also about myself. Being alone on the opposite side of the world from friends and family is a very stressful event that causes you to face your personal obstacles and as a result, grow as an independent adult. This experience is about discovery, both without and within.”
She called her experience a “a window of opportunity.”
“As a first generation student from small-town Apple Grove, West Virginia, it is through hard work and effort that I was able to embark upon this journey of discovery. I am proof that everyone has the opportunity; whether you reach out and take it is up to you,” she said.