Breaking Cultural Barriers: One Childhood Story at a Time

Nov. 22, 2017

Written By: Rosemary Chen (陳昱安)
Photo Credit: Yih Roei (易蕊)

SUMMARY

The National Taiwan University (NTU) International College Provisional Office and the university’s Student Association are working to bring local and international students closer together through creative storytelling. The event series titled “Be a Storyteller: Your Journey is Our Journey (有故事的旅程計畫:個⼈行動圖書館),” hosted its second event, “Same Bed Different Stories: Bedtime Stories, Childhood Memories (同床異夢:分享床邊故事與孩提時光),” on Nov. 22.

INTRODUCTIONS

A group of college students huddled around a table talking excitedly about catching Santa on Christmas Eve as a child — laughing at the details of the poorly crafted chimney-giftdelivery story — may not exactly be a common sight at National Taiwan University (NTU) on a weekday evening.

But the International College Provisional Office and NTU Student Association’s Department of External Affairs are working together to bring these uncommon bonding opportunities to campus. Titled “Be a Storyteller: Your Journey is Our Journey (有故事的旅程計畫:個人行動圖書館),”  the two groups hope to foster cultural exchange between local and international students through a series of creative storytelling events.

On Wednesday, Nov. 22, nearly 30 students gathered at the NTU Liberal Arts Building’s first-floor-round-table-area to share their childhood memories — remembering bedtime stories, goofy games, and embarrassing moments. Named, “Same Bed Different Stories:
Bedtime Stories, Childhood Memories (同床異夢:分享床邊故事與孩提時光),” the event was only one of four co-hosted by the partnership.

Steven Chen (陳冠儒), head of the student association’s External Affairs department said, “Our vision is to build a bridge between Taiwanese and international students, to create opportunities for friendships and cultural exchange.” His department is also working to be a voice for the increasing number of international students pouring into NTU each year.

During the school year of 2015-2016, NTU hosted 1,004 international exchange students, 695 international degree students, 691 Overseas Chinese students, and 380 exchange students from China — according to statistics from the Ministry of Education.

SHARING CHILDHOOD MEMORIES

Last Wednesday’s round-table-talk was kicked-off with Chen’s welcome remarks as he halfjokingly pointed out “cultural differences” even within Taiwan — between the Northern and Southern parts of the island — and encouraged everyone to share their stories and make new friends. He then took time to introduce student council members at each of the four tables, who would act as facilitators and keep the conversation flowing.

At each table, a mix of international, Overseas Chinese students and local students were seated and the conversations flowed spontaneously — sharing at times similar, at times contrasting, childhood memories from different parts of the world.

At one of the tables, a Malaysian student shared bedtime stories she heard while growing up. She said her mother used to tell her “real horror stories” from the neighborhood they lived in, so she would fall right asleep in fear. She then retold one of the stories from memory.

The owner of a restaurant often woke up to loud clanging noises in the restaurant kitchen past midnight and would always find the kitchen in an awful mess the next morning. The owner at first thought it was the homeless stealing from him, but only later when he found out that the restaurant was built on a mass grave left from the Japanese colonial time, he realized that the “homeless” were homeless souls robbed of their land and life, only claiming back what they had lost.

The story gave everyone a shiver, but she said growing up with these stories gave her a unique interest in hunted houses and horror movies, something she continues to enjoy in her spare time.

An exchange student from China shared a story about accidentally losing ten Renminbi that was carefully handed to her by her grandfather, and how, as a child, it felt like losing a million dollars. Growing up in a time where food ration tickets were handed out by the government and clothes were hand-made, losing even that small amount of money was unimaginable to her younger self.

She reflected on how much her life has changed since and how her perception of money has also changed over time. Her story sparked a curious discussion about food rationing — something none of the local students had experienced during their elementary years.

Many students resonated with stories related to nature, especially students who grew up in rural areas, regardless of nationality, many shared memories catching bugs in the garden or biking around farmlands.

One of the most interesting topics of discussion was memories about Christmas. A Taiwanese student said he did not believe in Santa because his house was without a chimney. Another said he always made sure to leave his bedroom window open so Santa could bring him gifts. And everyone had a story to tell about staying up for Santa and realizing the spell-breaking truth.

An exchange student from China said her family would give their friends apples carefully wrapped in Christmas-patterned wrapping paper to wish them happiness during Christmas because the first Chinese character for the word “apple (蘋果),” píng, sounds the same as the first Chinese character for “safe and sound (平安).”

Others told stories that revealed their close relationship with their parents and siblings. One student said he once nagged his mother for a special card collection he was obsessed with as a child. For a month, his mother refused. But when his birthday came around, he found a well-wrapped gift with exactly what he had wished for. He remembered calling his mother and thanking her in tears, “it was one of the most vivid memories of my childhood,” he said.

Another student shared a prank-gone-wrong story from his childhood. He remembered one time while hiking with his two sisters when they decided it would be funny to make pooshaped mud and fool other hikers. But while they were crafting their state-of-the-art mud
piles, an old couple walked by and said, “Why are you kids playing with poo?” Everyone at the table bursted into laughter.

THE POWER OF STORYTELLING

The event brought together unlikely combinations of people and through sharing their childhood memories, students of different cultural upbringings were brought closer together.

Two more storytelling events are scheduled for Dec. 7 and Dec. 21 for local and foreign students to share comedic cultural stories and unique travel destinations from where they call home, wherever that is.

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