Three students travel to Taiwan on Chinese immersion trip

Three ambitious Jr. Bills embarked on a trip to Taiwan over the course of spring break, staying with host families as they attended school and went sightseeing. The weeklong trip included a variety of activities, culinary experiences, and lasting memories for these Jr. Bills.

This immersion trip option was available only for students currently taking Chinese at St. Louis U. High. As they were eligible, seniors Patrick Brennan and Max Grellner and junior Lorenzo Gutting took advantage of this opportunity.

The students pose with a group from Taiwan. selfie | courtesy of Patrick Brennan

“I wanted to experience a new culture and to just increase my understanding of Chinese and the language and what people did and really just to immerse myself in a different experience,” said Gutting.

“It was super cool,” said Brennan. “Getting to experience something like that is something I never thought I was actually going to do. SLUH was willing to help fund it, so I decided to take this opportunity.”

In order to get to Luodong, Taiwan, the three students first had to drive to Chicago with Director of Global Education Rob Chura, then flew to Seattle, then South Korea, and then finally took a flight to their final destination. There, after a total of 43 hours of travel, their host families were waiting for them.

“I got back to their house, and they were all super excited that I was there. They welcomed me,” said Brennan. “They sat me down and they basically forced food down my throat.”

As the students began to get acclimated to the cuisine and culture of Taiwan, they also attended school at Luodong High School. Luodong offered a stark contrast to SLUH’s schedule, which offered much free time. Taiwanese school hours traditionally last from about 7:30 or 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. 

“We didn’t really get free time with everyone else, so after school was when everyone wanted to hang out with us because they don't really see foreigners,” said Grellner. “So they were all super excited to see us and go play basketball, which they love, with us.”

The Jr. Bills’ visit to the high school also provided some entertainment and novelty for the Taiwanese students.

“We were basically celebrities there,” said Grellner. “It took like an extra 10 minutes to get to each class because everyone wanted a picture.”

During this time, the Jr. Bills did more than just eat great food and experience a new school system: they also got a chance to visit the many beautiful tourist locations of Taiwan. From high up in the mountains to the oceans, they had the opportunity to see many of the natural and cultural attractions.

“It's kind of crazy going from Missouri, being so flat, and then seeing just mountains,” said Brennan. “I've never been to real mountains. I've just seen them in pictures, but seeing them in real life, it's just like, wow.”

“Sunday, I went to Pingxi, which is up in the mountains,” said Gutting. “And then that night, me and my host family went out and we shot off fireworks at their house and that was really fun.”

The many grand views of Taiwan were explored by the students. However, these ventures were not without struggle. The students had to climb countless stairs just to reach their desired destination. On arrival, they were treated with astonishing views of the city and the skyline. 

“We hiked up Elephant Mountain, just right outside of Taipei. It was probably a 20- to 30-minute hike and it was just stairs. Patrick was dying the entire time,” laughed Gutting. “When we got to the spot it was a bunch of rocks that you sat on and overlooked Taipei, and it was a really cool skyline, so we stayed there I think for an hour or two. That was a really fun memory.”

After their experiences on the spring break immersion trip, the students remain grateful and excited. Next month, Brennan will be hosting the same high school student that hosted him in Taiwan as she comes here for her American exchange trip.

“I definitely think it's going to be a little bit shocking for her, the differences, because they're going to have a lot of free time to do things, which is just so abnormal for them,” said Brennan. “And I'm excited to do it. It's kind of like a last hurrah for my senior year, getting to go somewhere else and then have them come here.”

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