When Selina Rung boarded a plan last summer and traveled over 8,000 from her home in Taipei, Taiwan to Thomaston, Georgia, she was unsure of what the next year would bring, but she knew it would be an experience she would never forget. Being an exchange student has been a dream of the sophomore for as long as she can remember and she has loved living with her host family, Robby and Sarah Armstrong, along with their two children, Addie and John.
“I was afraid that it (her dream) wouldn’t come true and then I was nervous and afraid, wondering if I would be a good exchange student,” said Selina as she spoke to the Thomaston Rotary Club recently. “Then I thought, it should be fun and it is just a year and I will do something really different from others. My friends over in Taiwan are still doing the normal way to study and get an education and I am doing something different. When I get back home, I can still have all that too, but I am just having one more experience than them. So I decided to be brave and to try it.”
Selina’s decision to give being an exchange student a shot has turned out to be a wonderful experience for not only her, but also for her host family. Her host mother, Sarah, was actually born in Taiwan while her father served in the United States Air Force and her mother was a teacher with the Department of Defense. When she first found out about the opportunity to host an exchange student through AYUSA (Academic Year in the USA), she was thrilled to learn there was someone from Taiwan and after discussing it with her husband and children knew Selina was the right student for their family. She accompanied Selina to the Rotary meeting last week and stated spending this year together has been a great way for her family to learn about other cultures.
“It really opened up our eyes a lot to the things we still want to experience,” said Sarah, “but that we’ve also had the pleasure of experiencing this year through Selina… She has not been just a guest in our house, but has actually become part of our family.”
The family has taken camping trips and been to Walt Disney World and is making sure Selina learns about the local area. Sarah noted they have started the ABC’s of the area which involves going to places such as the Achumpkee Covered Bridge and taking pictures of their outings. The photos will then be put in a scrapbook for Selina to take back home to share her trip with her family and friends.
While all the experiences she has had so far in America have been wonderful to Selina, of which she noted getting to see snow for the first time was at the top of her list; her all time favorite has been participating in and winning the Miss Upson-Lee pageant. The 16-year-old was a little nervous at first since this was her first pageant and she wondered if she won, if people would talk about her behind her back since she would be leaving at the end of the school year and not be around to crown next year’s winner. However, she decided to put all of that behind her and just be a part of it no matter what the outcome, because it was something she wanted to try her hand at.
She noted that preparing for the pageant was not as easy as she had thought it would be; she considered the interview questions she practiced with Sarah to be hard. Yet, the part she was the most apprehensive about was the talent portion of the event. Selina is a dancer and decided to choreograph a dance for her talent; and even though she takes ballet and some jazz, she had something different in mind for her talent, performing a Chinese folk dance.
“When it came time to work on the talent portion I thought, ‘I have never made up a dance before and there is nobody to help me because there is no one who does Chinese folk dance here,’” she said with a laugh. However things worked out and she noted the only reason she was a success was thanks to the help of many people.
There have been a few things Selina had to get used to when she first came over here because they are different than her home culture, such as French fries with the peeling on them like at Piggie Park. However, she noted the two biggest differences she has seen deals with the amount of freedom everyone has to basically do what they want and the way students treat the teachers. She continued stating her life in Taiwan is much more structured.
“I think sometimes because you have the freedom, you will focus too much time on yourself,” said Selina. “You will do whatever you want to do and sometimes if you are not mature enough, you might make the wrong choice. Also, we (in Taiwan) respect our teachers more. When they come in the classroom the class leader will tell everyone to stand up and bow. Then we say “Good morning teacher,” and we do the same thing at the end of class.”
The difference in the way the school day goes also took some getting used to for Selina. In Taiwan, the students stay in the same classroom and the teachers rotate to teach the subjects. She told the Rotary Club that on her first day at Upson-Lee High School she cried because she was having a hard time finding her way around and she just felt helpless. However she said her second day on campus was much better.
“I realized crying won’t help anything,” she said. “You don’t need to think about things so much, just do it. Just wear a smile when you walk in the school and if you have a problem just ask and they will answer you.”
Although there have been some adjustments, Selina stated she is thoroughly enjoying her time spent in America and with the Armstrong’s and she is looking forward to the many experiences the rest of the school year will bring.
Ashley Biles can be reached by calling 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @AshleyBiles1