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Day in the Life: A National Security Language Initiative Student

Iris with her after-school snack, 100 per cent natural (and ultra-pink) dragon fruit juice. Iris Fu


A glimpse into what life looks like studying Mandarin in Taiwan. 

For those of you who have never met me, I'm Iris and I’m studying Mandarin in New Taipei City for the summer through the National Security Language Initiative scholarship granted by the U.S. Department of State.

Here is a glimpse into what my daily life looks like:


Today is Tuesday, so just like every other weekday, I have class at nine in the morning.

However, I usually get up a little earlier to do work. I wake up at 6:30 a.m., brush up, get dressed and am by my desk by 7:00 a.m. My host father kindly buys me a scallion pancake with egg and a vegetable bun from the restaurant across the street. I eat this along with a green mango (they’re sweet) while completing my international politics presentation for class. 


9:00: Class time! Today, we start our lesson by writing a job application cover letter in Chinese, emphasizing some of the new vocabularies we learned. 

10:00: This block is dedicated to giving current events presentations. Two of my classmates present on U.S.-Iran relations, while I brief a news story about FaceApp, an age-altering photo editing app created in Moscow, and the U.S. Democratic Party’s stigma regarding Russian companies accessing US data. 

11:00: My stomach usually begins growling around this time, and we make it through with new lesson taught by. . .me! My teacher assigns certain units from one of our textbooks for students to teach, and I had prepped for a couple days beforehand to teach today’s unit on online shopping. I introduce new vocab, lead a round of Kahoot (a quiz game), support my classmates through reading the text and ask several discussion questions. The lesson is an overall success, and it helped my hungry stomach stay muted until lunch.


Since I am a vegetarian, I usually get a bian dang (what they call "take-out" in Taiwan, except they all look the same with a tray-like box and a variety of dishes inside). If I'm feeling extra hungry though, I’ll go in the buffet-style cafeteria to get some more food. Today, I had an interesting tofu curd with a sauce I cannot name (but was surprisingly good), string beans and water spinach (it tastes nothing like spinach). 


12:30: Half an hour through my 90-minute lunch block, I go to the university library or a quiet classroom to do work. Today, I hit up a classroom very close to my afternoon class for convenience sake, and look into traditional Chinese bamboo flutes on Tao Bao, a Chinese version of Amazon. I am considering learning the instrument because it sounds surreal and is a great way to become more immersed in the Chinese culture. 

1:30: Back to class.

3:30: Class is over and we usually have an afternoon activity. Yesterday, we had a culture class on paper cutting. Today, we have a meeting with our resident director. We get logistical updates and prepare for our community service project on Friday; collecting receipts on Tamsui Old Street for entering the government-sponsored receipt lottery to, hopefully, win money to help support senior citizens. (Funky, I know. Excited to meet strangers on the street, though.) 

4:30: I walk back home. Today, I stop by a fruit juice stand and cop a cup of dragon fruit juice. Then, I go to the gym to pick up the pair of blue running shoes that I have kept in the locker room for a full week. 

5:00: When I get home, I have a snack of mango and practice flute (a serious hobby of mine) for an hour. 


6:00: My host parents and little brother comes back home. We have a delicious dinner of ramen, Taiwanese fried rice, water spinach and Flammulina mushroom. 

7:00: I do my homework for a bit and write this blog. Then, my host brother comes into my room and asks me to read an English book to him. I always try to spend some time to play with him every day. Growing up as an only child, caring for a younger sibling is a very real, yet fulfilling, adjustment. 

8:30: Now, I wind down for the night. This usually means reading for my international relations class, writing my college application essays, and working on my personal project, “Video Pal." After meeting my host mom and counsellors at school, I am creating an online language exchange program between Taiwanese English learners and American Mandarin learners. It’s yielding great results so far, and I hope to have it fully established here before I return to America. 

10:00: Good night! 

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Iris Fu

Iris Fu is studying Mandarin in Taiwan through the National Security Language Initiative scholarship granted by the U.S. Department of State during the summer between her junior and senior year of high school.

Website: https://www.instagram.com/iriss.fu/

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