LU students explore Taiwanese culture on study abroad trip

Imagine white sand beaches and open marketplaces, plus an element of culture shock and the opportunity to study a subject you love with professors and students from halfway around the world. It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that the Lamar University dance students will not likely forget.

The six students were in Taiwan from March 18 to April 2, to study dance at the Tainan University of Technology.

UP Courtesy photo

UP Courtesy photo

“We are friends with people at TUT,” Kim Ramsey, Katy junior, said. “We had about 16 students and four faculty come (to Lamar) last year for about two weeks.”

Golden Wright, chair of the department of theatre and dance, said that the idea for hosting the TUT students came from the director of global studies and study abroad.

“Jeff Palis had a previous university host the same university a few years ago two different times,” Wright said. “He approached me with the idea of us hosting them last year. They came over and it was a really wonderful experience for all. All of our faculty, from both universities, taught classes and all of our students took all of those classes in the two weeks they were in residency here.”

Wright accompanied the students on the trip. He said that it was during the Taiwanese students’ visit that the idea of Lamar students going to Taiwan first came up.

“While they were here they said, ‘Would you be interested in going there?’ and that’s what started the ball rolling with applying for the study abroad and checking the interest on people who wanted to go,” he said.

Rebekah Gonzales, Beaumont junior, said that one of the first things the group did when they arrived in Tainan was meet up with the students who had visited Lamar.

“We went to a night market,” she said. “That was great — it was like the South Texas State Fair but every night.”

Wright said that the night market provided a chance to sample local cuisine.

“We had a dress rehearsal the first day we showed up,” he said. “Immediately following that dress rehearsal, we went straight to the night market, which is lots of street vendors. They have lots of carnival games and lots of little shopping areas to hang out. You just go from vendor to vendor eating all different types of food. The students who were there would go buy this and go buy that and say, ‘Hey, try this’ and ‘Hey, try that.’ I probably tried the largest variety of food that I’ve tried in an evening.”

The students did not stay in Tainan the entire time, however.

“One of the faculty members that was originally from Kaoshiung took us to a temple and to one of the oldest schools in Taiwan,” Wright said. “Chechen (the faculty member) showed us all around where he grew up and where his parents still live. We got back on the bus and it was a wild night of karaoke on the hour drive back on the bus.”

UP Courtesy photo

UP Courtesy photo

Gonzales said that what made the karaoke different was the language.

“It wasn’t just karaoke, it was Mandarin karaoke,” she said.

At one point, the students were invited by the TUT dancers to participate in a ritual meant to prevent injuries during performances.

“They were going to burn incense,” Wright said. “They invited us into this room and it was kind of a ritual and a prayer. They feel that a theatre is a dark space and they pray to keep harm away, that injuries don’t take place and that everybody stays safe throughout the process. It was kind of a touching moment to be part of what they were doing.”

During one of their classes, the Lamar students learned the dragon and the lion, both traditional Chinese dances.

“The dragon is where everyone stands and they’re holding the sticks with the dragon on the top,” Ramsey said. “We were weaving in and out trying not to run over each other or fall over and go the wrong direction. With the lion, they taught us a combination where you’re in the lion head and we put something on the ground. We would look at it like it was something curious, something to eat and then we’d go and we’d pick it up.”

Rachel Curtis, Houston sophomore, said the dance would continue with the lion pretending to eat the object.

“The lion would come to it and you would hold it in the fake lion’s mouth,” she said. “You would chew it, then you would turn the other direction and chew it, and then decide you didn’t like it, so you’d throw it out, so that it would look like the lion spit it out.”

Gonzales said that the lion dance is traditionally associated with healing.

“The origin of that ritual was to get rid of sickness,” she said. “The thing on the ground represented the sickness that the person was coming down with, and so they would take it and chew it up and spit it out. That was how they expelled illness.”

Wright said that the traditional dances also required the students to act as part of a larger whole.

“It was a two-person suit for the lion, and then the dragon was 10 people and one person who carried a stick with a ball on it that led the dragon where it was going,” he said. “You were part of something larger than just yourself in all of these dances. So many times, it’s about a soloist or you’re playing your own character. In this, you have to work with everybody to play one particular thing.”

The group also went to the beach in Kenting, one of Taiwan’s southernmost points.

UP Courtesy photo

UP Courtesy photo

“You walked out and there was this beautiful view of the ocean,” he said. “All of us just kind of stopped and pondered this beautiful view of the beach. There were these black rocks — I thought they were beautiful — right in front of where the water was.”

Among the cultural experiences the students had was a show that combined acrobats and Chinese opera.

“We went and saw a show called ‘Taipei Eye,’” Wright said. “A university put it on. Half of the show was Chinese acrobats and the other half of it was a Chinese opera. It was a really great show. You got to take your picture with them at intermission, and they actually had live performances going on before the show and during intermission in the lobby, so you could go in and see a little more up-close — a little more personal about what was happening.”

The group’s final day in Taiwan included a visit to the National Palace Museum.

“It’s a reality check, that some of this stuff has been around for so long and our country is so young,” Wright said. “Some of the items there are 32 times older than the United States.”

Ramsey said that it was amazing to see the ancient artifacts that the museum housed.

“All three of their oldest, most treasured artifacts were in that building, and we got to go see all three of those,” she said.

Gonzales said that she is thankful that the Taiwanese students who hosted them were eager to show them the country.

“I’m really grateful for the students that elected to take us places and wanted to share their experiences with us,” she said. “We definitely wouldn’t have had as many experiences without them — we wouldn’t have experienced it as fully as we did when we had them with us.”

The trip changed the students’ perspective on the world, Wright said.

“I think it was eye-opening,” Wright said. “It was life-changing.”

Caitlin McAlister

UP staff writer

Learn more about Lamar University at lamar.edu

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