Between March 29th and April 7th, 22 Bellarmine students, along with Mr. Wong, Mr. Yav, and Ms. Jan, visited the East Asian island nation of Taiwan. This experience was part of Bellarmine’s Immersion Program, which seeks to “offer unique opportunities to the Bellarmine community” through solidarity with different groups of people across the world.
The group convened at SFO International Airport late on the night of March 28th, where students and faculty met, checked their luggage, and headed to the gate. Eventually, at 1:00 AM on March 29th, they boarded an EVA Airlines flight to Taipei.
After a lengthy 13-and-a-half-hour flight, the group landed at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport. Once through baggage claim and customs, the students and teachers took a bus to the remote village of Naluo in the nation’s mountains. They were greeted by students of Jing Ping Elementary School, which is comprised of children from aboriginal communities. For the rest of the day, Bellarmine students had the opportunity to interact with the children, who performed a musical ceremony in their honor.
That night, the group took a bus to where they would stay for the next few days, a place called Cingcyuan. It was also located in the rural mountains and was relatively impoverished compared to the rest of the country. However, as the group would soon come to learn, the inhabitants’ hospitality was unparalleled. The group took part in a mass with Jesuit Father Martinson, a San Diego native. Fr. Martinson arrived in Taiwan in the 1970s and has been living there ever since as a member of the Cingcyuan community. He welcomed them to the town as part of the mass, and later ushered them into the hostel where they would be staying.
Over the next few days, the students and teachers were able to take a truck ride along the narrow mountain roads, plant cabbages with local farmers, visit a massive waterfall, hike through the forest, perform a traditional aboriginal dance around a campfire, and enjoy an Easter mass with Fr. Martinson, all while eating traditional Taiwanese food.
Following the Easter Sunday mass with the rest of the community, the group played basketball with local children before it was time to leave. Again, taking the bus, the group headed to Taipei 101, one of the tallest buildings in the world. Once inside, they took the elevator up the 89 floors to the very top, where they were able to observe the entirety of Taipei.
The next day, after having slept in a hotel on the campus of the National Taiwan University, (the premier university in Taiwan), the Bellarmine group traveled to the “Affiliated Senior High School of National Taiwan Normal University”, or HSNU for short. For the rest of the day, the Bells were divided into small groups with students from HSNU, who showed them parts of Taipei and discussed their unique experiences.
Tuesday was similar, as the Bellarmine group visited Tsai Hsing High School, another top Taiwanese school. Students played a basketball game against one of the school’s basketball teams, (losing substantially), and took part in the classes of their Taiwanese counterparts. In the latter half of the day, the Bellarmine students visited Cloud Gate Theater, home of the world-famous Cloud Gate dance company.
On Wednesday, the Bells traveled via high-speed rail to the south of the country, specifically a city called Tainan. Once there, they visited an old Dutch Fort that had been converted into a pagoda, a traditional Taoist temple, and the coastal wetlands of the region.
The next day, students took a bus to a famous tourist destination in the center of the country, Sun Moon Lake. A favorite visiting place of Taiwanese leader Chiang Kai-shek, students were overwhelmed by the views in a gondola ride, took part in a boat tour of the lake’s major features, and traversed the surrounding area with bikes. Eventually though, the group would leave for Taipei once more, arriving later that evening.
On Friday, a week after having arrived, the students and teachers visited the mountain city of Jioufen, which inspired the popular anime Spirited Away. Despite the continuous rain, students explored local shops and ate traditional food, culminating in a ceremonial lantern ceremony, where they were able to write their wishes on a lantern that would be released into the sky.
On the final day of the trip, the group travelled to the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial and National Museum, where they witnessed the changing of the guard and looked over the expansive courtyard. Late Saturday night, they arrived back at the airport and boarded their flight home.
Overall, the Taiwan Immersion Trip fully enveloped the students into the culture of the Taiwanese people, and proved that ultimately, people from distant areas of the world have far more in common than they have different.