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Simona Paladini

"A Stranger in a Strange Land"

Interviewed by

Teen Editorial Board member, Kathy Chang

November 1998

One year ago, Simona Paladini was told that she'd be moving with her family from Italy to Taiwan, off the coast of mainland China. She was thrown into a place where she didn't know the language, or the culture. (She barely knew where in the world she was!) Now, a year later, she shares her experiences being a stranger in a strange land. 

The InSite: What was your reaction when your dad said you were going to move?

Simona: We had talked about moving before, so I wasn't entirely shocked. But (to) Taiwan! (That) was a shock. I didn't even know where Taiwan was…and when I got here I was really shocked at how different it was from Italy. I expected some place more…well…western.

I didn't even know where Taiwan was...

TI: What was your first impression of Taiwan?

Simona: It was extremely hot and humid. Also, the people are so conservative here…it seems like everyone is so concerned about tradition and "following the rules." In Italy everybody is much more open minded. You wear whatever you want, and nobody cares…it's a show of your personality. Here, in Taiwan, there's a set standard, and if you differ too much they can't accept it. And they treat those people (who don't conform) pretty badly…I think that's really awful.

TI: Are there things you admire about the culture in Taiwan?

Simona: I admire the strong moral ethics of the people, and the strong work ethic.

I admire the strong ethics of the people, and the strong work ethic.

TI: Is the language difference a problem?

Simona: Not really (laughs), you would be amazed at how far gestures go. Also, there are many people here that do know a few words of English. And hey! For prices there's always a calculator! But seriously, ... the language problem doesn't really exist.

TI: What's it like not being Chinese when everyone else around you is? In other words, do you feel like you stand out in the crowd?

Simona: Definitely! It's not like in America, where everyone is of different races. (Here) it's almost completely Chinese, so when I walk down the street with my blond curly hair.... (Laughs) but ... I don't really mind.

...the language problem doesn't really exist...You would be amazed at how far gestures go...

TI: Have you met any prejudice against you because you are a stranger?

Simona: No, actually, people bend over backwards often to give a helping hand, most people are very nice. Cab drivers even try to teach me Chinese in the taxi! (Laughs)

TI: How about your new school? How is it different from your old school in Italy?

Simona: Both are American Schools (schools for American students living abroad.) (But) the personality and culture of the school is heavily influenced by the culture surrounding it. The Italian American School was much more easygoing, and not so much concerned with grades. Here, the competition for grades is enormous, mostly because of the pressure the Chinese students (a large majority of the school's population) get from their parents. The Chinese definition of success is based so much on what kind of grades you get, so the stress and competition at the Taipei American School (TAS) is crazy. There's so much work! In Italy we could go out every day, but at TAS all you do every weekday is homework. I have no life on weekdays.

...actually, people bend over backwards often to give [you] a helping hand...

TI: Have you made any Chinese friends?

Simona: I have friends who are Chinese, but not local people. TAS's community is very separate from the local community. (Also).... since I do not speak the language, I do not really interact with any local Chinese people.

TI: What advice would you give to teens moving ?

Simona: Try to keep an open mind, especially if you're moving to another country. People have different cultures and traditions, some that you won't understand…you have to learn to respect them and not judge them from your values or your mind set, because you're the guest in their world.

Try to keep an open mind, especially if you're moving to another country. People have different cultures and traditions, some that you won't understand...you have to learn to respect them and not judge them from your values or your mind set, because you're the guest in their world.
 
Teen Editorial Board member Kathy Chang is also a
student at the Taipei American School.
 

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