Taiwan to Tumut and back again

Rotary Youth Director Susan Ivill, Taiwanese exchange student Kei Wei, and host mum Bernadette Walker will be saying goodbye this week, as Kei Wei heads back to Taiwan.

This weekend was a bittersweet one for 17-year-old Taiwanese girl Kei Wei, known as Vivian to her Australian friends. She’s spent the last nine months living in Tumut with community host families as part of the Rotary Youth Exchange program, and this is her last weekend in town.

Returning to her home island, with a comparable population to Australia at 23 million, will be a world away from the quiet life of Tumut.

“Taiwan is really small, it’s about half the size of Tasmania. It’s really busy in Taiwan, not like in Australia where there’s so much countryside,” Vivian said.

“Everything is different, everything! At first – because I live in a city – I thought, here it was really green. I really like it, this is a place where I really wanted to spend one year. It’s really special.”

After her seismic experience of living in a completely foreign culture, she’ll be right back into the life of a typical Taiwanese teenager when she returns home – but with a new sense of independence under her belt.

“I’m doing year twelve when I go back and then I’ll prepare for uni, where I want to study interior design,” she explained.

“I think I’ve changed a lot, I know how to do a lot of stuff by myself now. There’s a lot of little things, where I’ll do something and then realise, oh, I’ve changed!”

“I’m excited to go back because I miss my family and I miss my friends.”

Her host families will certainly be sorry to see her go.

During her time here, Vivian stayed with Fiona and John D’Alessandro, Robyn and PJ MacRae, Lisa and Hugh Packard, and Bernadette and Steven Walker. As Bernadette Walker explained, one of the roles of the host families – along with Rotary Youth Director Susan Ivill – is to explain the intricacies of Australian culture, that as a native you would never even think of needing to explain.

“It takes them a while to learn the Australian way of speaking,” Ms Walker said.

“For example our last girl, she used to think that if people said to her down the street ‘how are you going?’ she thought she would really have to tell them properly, whereas we know that it just means ‘g’day’ – little things like that. By the end they become quite Australianised!”

Susan Ivill is responsible for making sure the exchange students fit right in, and as her first year in the position, she was a “nervous wreck” at the beginning of Vivian’s time here.

However, she was happy to learn that for the most part, the exchange students take to lives with their host families like ducks to water.

“It’s just the different culture more than anything else,” she said.

“Vivian adjusted very quickly, and her language skills are fantastic.

“It helps that the community, and Australian people, are friendly, warm and welcoming people.”