Exchange student facing Cold Weather Blues
Ken Wessels became concerned when his foreign exchange student complained of it being cold. He was even more bewildered upon seeing the thermometer registering 60 degrees.
Sixty degrees in Minnesota is balmy to native northerners, but not to someone from Taiwan who is used to temperatures ranging from 52 to 100 degrees.
Once Wessels realized what the problem was, he relaxed and now chuckles about the culture shock experienced by his 17-year-old guest.
Jun-Cheng Chang, or ‘Jun’ as he is called here, was born October 6, 1991 in Taiwan to Chang Po-Kai (father) and Chang Hsiao-Yun (mother). He also has one younger sister, Juno.
Both of his parents have careers working with computers.
Since most people live in apartments in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, it is not surprising his family lives on the fifth floor of one, sharing their quarters with his grandmother.
Jun says his family has traveled to Japan, Hong Kong, Korea and Thailand, but he is the first to visit the United States.
“I would like to go to France,” says Jun wistfully. But for now, the junior at Blue Earth Area High School still has two years of education to complete upon his return home.
“We have no choice of classes in Taipei,” says Jun. “We must study our native language, Chinese, and take science, mathematics, a physical education class and English.”
Jun has studied English for about five years.
Students in Taiwan generally begin school at the age of six or seven.
“If parents want to, they can send their children to kindergarten. Otherwise, this can be skipped and the child can go right into grade one,” explains Jun.
Education in Taiwan is broken down into three groups. Grades one through six are in one school, seven through nine in another and grades 10 to 12 in yet another.
School begins at 7:30 a.m. and ends by 5 p.m. in Taiwan. Students are required to take eight classes a day, but everyday’s schedule is different. Each class period is about 50 minutes in length. The school week is Monday through Friday. If a teacher hasn’t covered all of the material to be tested, students must attend that class on a Saturday.
Jun estimates that he has about 500 students in his grade in Taipei.
“On Fridays, at my home school, we have a choice to take one class that we like,” says Jun. “I like to take sports,” he grins.
“We are not much for team sports in Taiwan,” explains Jun. But two sports he enjoys playing are basketball and badminton.
Jun also has fun playing video games, singing and reading novels in his spare time.
While attending BEA High School, Jun is enjoying singing in the choir.
Once he returns to his homeland, he will complete his high school education then hopes to attend college. He knows before his acceptance into a college he will have to take an entrance exam.
In the meantime, he is learning new skills and engaging in different activities while living with his host family, Ken and Jean Wessels of Blue Earth. Not only is he becoming familiar with the American culture, he is also being acclimized to Germany’s, since he shares a room with fellow foreign exchange student, Sandor Hahn.
The Wessels are no novices when it comes to hosting foreign students. In the past, they have opened their home and hearts to a Swiss student, one from Taiwan and another from Germany.“
“This year we got to choose our guests,” says a smiling Ken Wessels.
“All of the kids we have ever had, have gotten their driver’s permit and license while living with us,” says a proud Wessels.
Currently, Jun is working on obtaining his driving license, even though he will probably never have much of an opportunity to use it.
In Taiwan he says they can get their driver’s license at age 18. But most people walk, ride a bus, bike or motorcycle as a means of getting around.
As for entertainment in his homeland, Jun says he likes to spend time with his friends. They go shopping and often just sit on a bus cruising around to the next bus stop.
Jean Wessels notes that Jun likes to play family games, chinese chess and is very helpful around the house.
The Wessels have taken Jun on several trips since his arrival in Blue Earth. They attended the Minnesota State Fair, traveled to the Black Hills and to northern Minnesota, in addition to attending a Twins game. Hopefully, they will be able to go to a Timberwolves game sometime this winter. In the spring, he will get the opportunity to go to Chicago with the high school choir.
He has also discovered he enjoys four-wheeling and playing with the Wessel’s family dog, ‘Love.’
Observations Jun has made are people here are more friendly and school is easier.
“He is very quick at math,” states Ken Wessels. “He likes to quiz me. I couldn’t believe it when he said he liked pre-calculus and said it was easy,” he adds.
“I miss every food from home,” admits Jun who continues using his chopsticks. “The food is very different here. For one thing, you don’t have the white noodles that I like so much at home,” he explains.
A typical breakfast in his homeland would consist of a meat and egg sandwich with milk and tea. Lunch and dinner would include fried rice, sometimes fried chicken and always a soup.
Jun recently received a care package from home containing packaged food. It made him homesick for some of his favorites, but he does admit to liking some American foods such as egg bakes.
“We eat more vegetables, seafood and have rice two meals per day,” he says. “We also have uncooked fish, but I don’t like it. It’s yuck,” confesses Jun.
With temperatures now consistently below 52 degrees, Jun continues to adjust to the climate here.
“He had never seen snow before coming to Minnesota,” says Ken Wessels. “In fact, he got to touch it for the first time. We had to buy him gloves, a scarf and a hat, but he brought a winter coat. I just hope it’s warm enough,” says Wessels.
“You know, Jun,” adds Wessels with a mischievous grin, “before the winter ends, it will probably be 80 or 90 degrees colder than it is now.”