I am used to being a black spot in white spaces; I’ve grown up in that environment my entire life (save my university). However, I am not as used to being black in a homogenous country like Taiwan.
This is my third time in Asia but first time in Taiwan and I absolutely love the time I’ve spent here. The program I am with is incredibly challenging, but in pushing me to my limits, my Chinese is improving faster than ever before. The process of being immersed in a completely different land that has different types of people, different fashion trends, different foods, and a different culture as a whole is incredibly exciting for me. But with this completely different upbringing comes different levels of knowledge on certain topics, for example: me.
In rural and traditional southern Taiwan, a black girl who was once dawning braids but is now rocking an afro is nothing short of an anomaly. Every time I go out I get stares. There are whispers and pictures taken, constantly reminding me that I am an outlier here. However, I don’t particularly believe standing out in this sense is a bad thing. It is one of those things that I cannot get offended by. People ask about my hair, if it’s real or not and I will answer all of their questions to the best of my ability and with a smile on my face because I know there is no ill intent. I know that a lot of people here have never seen a black person in real life before, so I can understand the curiosity. It can often be a great source of conversing with new people and practicing my Chinese because once they know I can speak and understand enough to hold a conversation, many excitedly start rapidly firing questions in my direction!
This is all to say new territory comes with new rules. The people I have met living here are some of the nicest and most down to earth humans I have ever met.
They are curious about me and I do not find it invasive at all because I chose to travel thirteen hours to learn more about their culture. Throw in a couple of “who is going to break the eye contact first” game and it’s like a constant cultural exchange in which both parties come out learning something about the other person. Sure there are plenty of awkward moments in which cultural misunderstandings occur, but I think that just adds to the experience of it all.
So if you are someone afraid of standing out in another country or don’t like people asking you questions about your skin and your hair; I’m going to be honest, Taiwan or China might not be the place for you. But I would encourage you not to completely isolate yourself from the idea of coming here, because so many amazing conversations and memories can come out of being understanding of someone else’s curiosity.