Becoming One’s Own Dragon

Programs for this blog post

Chinese Language & Taiwanese Culture

Authored By:

Anesce Dremen

Within the second weekend of July, 79 students safely landed at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport. Between large buses and small group taxis, students were shuttled along the distant mountainous scenery into the heart of Taipei. 

The first few days of orientation concluded with a welcoming dinner wherein students could sample a vast array of Taiwanese cuisine, appreciate a dragon dance presented by a local elementary school, and try their own hands at becoming a dragon. The dragon dance is an integral and historical element of Chinese and Taiwanese cultures. Typically, dragon dancing is performed during festive occasions, such as the Spring Festival. And what better way to welcome session II Taipei students than by offering a dragon dance to celebrate and initiate their “classroom to the world.” 

Dragon dancing is highly symbolic of ushering in good fortune. The participating elementary school brought red and yellow dragons that could be operated with the cooperation of two dancers. Being able to choreograph a dragon dance – with one individual in the lead, holding the head with a pole, and another supporting the trailing tail – is much like collaborating in a new environment; sometimes students must learn to trust those that they follow, even if they don’t yet have all the information just yet. Dragon dancing is an exercise in trust, just as choosing to study abroad in a new environment is an exercise of trust. 

As the drums and symbols echoed in celebration, traditional Taiwanese cuisine began to be served (which included dishes such as batter fried shrimp with sprinkles). Three students were given red paper envelopes to feed the dragons, that when unfurled, offered various wishes of good fortune. Following the explosion of applause, students volunteered to try their own hands at dragon dancing. As the lead instructor gave instructions in Chinese, the small friends from the elementary school helped guide each CIEE student in navigating their dragon costume.  

As student strangers timidly paired up to be the head and tail of the dragon, they embarked on a long journey that is symbolic of this program: they will immerse themselves in adventure and learning.