Being a Person Before Being a Leader

Recently the point has been hammered home to me that you must be a person before becoming a leader. I have two stories to tell that demonstrate that you must be a relatable human in order to successfully lead others.

I go to Chinese class at National Taipei Normal University with two other people because out of all of the exchange students, our Chinese is significantly better. I am half-Chinese, another is full Chinese, and the last person is a Swiss girl who studied a ton of Chinese in the last 8 months.

Today the Swiss girl was absent, and so was our teacher. Our substitute teacher was a big, auntie-like lady with a big mouth and red lipstick. As soon as me and the other student walked into the classroom, she rigidly alternated between us both, asking the same question to each of us like it was an interview: “Where are your parents from?” “Which high school are you going to right now?”

She seemed to be doing this out of nervousness, so I didn’t take this cold welcome personally. Then she immediately told us the class schedule. We basically were going to watch a Youtube video about the history of Taiwan’s elections. She started the video and told us “This is to test your Chinese level.” After every couple minutes, she would pause the video and quiz us on specific facts from the video.

As expected, both the other student and I didn’t know some of the facts because of the technical language of the news report. The teacher explained for a few minutes, then said:

“I thought your guys’ Chinese would be better.”

I think we both laughed. I sat forward in my chair with an entertained smile on my face and stared her straight in the eyes, challenging her to continue. From this point on, both me and the other student could not take her seriously anymore.

However, after break, things changed. As soon as we walked in, she was sipping a tea. Perhaps because of the morning tea, she began asking us more questions. This time, it became more personal, perhaps a little too personal. “Does your school have both boys and girls?” “Do you think mixed-genders is better?” “Does your homeroom have a class couple yet?” “The girl in the other class, she really needs to go to a mixed-gender school, it is such a pity.”

By this time, we were all laughing. We could see the teacher open her giant mouth and laugh a very auntie-like cackle laugh. I knew things would be better now. We were less of a student-teacher strict relationship and more of humans learning from and laughing with each other. For the rest of the class, the teacher stopped quizzing us on small facts about the video. Instead, she would explain in detail all parts of the video which she thought would be difficult for us.

I nodded so much for the rest of the class, encouraging her to continue teaching this way, with friendliness instead of uncomfortable animosity.

The rotarians put us into six groups. I was assigned group leader and was told to find people to be in my group. I let my closest friends go to a different group with my good friend who was the group leader.

I told the rotarians: “Give me the ones who are left over.”

What is the worst that can happen?

I get the Frenchies and Brazilians and the crazy Danish guy. The rotarians already can’t control these teenagers.

Task: Tell your group to meet tomorrow at the Taipei Grand Hotel at 10:30am.


I go over to each one individually. “Hey, so… We have to be there at 10:30 tomorrow.”

“At night!?”

“No. A.M.” I stretch a giant grimace on my face then back away to find the next group member. Eventually I tell all of my group members, making sure they make eye contact with me to be sure that they’ve heard me. I try to sympathize with them, telling them I think it is too early as well.

I approach them with the same casual style that I have with my friends, instead of bossing them around like I am an adult. For the most part, my group came on time. I don’t think a single one of them was late.

From these two experiences, I’ve learned that in order to successfully lead someone, you must become a relatable person to them. They should be able to know your real personality. Therefore, it’s best to become friends before being their leader. Tell them something personal about yourself. As them something personal, perhaps even a little bit inappropriate. Assume familiarity. Laugh and let go of all your stiffness. After all, we are all humans and can never be limited to words like studentteacher, follower, leader.


People Honk Smarter in Taipei

My host mom is driving in her white SUV and is trying to make a left turn on a two-lane street. The oncoming traffic hasn’t had a gap in probably 20 seconds. My host mom edges the front half of the car into the opposite lane, then when the cars in front of us slow, she continues the left turn.

I used to flinch but now I don’t. I used to flinch because it seemed dangerous, but also because I was anticipating an angry honk from the driver we just cut off. The honk never came. I don’t think I’ve heard an angry honk in my time here in Taipei so far.


(I asked for permission before taking this photo of the dog co-pilot)

Sure, there have been many honks, but they weren’t mean honks. If we are about to swerve into another car in the adjacent lane, there’s a honk. If we wait too long at a fresh green light, there’s a honk. But there’s no honk when we cut someone off.


When you honk at someone for blocking you and your entire lane, you are really just saying, I’m sort of pissed off at you, because you’ve already stopped your car and honking doesn’t solve anything. In America, I’d heard a lot more “hate honks” than in Taipei. Here, its been oddly quiet whenever someone is disrespected in traffic.


Took a Break from Posting on the blog

I haven’t made a post on this blog for almost four months now, and I’m trying to figure out why.

It’s not like anything big has happened since January that is taking up my time. My laptop and iPhone are still working fine.

I just haven’t thought of anything to write about because Taiwan is starting to become “home”. It will never be home because home is where my family is, but I have become so accustomed to living here that every day is a non-event. I now wake up and am not surprised that I’m in a tiny room filled with the sound of traffic. I don’t long for a home-made veggie-packed omelette in the morning because I know I can now get a triangle sandwich and soy milk at the 7-Elevens that are on every street corner.


I also feel physically different than I was before I came to Taiwan. I have the small beginnings of a paunch. The muscles that I worked on so hard last summer on have slowly disappeared, especially in my arms. My hair has grown longer because I’m trying to be Taiwanese-style trendy. My back is stiff from sitting in class for so long. There are other health changes that I’ll get into in later posts (nothing serious at all, don’t worry).


So I’ve become accustomed to almost everything in my day to day life. That’s why it’s been hard for me the last four months to post anything on this blog. I hope to start up again starting now, since my time in Taiwan is nearing its end.