Summer Journeys: Three months in Rappahannock

Officially, on the calendar, summer is sticking around for a couple more weeks. But with another Labor Day now in the past, the summer vacation season has indeed passed. Fun and carefree getaways, yes — and we all need those. But often journeys lead to unique, unexpected, meaningful experiences far beyond what was on the itinerary. This summer, by happenstance, Rappahannock residents shared such tales with this newspaper…

By Wen-Ya Chang

This year I was lucky enough to travel to the United States from Taiwan for three months as part of the International 4-H Youth Exchange (IFYE) program. This time with my host family in Rappahannock has been amazing. They have treated me as if I were their own daughter and I have seen so many new and different things.

They took me on a trip to Illinois, where I attended my first American wedding. On the way, I had many other firsts: my first time ice-skating, at an amusement park, diving off a diving board, playing Frisbee golf and spending 15 hours in a car! Taiwan is a tropical island that you can cross in six hours, and there is no ice-skating and no Frisbee golf courses.

Courtesy photo
Lauren (birthday girl), Robert and Madelyn McPeak at their Castleton home with exchange student Wen-Ya Chang.

Sometimes, when I am homesick, I miss certain foods. I have had to adjust. A vegetarian, I do not eat onions or garlic because my religion, I-Kuan Tao, does not want us to eat anything that flies, walks or swims, or to consume five odorous vegetables, including garlic and onions because they affect one’s behavior and can harm certain organs.

Garlic and onions are in everything here! My family has accommodated my diet, cooking many things from scratch. From scratch is an expression I learned while my host dad taught me to make a homemade cake for my host mom’s birthday. She was surprised and so happy! I cannot wait to share the recipe with my family and friends. Because Chinese culture focuses on cooking over flames, we seldom use the oven and we usually buy cakes.

I have learned to care for 26 chickens, one dog, three cats, two horses and 11 sheep. Country life is new to me, as I grew up in the city. When I was young, I was bitten by a dog and I’ve always been a bit afraid of cats because of their devilish-looking eyes, so I was nervous at first. But now I love animals. My friends at home say I live in a zoo.

Chinese culture is shy about expressing love and I like the way my host family hugs each other goodnight. I’ve liked learning that God loves everyone, and tells people be kind and forgiving.

In Taiwan, I am the youngest child. In my American family, I am the oldest and also big sister to two foreign exchange students: Dave Sungchan Wang from South Korea, and Gayla Halina Zolotukhina from Ukraine. They are high school seniors and will stay a year. We share our cultures through stories and food.

Together, our family shops, cooks, does chores, plays games, and most of all laughs. We are fortunate to have each other. This experience has given me the courage to try new things like diving, jumping into a river, playing with animals and to open my heart and mind to learn and receive more. I will always remember 4-H and my host family.

Exchange student Chang lived this summer with the McPeak family of Castleton.

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