New immigrants in Taoyuan County’s Guanyin Township (觀音) formed the county’s largest health center volunteer group a number of years ago and have been helping other foreigners adapt to Taiwan’s culture and society.
The volunteer team was established in 2008 to outline potential culture clashes and help recently arrived pregnant foreign spouses undergo health checks in cases where they could not speak any of Taiwan’s languages.
The team in Guanyin, home to about 400 foreign spouses from Southeast Asia, has since expanded its services to help people vaccinate their children, undergo health checks and even report domestic abuse.
Guanyin Township New Immigrants Care Foundation chairperson Cich Thuy Nguyen said one common culture clash between foreign spouses and Taiwanese families involves the type of food given to women recovering from childbirth.
Vietnamese people prefer spicy and sour flavors, and they are not used to the taste of rice wine, which is frequently added to certain local dishes, such as sesame oil chicken or stir-fried pig’s liver, that are given to women to help them recuperate after giving birth, Nguyen said in a recent interview.
Nguyen said one Vietnamese woman was so upset and homesick over such food being served by her mother-in-law that Nguyen had to help negotiate with the family to prevent rice wine from being added to so many dishes.
In another case, Nguyen said she had to help a foreign spouse who was being beaten regularly by her alcoholic husband.
Nguyen is in a position to be able to offer valuable assistance to other foreigners because she understands the challenges they face.
When she first came to Taiwan 10 years ago to marry a Taiwanese volunteer firefighter, people in the town looked at her very differently, did not encourage her volunteer work and even called her a “purchased wife.”
Even though her feelings were hurt, she remained positive because she realized people only called her and other foreign spouses such names because “they failed to see our good qualities.”
She continued volunteering, and, over the years, an increasing number of townspeople started to say complimentary things. According to Nguyen, one person even said he would vote for her if she ran for mayor.