It has been a good year for TAF as we saw the continued growth of our Summer Conference under the direction of Executive Director Jessica Fu and her staff. We thank her for her service and congratulate her on her wedding next year. TAF continues to be true to our vision and mission – encouraging TAFers to grow and become servant leaders that serve others in their homes, schools, and the marketplaces throughout the world … so that we might make a unique and profound impact in compassionate ways wherever we are.
As an organization, we are incredibly blessed by the many, many gifted members that serve with such dedication year after year to ensure that each TAFer has the opportunity to experience the love that ever so gently graces our hearts and helps us to reach our true potentials. I am grateful to be a part of this wonderful organization and so very humbled for the privilege of serving alongside such faithful and talented co-laborers.
This year, you may have noticed some new changes to our website. Thanks to a host of team members led by our alum Bonnie Lu, they all contributed to making our website more informative. We have in place an organizational structure that allows our tafLabs to flourish in contributing to the improvements with TAF. They have been instrumental behind the scenes in improving our registration infrastructure and data management. Our legal team has put together a TAF Manual that provides the guidelines for present and future servant leaders.
We have become more stable financially due to a slight increase in registration fees in 2012 and the superb asset management of our reserves. This enables us to break even with the help of donations while allowing us to continue providing aid to those who need it to attend TAF. I want to especially thank our many donors who give so generously to TAF. Without your gracious support we would not be able to provide such a unique value every year of the special TAF experience to hundreds of attendees.
We are very excited in the coming year as we welcome our new Executive Director Elizabeth Wang. Like her predecessors, she has spent numerous years with TAF. She has had a significant impact as a Juniors Program Director and Speaker. This is important as we continue to see growth in the Juniors Program, especially with the increasing number of 3rd generation TAFers! Elizabeth is passionate about TAF as are all her staff members. In addition, our Executive Committee member, Spencer Chen, is our new President-Elect. He will begin his service as TAF President at the end of the TAF 2014 Summer Conference. Spencer has been with TAF for the longest time … and his children are passionate about being the future of TAF.
If you have previously attended TAF and would like to get involved again, we would like to invite you to consider being a part of this wonderful organization and help shape the future of TAFers in fulfilling our vision.
During this holiday season, I am ever so thankful for God’s grace in my life and I hope everyone has a Joyous Christmas and a Blessed New Year!
How do you Taiwanese?
By William Leu
I still don’t have a straight answer for my friends and family back in Florida as to why I keep attending TAF. Folk would question the practicality of it all, traveling all that way, spending all that money, for what? To sing and dance with kids? Possibly. My responses would always switch around after every camp, “oh the kids”… “yeah the volunteering”… “gotta show love to the community”. I would placate those who would asked with the most cookie-cutter, typically altruistic responses I could think of—anything to shift the focus of the conversation to something else. For the truth sometimes can be uncomfortable, in a wool sweater neck tag type of uncomfortable. And the itchy, wooly truth is that TAF is therapy, mainly my therapy. Identity issues with my Taiwanese heritage are my vice and TAF, strangely enough, has become my own Betty Ford Center. The Juniors program specifically, is the annual regimen I’ve prescribed myself in order to make sense of a lifetimes worth of turmoil caused by the mishandling of my Taiwanese identity. I mean it’s tough for me to bring myself to admit to my friends and family, how after being raised by Taiwanese parents, being involved with Asian student orgs, and all those Asian American studies courses—that I had no idea how to Taiwanese.
I grew up in Miami where the bullying was accompanied by elementary sociology lessons. The concept of a panethnic identity was introduced to me as a tot when schoolmates would throw chink eyes at both me and a Filipino classmate. They’d squint their eyes before pulling back along on the outer edges of their eyelids and douse us in a torrent of, “Chino, Chino, Chino!” But I would always say, “Wait, he’s not even Chinese!” The other kids would shrug. “Chino es chino”, they would offer back.
The pain train of rejection continued to chug along as I grew older. I had at one point finally found out that I was Taiwanese and not Chinese/Japanese/Black/Cuban. Pops casually dropped this nugget of a revelation halfway through dinner one night and I took this new title and brandished it about the very next day. But introducing my classmates to a new nationality just encouraged them even more in their efforts, Chink turned into Tink, Taiwan turned into Thai which turned into Tylenol, and someone had looked up on Encarta that Taiwan wasn’t recognized by the U.N. and I don’t know why, but I was lambasted for that as well. I quickly switched back to Chinese and alternated between that or Asian, whichever option produced the least amount of flack.
Once I made it to college I thought I had finally found refuge when I heard about the Taiwanese student organization on my university’s campus. I felt that surely there were some people in this club that would be happy to help a wayward brother on his lifelong quest for identity. Things went wrong of course when I attended the clubs callout. While in the line for nametags after a bout of questions from a club officer and my subsequent shrugs of confusion I was tagged as non-Chinese speaking, thus marking me as an outsider and leading me to being treated as such:
-Attempts at conversation were met with an aggressive silence.
-Those that acknowledged my greetings quickly turned muted once they had noticed my nametag was written in English and not in Mandarin
-An elderly professor had stopped shaking my hand midway when my lack of fluency was exposed.
-I was told the Asian American club spoke English.
With regular bullying, you can always pluck the insults out of the air, turn them back, maybe throw in a mom joke, but ultimately you would be able to deflect everyone’s attention from the fact that you were different. But with that silence during the meeting—with everyone’s curt glances and scoffing grins—there were no words to twist or lies to straighten out, there was just the truth that you were different and everyone knew. I mean we look the same, we share the same cultural nuances; we harbor the same unexplainable affection towards that itty bitty speck of island between the Strait and the Philippine Sea, yet I was found wanting because I couldn’t bo po mo fo my way through a simple meet and greet. To be denied my heritage by others has always been an easy matter to cope with, it’s something almost expected at times and as such barely registers on a personal level. But to be denied by those of your own heritage was destructive. That negativity stayed with me for the majority of college, adversely influencing my interactions with the Taiwanese student body. I had gleaned the absolute, wrong idea of how to Taiwanese and unabashedly continued to perpetuate it.
It wasn’t until the end of my junior year that TAF’s own Eddie Huang unknowingly gave me a chance at reformation. He told me about TAF and kept talking about TAF even when I treated his offering as some redundant sales pitch. Cause I didn’t want to go to TAF—just the thought of having to spend a week surrounded by Taiwanese people terrified me. It was only through Eddie’s relentlessly compassionate assault of positivity and endearment towards TAF did I finally take him up on his offer to take care of some kids for a week.
At first TAF confused me, of course. Where I expected a campus full of silence and dismissive glares, there’s this harmonious utopia brimming with laughter and inclusivity. When I expected wholesale rejection from staff and counselors, I found a family of counselors that refuses to let go. When I expected ‘servant leadership’ to mean we were now the personal servants for the administration, I found a name to call that sense of community service I felt as a student leader. When I expected the juniors to fear and loathe my tough guy exterior, they laughed and poked fun at the irony of my softie interior. When I expected Megan—a non-English speaking junior camper—to dismiss me as her counselor and abhor her time at TAF, she becomes this beaming repeat camper that’s even brought along a friend from Taiwan to experience TAF as well. When I expected absolutely nothing, TAF gave me everything.
It’s been three camps so far and come next summer should be the fourth.
So how do you Taiwanese? Chill man, I still don’t know completely. What I can tell you from my time with our Juniors, is that a big part of being Taiwanese is being able to love out loud at a volume so great that it deafens all insecurities and reservations. That singing and dancing on a stage can be more fulfilling for your identity than any call out, general meeting, or club activity that any student organization can run you through. That having the strength to don this mantle of servant leader is useless without the humility to allow it shine, unabashed and with nary a doubt. Listen, I know it’s not much right now, but it’s hard to take notes when you keep dropping your pencils during piggy back rides, though I’m still eager to try, as long as the opportunity continues to be granted.
You can find me during Juniors activities, usually entrenched amongst the campers, wielding both furrowed brow and malevolent stink eye in order to feign a desire to enforce discipline. When only I want to bring myself close to our campers, to observe and learn with them—what might not be the most proper way to Taiwanese, but the most loving way.
William Leu is a recent graduate of Purdue University. He currently resides in Miami, Florida and works as a Property Manager.
Our first spotlight is on: Chelsea Liu
Years at TAF: 13
Programs you’ve been on staff for: Junior High (3 years) and Youth (2 years)
What made you decide to become a staff member? It only makes sense to give back to the organization that gave me so much throughout the years
What do you do during the rest of the year? I work in hotel sales for Hyatt Hotels & Resorts, and volunteer at a local dog rescue (The Barking Lot) on the weekends
Which workshops have you led at TAF? Swing Choir, Choir, Yoga, Relaxation, Cooking
What’s your favorite memory as a camper? Every moment at TAF is a favorite memory. Also, the annual drive into North Manchester passing all the cornfields always brings a big smile to my face
What’s your favorite memory as a staff member?
“And his [the horse’s] eyes flashed with adventure…” – Jeff Nian, 2009
“It all started with a 2 for $5 deal…” – Caleb Chen, 2013
What’s your favorite TAF game? Ninja, Lightsaber, Ride the Pony, Big Booty, Da-Fong-Tway, etc. too many to pick a favorite!
Anything else you’d like to add? TAF love forever!
Thanks for reading! Start checking back every two weeks for new blog posts!]]>
My first year at TAF was in 1986 as a camper when the conference was located at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. At that time the Canadian crowd was organized by Joe Tung (and his van). Over the next fourteen years I worked my way through the Youth Program, served as a small group leader and a Youth Program Director, drove Canadian kids to/from Michigan myself and saw the conference move to Indiana. The number of Canadians waxed and waned over this time period and like many others, my life career started and I stopped attending TAF.
From the day my daughter Emily was born I had visions of her attending TAF, meeting amazing Taiwanese kids and developing life-long friendships as I had. Sure, I learned a lot about ethics, my culture and servant leadership during my TAF career but it was the network of amazingly supportive people that really impacted me the most. I had talked at length about TAF to my husband and Emily and it wasn’t until this year that she decided that she wanted to see what TAF was all about. Up until this point Emily had attended numerous day camps and had sleepovers at friends and grandparents’ houses. But this would be the first time that she would have done both together.
Emily started in the Junior’s program while I decided to hang around in the background as a just-in-case. Just-in-case she couldn’t sleep, just-in-case she was scared, just-in-case she wasn’t eating her vegetables, just-in-case she wasn’t enjoying herself, just-in-case she couldn’t / wouldn’t shower herself, just-in-case she needed her mom. I wanted to let the staff do their thing with the kids but since I had not attended the Junior program I was naturally concerned about the mechanics of managing 40+ kids under 11 years old and all the what-ifs that might crop up.
Once we arrived I very quickly realized several things: (a) the Manchester campus was smaller than I had remembered and it was impossible not to run into Emily in the dorm or the cafeteria, and (b) Emily had much more confidence and strength than I had given her credit for. I also realized that the Junior staff put a lot of thought into creating a program that was tailored for the ages they were leading. I distinctly remembered that the dances during the week were all-inclusive and that there was a rambunctious water balloon fight during the mid-week picnic. I was never the kid at the centre of attention so these two events I usually shied away from. Emily shares this trait with me so I was really curious to see how she’d fare during these two events. It turned out that I didn’t need to worry for her because the Junior staff actually threw a Juniors-only dance party in the dorm for the kids, thereby giving them a perfectly safe environment away from the bigger kids. They also took time to make sock bubblers (look it up on Pinterest – it’s awesome) for those kids that didn’t want to partake in the waterworks.
Coming back to the conference was like stepping back in time – a lot of the people I grew up with through the 1990’s were still very much involved, the message of servant leadership was still being taught, everyone was encouraged to share and support one another and everyone was accepted as a valuable person.
But coming back as a Parent also introduced some new revelations. Even though I wanted to protect Emily in this novel environment and step in as a parent I had to stop myself several times. I had to remind myself that TAF is a safe environment where kids are given the opportunity to make their own decisions and realize the consequences. The atmosphere during the week supports the learning, growth, and sometimes failure of campers and staff alike. If I wanted Emily to develop more confidence in herself, I had to step back and let her be. I had to let her program leaders guide her. I also had to let her program leaders develop confidence in their own actions and trust that the senior staff would be there to provide guidance and advice if needed. Everyone is provided the opportunity to grow as a person at TAF and I believe that that is what makes this conference so unique, powerful and important.
Emily had a fantastic first year at TAF and declared on the second day of the week that she’d be coming back in 2014. My (non-Taiwanese) husband is as supportive of TAF as I am (the access to golf courses around North Manchester doesn’t hurt) and our youngest, Claire, will attend TAF when she’s old enough. Based on all this, I am gladly looking forward to a yearly retreat to Indiana for the next 20+ years as a TAF Alumni and supportive Parent.
Mrs. Ana Derksen works in Occupational Health and Safety and resides in Toronto, Canada with her husband Chris, current TAFer Emily and future TAFer Claire.]]>
When I first heard that I was able to go to TAF 2013, I was skeptical and nervous. After not going for two years, I had forgotten the feeling of TAF love – what I defined as the acceptance and unconditional love that I could only ever find at TAF. It felt like I had missed so much, and I was nervous to meet everyone for the “first time” again. I hadn’t really done a fantastic job of keeping in touch with my friends from TAF after two years, and I was scared that all my friendships had disintegrated.
The great thing about TAF, though, is that I think the cliche “distance makes the heart grow fonder” truly does apply. Only being able to see my closest friends for a week taught me not to take them for granted, and to treasure every conversation and interaction I had with each one of them. The bonds of friendships with those at TAF never really diminish. Although they may fray and tear as we become more distant throughout the year, they will never fully break. I believe that wholeheartedly, as I think the love we feel at TAF and towards each other is a love, understanding, and acceptance that is unable to be found anywhere else. Thus, arriving at TAF, I felt like I was being welcomed home, by old faces and new, after a long time of being away.
This year, I also took on the position of Media Coordinator. Having only experienced one year of Youth prior to this year, it was my first year coordinating and I didn’t know what to expect. I had my doubts about myself, and I was unsure that I was fit for the job. However thanks to tafLabs and my co-coordinator Jesse, I soon got into the groove of things and started loving what I was doing., despite the lack of sleep. Looking back, I think that being a coordinator was the most meaningful part of my TAF experience this past year. I have always wanted to give back to TAF, and being a coordinator was the final step before becoming a counselor. It felt amazing to give back to TAF — to give back to the place that helped me become the person I am today. It gave me a glimpse of the life of an advisor at TAF — with sleep deprivation and all. It taught me to grow as a leader and worker. I was able to play my role in the TAF community, in an effort to help TAF impact other campers the way TAF helped me. This wonderful, eye-opening opportunity assured and motivated me that giving back to TAF — the community that gave me so much — was what I truly loved to do.
What makes TAF so meaningful and special in my opinion is the open and accepting environment that allows people to share personal stories and experiences without fear of being judged or betrayed. My favorite parts of TAF have always been the deep, personal conversations with small groups and one on ones with friends that really get me to empathize and open my heart to all the TAFers who are brave enough to share. The community at TAF is one that is a safe place for sharing, allowing campers to be vulnerable and be real with all of those around them. In the Youth program, campers have more opportunities to do so and that itself made my experience in Youth worthwhile. In being open and allowing myself to become vulnerable with fellow TAFers, I received counsel and comfort, knowing that what had been said was reciprocated with trust and love. The warm and fuzzy feeling that is felt after being vulnerable and open with your friends at TAF is why I continue coming back year after year; to make these connections and allow people to have someone there simply to listen to them and care for them unconditionally. This sharing allows campers to throw away baggage that is weighing on them, and changes them. Thus, every year after TAF, I leave North Manchester, Indiana as a different, more improved person than when I had entered.
And for that, I’d like to thank you all. Thank you all for shaping me into the person I am today. I would not have been here today without each and every one of you — and you have all helped me grow as a student, a leader, and a person. I cannot wait to give back to TAF as a counselor next year. I only hope that I will do as great of a job as my counselors did for me. Thank you all especially for allowing me to open up and be vulnerable. It has taught me so much about the true meaning of TAF love, and it is what I try to show others each and every day. Thank you all for a great week — see you at TAF 2014!
Maria Lee has attended TAF five times, most recently as a Youth and a Media Coordinator for tafLabs. She is from Glendale Heights, Illinois and will be attending University of Illinois, majoring in psychology.]]>
A Cloudless Night
By Kevin Yau
Every year after TAF, I feel an acute sense of loneliness. Part of it is probably the fact that every year, I sit on a plane, alone, and in darkness, looking out at the lights below me (and in this particular case, listening to a small Asian lady in my row snoring – very loudly). Most of me generally dreads this feeling because it only reinforces the fact that TAF is over.
But more recently, I somewhat enjoy the time alone because it gives me a chance to process the week and think about my experiences. I know the feeling of loneliness I have is mostly withdrawal from the massive amounts of activity around me from the past seven days. I know I’m not actually lonely in my life (I have a wife, family, and friends who love me and I love very much). And the more I think about it rationally – which is a difficult task when it comes to feelings – I realize that, even at my age, this is TAF Blues. It’s also compounded by the fact that from the plane, I get to go home for only one night before I have to get up and spend the next three nights alone in a hotel room.
As an adult, I would have thought that this would be a thing of the past. I, along with most of my friends, are now adults, have disposable income, and relatively often take trips to see each other. Gone are the days where we spend our post-TAF in AOL chatrooms trying to keep up with a torrent of messages. I see TAFers often enough (especially in LA) to know that TAF summer conference is no longer the only time of the year I see my friends. So logically, the next conclusion I can come to, is that there is something else that I miss.
It’s leaving this bubble every year as I sit on the plane, I feel the need to put thoughts to paper (although most times I neglect to). I have the romantic notion that I will have some sort of revelation or deeply profound thought. But as I write this, I realize that this is more of a cathartic exercise as it helps me to articulate, organize, and edify my thoughts. It does help me feel more at peace with the close of another year at TAF, although there is currently a major case of FOMO going on right now since I’m not there to join in on the post-TAF activities in Chicago. But as much as I’m sad about leaving the bubble of TAF, I’m excited about the possibilities the next year will bring. All of the staff and board are already hard at work planning for next year. Everyone still has a full plate in front of them, myself included and there’s only 358-ish days until TAF 2014. Hope to see you there!
Mr. Yau is currently a TAF board member and one of the Program Directors for tafLabs. He joined TAF in 1998 as a Youth and has attended 15 full weeks and one as a weekend participant. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife Jenny. Photo credits:
City view: Unknown
Final 4th Meal with tafLabs: Spencer Chen, Kevin Yau
It’s hard to get a picture of all of them together because there’s always someone out in the field!
Working with the kids have been an absolute treasure. Not only are they fun to watch and video, they’re curious about our presence and have been asking questions. Perhaps these two will join the tafLabs team some day!