The Valdosta Daily Time
Listening to stories of a Lowndes County group’s summer adventures in Taiwan, it’s hard to tell who made the biggest impression on whom.
Sponsored by the Valdosta-based Azalea International Folk Fair, the South Georgians discovered incredible foods, surrogate host families, charming vistas, and an intense work ethic. All experiences and memories which the travelers believe will last them a lifetime or inspire them to return to the Asian nation.
For African-American visitors Faith Thornton, a Lowndes High School freshman, and brothers Lewis Cureton, a Valdosta State University senior, and Trey Cureton, a Wiregrass Georgia Technical School student, they were surprised by the effect their appearance had on the Taiwanese population.
Many Taiwanese had never seen a black person, Thornton and the Curetons explain. They were mobbed like celebrities. Buses stopped for riders to greet the Americans and pose with them for photos. People touched them. Lewis Cureton’s tall height added to his celebrity in Taiwan.
With exception of one incident of a parent and child who seemed fearful of the visitors’ appearance, the Curetons and Thornton say the attention was positive. Strange but friendly.
From May 31 through July 2, Thornton and the Curetons visited Taiwan with Cammie Traylor, a Lowndes Middle School teacher, Julie Traylor, a Georgia Southern University graduate student studying public health, Carlie Traylor, a University of Georgia junior, Katie Hauser, a Valdosta Middle School student teacher, Claire Hanson, a Georgia Tech freshman, and Serena Huang, a Taiwan native and Azalea International Folk Fair founder.
They stayed with host families who not only gave the South Georgians a place to stay but ensured they felt like part of their families. Lewis Cureton shares how some hosts had both sides of the family living in the same house. With one host family, a grandfather passed away; Lewis Cureton was treated as if he were an honored relative as the family gathered for the funeral
Hauser says her host families had things planned for her daily, introducing her to new experiences, sites, tastes, people. Her families went out of their way to ensure she had a better understanding of Taiwan and its people.
Increasing cultural understanding is a chief part of the goal for these cultural exchange journeys and the Azalea International Folk Fair.
Huang started the fair and related events several years ago so her children growing up in Valdosta would understand their parents’ Taiwanese heritage. To increase her children’s interest, Huang developed dance lessons and cultural-learning events that included her children’s classmates.
As time has passed, Huang’s children have grown into young adults and these activities have become events in the annual Folk Fair. Cultural exchange trips have become part of the program. Earlier this year, approximately 30 Taiwanese students and teachers visited Valdosta and Lowndes County.
For Trey Cureton, this summer’s Taiwan trip was an opportunity to catch up with a friend made during the Taiwanese visit earlier this year to Valdosta. Trey and his friend acted as much like siblings as Trey and Lewis.
While deepening friendships, they also marveled at customs and other items.
Thornton loved the foods and the shopping.
Cammie Traylor was fascinated at how well people communicated even when many families used more than one language. Because of Japan’s occupation of Taiwan from 1895 to 1945, Traylor says, most older Taiwanese generations speak Japanese. While in the same house, most younger generations speak Chinese. Still, others speak the more complex Taiwanese.
As a student teacher, Hauser was impressed by the stark difference between self-discipline in Taiwan schools compared to American schools. Taiwan students rise early for school, attend classes, then attend a secondary school program in the afternoons or early evenings, followed by some extracurricular activity, followed by intense homework session often lasting past midnight.
In the classroom, students are deferential to their teachers. Students are charged with cleaning their own classrooms. Lunch is served to each room where students take their meals at their desks then clean up after themselves.
Lewis Cureton says he has been inspired by the Taiwanese discipline. Since returning, he says he has pushed himself to regular stints of five hours straight studying, all in one sitting.
Yet, through the hospitality of their hosts, the best lesson learned may have been that people of good will are the same no matter race or location. They make the world a better place.