Staying optimistic is key to blending into a new culture, said Arelis Gabot, a Dominican Republic native and one of Taiwan’s few foreign-born ward chiefs.
Speaking with 17 years of experience in Taiwan, the 40-year-old said that one needs to look on the bright side of things and forget unhappy incidents to assimilate.
“It would be a lie if I said there have not been any conflicts,” she said in a recent interview.
Gabot is married to a Taiwanese businessman.
She soon found herself at a disadvantage due to her poor Mandarin and a local lack of understanding of foreigners, she said.
Gabot recalled how she bore the brunt of her mother-in-law’s anger at minor misunderstandings and how people would treat her because of her Caribbean looks.
“When I wanted to change my mood, I’d go out for a walk, have a cup of coffee, or distract myself with something else,” she said, using fluent Mandarin and Hoklo, commonly known as Taiwanese.
However, since then, Gabot’s optimism and enthusiasm for community work has won the respect of her neighbors. Shortly after receiving Taiwanese citizenship, she was appointed last year as ward chief, one of the few non-ethnic Taiwanese to hold the position.
“I like to help out and see smiles on people’s faces,” she said.
Her duties involve inspecting the neighborhood, reporting damaged facilities and making sure that elders who live alone are cared for. Gabot also actively participates in a women’s congress, offering advice to foreign brides who have difficulty adapting to life in Taiwan.
An eager learner, Gabot has also enrolled in free public career-training courses for minorities, including single mothers and immigrant spouses.
“Taiwan has changed a lot in the past few years ... the government is giving us a lot of support right now,” she said.
She encouraged the 440,000 immigrant spouses in Taiwan to utilize the country’s resources and create their own opportunities in life.