The purpose of this blog post is to encourage fellow vegetarians to not hesitate from applying to the NSLI-Y program or similar exchange programs. I have been a vegetarian for almost five years now, and my exchanges in Norway and currently Taiwan have not at all impacted that. When applying for the NSLI-Y scholarship I was asked whether I was a vegetarian. It's important to be honest here! Don't be afraid that American Councils will consider that difficult to deal with and consequently not accept you into the program. I am proof that vegetarians can be selected! I was honest with my interviewer about not eating meat and am now living in Taiwan, a very vegetarian-friendly country (more details about vegetarian life in Taiwan to come), and am living with a vegetarian host-mother! Don't let your vegetarianism or your fear of having animal flesh forced upon you keep you from applying to this amazing program! Keep on keeping on!
The actual act of being a vegetarian in Taiwan isn't too hard either. However, I must mention that what Americans think of when we say vegetarian and what Taiwanese people think of when they say vegetarian is not quite the same. To say that you are a vegetarian in Chinese you literally say "I eat vegetables" or "我吃素". The majority of the people who abstain from consuming meat in Taiwan are Buddhists, and the majority of the Buddhist vegetarians also avoid green onions and garlic. Often, completely separate or special dishes are prepared for vegetarians and some establishments aren't willing to cater to that. So something that I have learned is not saying "我吃素" but rather saying "我不吃肉" or, "I don't eat meat". This makes things far less complicated and allows the person helping you to suggest that tasty garlic thing instead of just frowning and saying that they have nothing vegetarian.
Due to the large vegetarian population (yes, there are more vegetarians per capita here than in the United States) there are a huge number of vegetarian restaurants. They're literally on almost every street. Just look for the (normally red) sign that says "素食" and you will know that everything in the restaurant is OK to eat! Being vegetarian in Taiwan can be a lot of rice and vegetables, but with a little bit of exploration you can easily find hearty, great, and super cheap meals here in Taiwan.