Two years ago, I had this once in a lifetime opportunity to become an exchange student. Initially, the thought was a bit scary to me due to the fact that I’ve never lived away from home for a long time lest to be alone in another country. But somehow, the thought also ignited a spark in me that (as I’ve found out), I cannot just shelve in the corner – the excitement of what could become a fantastic adventure. So despite many concerns, hesitations and a palpitating heart, I took the chance and applied for an exchange student program.
And to cut the long story short, I was bound for Taiwan.
Boarding off a DragonAir flight, I couldn’t simply describe how I felt the moment I stepped on the Taiwanese ground and be surrounded by Chinese characters and conversations I could not understand. There was fear that what if I made such a decision emotionally, mentally and financially unprepared? What if halfway through I wanted to go home? What if I don’t fit in? I’ve never had a longer conversation with a foreigner before so what if I can’t adjust? But then in the middle of these worries, I would finally think ‘This is it! This is the adventure you need to color your life!’
Perhaps, the most significant place in my journey in Taiwan is the place I lived in in four long months -a dormitory inside our university’s campus in Kaohsiung City, south of Taiwan; and one of the things I’m most thankful for is that my roommates and dorm mates are very friendly. My roommates are Bryan, from Macau and Yuya, a Japanese. What’s funny in our setting is that, Bryan barely speaks Japanese or English, Yuya barely speaks English and is just starting to learn Chinese while me have no idea about Japanese or Chinese at all! So verbally, there’s no way for us to connect with each other. Yet thankfully, all of us willingly tried to communicate with each other as much as we can – which means a lot of funny gestures, unintelligible languages and Google translate. I felt really happy looking back at those moments.
People from our nearby rooms come from different nations as well: there were four more Japanese guys across our room; Chinese, Indonesians and Malaysians are on our left and right; further down the hall was a cool guy from Haiti, a multilingual Vietnamese, a floor above is a Thai and French friends of mine, and more. I got particularly close with my Japanese, Malaysian and Thai dorm mates, and with them I made a great number of funny Taiwan memories even in a bleak, high-walled dorm.
Next thing that’s great about any travelling experience (and I’m sure we can all agree) is food, and Taiwan has many local, exotic and delicious delicacies to offer. At the close of every day, night markets open; and in Taiwan a night market means a rich hub for food enthusiasts.
Some of Taiwan’s palatable cuisines include the xialongbao (steamed buns), lu rou fan (pork braised rice bowl), oyster pancakes, and the very famous chou dofu (stinky tofu). Eating all of them together with new found friends, my Taiwan journey has been more flavorful.
Taiwan is also a very livable place, with excellent transportation system, clean environment, scenic and artistic spots and friendly locals.
It is this Taiwan experience that ignited my desire to travel the world. In fact, it is this experience as well that made me create this humble travelling blog – for me to share my thought about travelling and how the world is too wide and big and great to be undiscovered.
Honestly, I felt like I became a different person when I came back. One who is not settling in a single, safe place in the world but one who is a discovered of a wider horizon.
If there is one significant learning Taiwan has given me, it is the cultural immersion experience that widened my understanding and perspective of differences among people of varying nations and how we should treat everybody with respect regardless of what they believe. Most importantly, I’ve learned a society can become more beautiful if the people within it are different but equal. Imagine a rainbow. One color alone cannot create a rainbow – it can be too bright or it can be too dull – but position them side by side as if they are a single ray and voila!, a beautiful rainbow. In Taiwan, I’ve learned the importance that in a setting of different people, you should not brand yourself as different. Rather you should learn to blend by learning what makes you different from them – be it in religion, tradition, even political and social views -and accepting those differences no matter how they can be contradictory to yours. In that way, you can widen your thinking of people without losing your own identity. In fact, you can become more appreciative of who you are and your roots and you will learn a lot.