My Time in Taipei & What it’s Meant

As I look back at the last five months of my life all I can think is wow. 

It may be cliché but I can’t help but wonder how the time went by so quickly?

Seriously is there somebody with a remote control for my life and have they been pressing x2 >> this entire time?

A lot of emotions come to mind as I reflect on the past five months living in another country.

Nervousness, gratitude, growth, discovery, doubt, self improvement, amazement, shock and many more words come to mind.

I’ve met so many amazing people, seen countless incredible sights, shared and created fantastic memories and overall experienced so much; many of these experiences were things I had never thought possible before taking this trip.

 

Eye-opening.

That would be the one word that I believe best summarizes my experience abroad. Growing up in a North American society my mind has been organized and programmed to think in one way. My time spent living in Taiwan, and also travelling to four countries in between, has allowed me to see how people of other backgrounds think.

As my home base, I’ve had some insight into how Taiwanese society operates, I’ve noticed differences between this society and the one I grew up in. I’ve also noted ways in which I feel Taiwan is both ahead of and behind the game in comparison to my home country of Canada.

To name a few, the public transportation system here (comprised of subway, buses, bicycles, etc.) is extremely convenient, expansive, and inexpensive. Also when you purchase a product in Taiwan your receipt comes back with a number, this number is automatically entered into a bi-monthly lottery! How neat is that!?

There are of course other aspects of living in Taiwan that I have had to unwillingly get used to. For one, most restaurants don’t have knives here. It’s as if your teeth are your knives and for a Westerner trying to eat a large piece of chicken, this is not always practical. It’s also very common for people to very loudly clear their throats here, and at first these tendencies can seem disruptive but sooner than later you become accustom to it. It becomes normalized and then you almost forget it ever bothered you in the first place.

No one society is perfect but what this tells me is that its important to define and acknowledge difference as more of a learning opportunity than anything else. Difference shouldn’t be frowned upon as being a negative trait, but rather as a chance to learn and potentially make a positive change.

Working with Taiwanese people really showed me a lot about some of their common characteristics. They were nothing but extremely generous and complimentary towards me. Maybe I just got lucky, but the Taiwanese people I have met here are very hard working and very generous people.

Although shy at first, after a few weeks my co-workers really opened up to me and shared more about their lives. They were very curious about me and asked many questions about my life in Canada, and of course I always asked them the same questions back. These informal exchanges greatly enhanced my understanding of their every day lives and overall culture.

They also liked to joke with me more, even poking fun at my Chinese pronunciation. I’m grateful for the time they took to help me learn how to order coffee or my favourite food in all of Taiwan: dumplings (shuǐjiǎo).

I can honestly say that this experience was not exactly what I first expected. But there is something to be said about the expectations I had in that they stemmed from a lack of knowledge and also from listening to other people’s thoughts on what Taiwan might be like (it is worth noting that most of these people had never actually been to the country before). What I take from this is that, listening to what other people think about what you plan on doing is not always going to be the best thing you can do for yourself. Sometimes you need to just go for it, you might make mistakes or encounter unexpected circumstances but if you don’t try it how will you ever know?

Although different from my original thoughts, I more importantly wouldn’t change this experience for the world. I believe it has helped me to grow and mature greatly. I’ve lived with a stranger who quickly became a good friend and I’ve also lived by myself and learned more in the past five months than any semester in university!

I’ll always be grateful to this tiny yet proud country and the wonderful souls I have met in it. I will miss the night markets and their yummy snacks and fresh juices. The UBike system, the bars that stay open until 7 AM, and most of all, yeah you guessed it, dumplings.

Arrival

My journey began in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

July 28th: I set off, by myself, for the longest voyage I have yet to take in my 22 years.

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Five episodes of The Mindy Project, four frozen meals, three mini bottles of wine, two plane rides, and just one day later I arrived in Taipei, Taiwan.

This opportunity came to me through the organization AIESEC (http://aiesec.ca/), which facilitates global learning and understanding through its international internships and volunteering placements.

After reuniting with my combined four bags of luggage I immediately texted my dear family and friends several messages along the lines of, “I MADE IT!!”

Next I was greeted by my Local Committee Member named Eric, who, despite it being very late, seemed extremely enthused to welcome me to his home.

My first impressions of Taipei? Very hot and humid. The standard definition of personal space? Much smaller than what I’m used to, but wow! Taiwanese people are friendly.

About an hour later I arrived at my new apartment, The West Residence. “Fitting for a foreigner from the Western World,” I remember thinking to myself.

After recovering my keys from the front desk, Eric and I took the elevator to my floor and opened the apartment door to see, not my roommate, but his cat, Doug Doug.

Relieved to have reached my unfamiliar home half way around the world, I stared out my bedroom window and took in the night view beforeIMG_6552 settling into bed. The street was surprisingly busy for the time.

It felt surreal to consider myself a soon to be expat in this overseas destination I had researched and talked about for so long. And yet here I was. This was real life, and it was really happening!

With the combination of my body thinking it was 2:30 PM (instead of AM), in addition to my curiosity and excitement I thought for sure I would toss and turn all night.

But to my surprise, with a little A/C and a comforter left by a former tenant, I was ready to fall fast asleep with hopes of soon exploring this new city.

Before I closed my eyes, in one of those fate type of moments you see in the movies, I stumbled upon this picture on Instagram.

And suddenly everything seemed to make sense.