This year I left my home country, half a world away, for an adventure in a faraway land, Taiwan.   Also known as Formosa, Taiwan is just off the coast of China, a tropical paradise on the other side of the world.   In between munching on the succulent native fruits and enjoying biking alongside mountains, I am pursuing higher education in this multicultural world. 

There are some things, I could not have learnt in my own country.   There are some situations I would never have been confronted with whilst snug in my own bubble.   These lessons are the ones that most shape who I am, and these lessons are best learnt with the aid of locals–Taiwanese classmates are pros at this.

Usually when people travel or move away for an extended period of time, they will not have a very large sphere of movement.   Whether busy studying, volunteering or interning, you will be stuck in one place.  For most, this place is school and the surrounding area.   One could go an entire year without moving out of his/her neighborhood.  At first, it can be especially difficult to venture out on your own.   It can be downright scary to encounter completely foreign concepts brought to life in people and places. Learning how to use the public transport system,  getting familiar with foreign currency, adjusting to a foreign food palate - these are all things that taken together can be very overwhelming.   It is good not to throw yourself in too much at first - when you have just arrived, still acclimatizing to your school for a while is a good idea. However, I have found that one great way to familiarize yourself with the culture and new environment is to become familiar with local classmates. Do not be afraid to ask them to show you what is interesting around your area.  In fact, they will probably be thrilled to do so.  After all, who would not want to show off their own country?  Taiwanese especially love it when you take an interest in Taiwan. I have been fortunate.  My Taiwanese friends have taken me out to cultural attractions, good restaurants, and beautiful temples, or sometimes an outing to the countryside to see Taiwan's natural beauty.  

Since the island is small, magnificent features are rarely more than an hour's journey away. “Mandarin”- this word can evoke a range of emotions for new students to Taiwan who may find learning Mandarin a daunting task.   It is generally seen as one the world's most difficult language to learn, and that may be true, but there is no better way to learn than to immerse yourself in this fantastic language.   A year is a long time, and if you work at it,  you can easily become conversationally fluent by the end of twelve months especially with the aid of your Taiwanese classmates.   Most Taiwanese people want to improve their English, and would love to help you with Chinese.

That aside, showing an active interest in learning Chinese will endear you to your native friends and professors.   It shows respect for the culture and a willingness accept the value of another way of life.  I have come to realize that being humble and learning the language of the land can only be beneficial.

 

One key thing that I have learnt during my time here is to keep an open mind.  It is a totally different culture in Taiwan.  As a foreigner, one is technically outside of cultural expectations, but that does not mean one should close one's self off from the local ways.  Rather, keep an open mind in regards to things that, at first, might seem wrong or off. 

Being in Taiwan is an education in itself. It has allowed me to accept new viewpoints and broaden my horizons. Taiwan is a truly amazing country that has touched my heart, and I hope it touches yours! 

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