It has been almost two years since I first came to Taiwan to study the International Graduate Program of Civil Engineering and Management at National Cheng Kung University. I come from Ecuador, a country located literally in the other side of the world, in the American continent. I will always be grateful with the International Cooperation and Development Fund for giving me the chance of coming to Taiwan not only to study here, but to know its cultural differences and environment.

Before I arrived, even though I knew that Taiwan would be different from my home country, I wasn’t completely aware of what to expect. I had never traveled abroad before, so coming to Taiwan would be my first experience in a foreign country. So when I landed on summer 2010 at Taipei airport, the first shock I felt was the weather. I know it is not a cultural shock, but it really made me feel a bit uncomfortable: it wasn’t the hot temperature (I’m kind of used to it at home) but the extreme humidity that told me that I was not at home anymore. I believe that was the very first thing that hit me, but it didn’t last long. Ever since I got off the plane and walked on Taiwanese land, I have experienced the kindness of people everywhere. So I thought everything was going to be fine. But the beginning was a bit hard for me, maybe because as I said, I had never been in a foreign country anywhere in the world.

The first six to eight months were a bit tough for me to adapt to Taiwan, but my biggest concern was the food not the culture itself. However, regarding to cultural shocks I can remember some of them. One example is Christmas celebration. Here in Taiwan, this celebration is more commercial than religious. Not a single person from my family is here so my new friends and I went together to have a very nice dinner in a restaurant, even though the food was not similar to what we eat at home. It was a great time however the real meaning or the essence of the celebration was not there. I couldn’t avoid feeling sad for a moment.

Another thing that impacted me on my first months was that when people do not know you, or in other words you are a stranger for them, they just do not care about others. It is not everyone here, but it has happened to me that when I walk in the street, people are not careful and just bump into others. When driving motorcycle or bicycle, it might seem that some drivers just don’t care about anyone else: they just go as fast as they can no matter what or who is in the way. Also, when entering an elevator or opening doors, even if I was the one who opened it, other people go first and pass by as if I don’t exist. It is more a matter of courtesy, that in my country we do have even with strangers, but there are exceptions as well. That’s why I realized that the people I have seen doing these things are just the exception, because I have met many Taiwanese people, and most of them are truly awesome. They are kind and friendly and always giving you a smile.

And the last thing, maybe not very important, is the fact that when a group of people are having a meal together in an informal situation, anyone can start eating even if the rest hasn’t. In formal situations here it is common to wait, nobody starts eating unless the host or the professor or whoever is leading the meeting has started. But in informal situations, just with friends or young people, this rule doesn’t apply here. And in my country, we usually wait until everybody can eat at the same time, because for us the idea is not only eating but sharing the time together. As I said before, it is not a big deal but even so I didn’t like it at the beginning.

I can’t complain about the differences between Taiwanese culture and my country. It is a matter of perspective to understand that we (Taiwanese and Ecuadorian people) were raised under different parameters and points of view. The basis of getting used to live here is to realize that none of the cultures is better or worse. Being respectful towards a different culture has been the whole basis of the best two years of my life.

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