The year is 2013. I had gone through a couple of rough patches before deciding to undergo a change of pace with a study abroad. Initially, traveling was just an escape from the monotonous, day-to-day life for me, or so I thought. In reality, instead of escaping from something, I soon found traveling to be a wonderful journey into life. In the US, I often feel like a trapped rat, constantly fearing failure and feeling self-conscious. When I’m traveling, I feel I can be anyone I want to be, do anything I want to do. Something about traveling brings out the best of me – the real me.
The Spring semester came and went, and before I knew it, July had arrived. After going through the typical check-in & security checkpoint, I walked to my gate and joined my fellow study abroad participants. The first time flying to the other side of the world felt as if time was standing still (and not in a positive way). The flight from Nashville, TN to Minneapolis, MN was not bad, but the one to Tokyo, Japan in a middle seat had my legs feeling cramped.
At last, we finally arrived in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan. Students and faculty from Chung Yuan Christian University (CYCU) picked us up from the airport in a shuttle bus. I remember my first moment overseas as vividly as the back of my hand; looking out on the streetlamp-lit streets, I noticed hundreds of scooters, buildings with lighted signs & Chinese characters, and vendors selling street food. The initial vibe I received was far different than anything I had ever experienced in the US, and it piqued my curiosity to another level.
Once we arrived at the university’s dorm that we were staying in for the next three weeks, a group of us decided to go with some of the local Taiwanese students to one of the nearby 7-Elevens to grab some snacks. We were taken aback by how cool Asian convenience stores are compared to the ones we have in the US. Whether you’re in the mood for instant noodles, a sandwich, some fried food, or just some scotch whiskey, 7-Eleven has about everything you are looking for.
The next morning, I went with some of the other study abroad students to explore the surrounding area of Zhong Yuan. Afterwards, we had our orientation and met up with all of the local students. Over the course of those three weeks, we built connections & friendships that will last a lifetime.
One of my first meals in Taiwan was at a local dumpling shop near CYCU. I tend to lean towards spicy food, so I ordered the spicy Taiwanese kimchi fried dumplings, and they were phenomenal; these were easily the best dumplings I had ever eaten in my life, and this was only a Taiwanese chain restaurant. Americanized food in the States does not compare to the real deal abroad. I will save other food discussions for future articles, but Taiwan is a must-see destination for the “foodies”.
Beyond our studies in the classroom, the study abroad group had field trips to various factories, Taipei, Sun Moon Lake, etc., but my favorite moments were outings with the locals. Taiwanese are some of the friendliest people on earth, and they went out of their way to ensure we had an absolutely incredible time. Whether we were strolling through night markets full of delicious & exotic food, walking through the beauty of Danshui, or playing a game of basketball, language barriers were nowhere to be found; kindness transcends all barriers.
As we arrived at Taoyuan International Airport for our departure, there were some emotional goodbyes. However, deep down, I knew I would be back soon. There was a drive & determination inside me that willed it to happen. Upon my arrival back in Tennessee, I was a constant presence in the Global Studies office over the next several weeks; I added Global Studies as a 2nd major (the other being Accounting). The department at my university & Dr. Jih came to an agreement with Dr. Chin & CYCU for me to become an exchange student for the entirety of 2014, and this is where our story will pick up next time.
As always, please feel free to leave comments/questions as I will be reading each and every one of them and giving responses where appropriate. If you want to know something, ask away! Please hit those follow, share, & like buttons; just don’t eat the apple. Until next time, stay traveling!