Becoming an Exchange Student: Why It Was One of My Best Decisions in Life (Part 1)

As time inched closer to February 2014, I reminisced on the process of how I arrived on the doorstep of an exchange program for one year in Taiwan. Based on history at my university (Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU)), it was uncommon for exchange students to be gone for longer than one semester, and the Global Studies office tried convincing me to follow the normal standard. Me being the stubborn guy I am remained firm with my desire to be overseas for a year. After discussing with Dr. Jih (Taiwanese professor at MTSU) and Dr. Chin (Taiwanese professor at Chung Yuan Christian University (CYCU)), the Global Studies office not only agreed to let me become an exchange student for the entire year, but they also provided me with a study abroad scholarship, which was a true blessing.

NEWSFLASH: YOU DON’T NEED YOUR ENTIRE WARDROBE!

During the last few days leading up to my departure, I packed two large pieces of luggage as well as a carry-on; included in these were two large vacuum-sealed bags stuffed with what seemed like my whole closet. Please learn from my mistakes; YOU DON’T NEED YOUR ENTIRE WARDROBE! I barely used half of the stuff I brought, if that; I was simply following the typical behaviors employed when traveling (i.e. it’s better to have & not need than not have & need). If you move to another country, and it turns out you need something, just buy it there; for example, you can find great clothes for extremely low prices in Taiwan. I obviously did not need any because I had probably 50 outfits too many (honestly not sure if that’s an exaggeration at this point).

Upon arrival to the Nashville International Airport, I bid my farewells to family with full embraces. As I walked away & toward the entrance, feelings of both contentment and excitement rose within me; my journey was about to begin.

New Taiwan Dollars (NT$); the amount pictured above roughly equals $62.20 USD

After repeating my excruciatingly long flights from my previous trip to Taiwan (Nashville to Minneapolis, Minneapolis to Tokyo-Narita, Tokyo-Narita to Taipei), I finally landed in Taiwan and proceeded to exchange my currency into New Taiwan Dollars (NT$). My soon-to-be friend from Kazakhstan, Ledjer (LJ), was one of the people who picked me up; side note: he does not like Borat jokes. The ride back to CYCU caused all of the study abroad memories from the year prior to come flooding back; being able to relive those first moments and see all of the wonderful aspects of Taiwanese culture again was a dream come true. After settling into my dorm room, I crashed as I had little success sleeping on any of the flights.

back when I was single & before my wife trained me how to be a great photographer aka Instagram bf/fiance’/husband
It’s not Red Stripe; hooray beer!

The next day, I went for a walk around CYCU to get some fresh air and decided to head to the Zhong Yuan night market area; most of the vendors don’t set up until night, but I wanted to stop by my favorite local bakery and ji rou fan (chicken & rice) eatery. Later that evening, my Taiwanese roommate, Noah, took me to a restaurant with delicious local cuisine, accompanied with Taiwan Gold Medal Lager; I was too busy stuffing my face to take better photos (sorry, not sorry).

Dr. Lee is a rare, dare-I-say, Mr. Feeny-esque type of teacher that truly cares about his students.

My very first class in Taiwan was Philosophy of Life with Dr. Jimmy Lee, a really funny professor full of energy & charisma. He was one of my absolute favorite professors in Taiwan (also Dr. Gary Chin, Dr. Francis, & Dr. Chandler Chu). One of his favorite phrases to talk about was “carpe diem,” which means to seize the day. More than anything else, Dr Lee’s imploring of us to live life to the fullest each and every day has really stuck with me. “Are we really living our lives, or are we just accepting it.” Sometimes, when I catch myself going through the motions and doing the normal types of things simply out of habit, I think back to that discussion. Dr. Lee is a rare, dare-I-say, Mr. Feeny-esque type of teacher that truly cares about his students.

“Are we really living our lives, or are we just accepting it.”

After class, I made some friends with a few Taiwanese students over at the basketball courts and played for a couple of hours; they love their hoops over in Taiwan. Every Time Taiwan native Jeremy Lin goes back to visit, thousands of Taiwanese flock the Taoyuan International Airport to greet him; it’s pretty unreal and shows the passion the locals have for their country to give that type of support.

Those are the simple moments in life which turn out to be perfect and stick with you forever; life is as complicated as you make it.

Ji Pai (Taiwanese fried chicken) in all of its majestic glory with a Taiwanese chile spicy seasoning on top; zhen de hao chi (really delicious)
Xiang Chang (Taiwanese sausage)

Following a shower, I left the dorm room to go enjoy the Zhong Yuan night market; ji pai (Taiwanese fried chicken) was calling my name. Between that, xiangchang (Taiwanese sausage), and a host of other goodies, I had more than enough to fill me up. Afterwards, I met up with some friends I met during the study abroad, and we had ourselves a small get-together (or so we thought). A small group of 4 or 5 at 7-Eleven turned into dozens, and the 2-liter of Jim Beam we bought at Daren Fa (RT Mart) was quickly vanquished. I will neither confirm nor deny the amount of Johnnie Walker subsequently bought at the convenience store. Those are the simple moments in life which turn out to be perfect and stick with you forever; life is as complicated as you make it. From that night onward, we formed what we like to call “the international drinking group.” Of course, our friendships go much deeper than alcohol, but whiskey does make most situations more entertaining. All kidding aside, I will never forget all of the amazing people I have come across in Taiwan; the people are one factor of many which keeps me coming back time and time again.

Taiwan flag

And with that, I feel we have reached a good stopping point for Part I; please join me next time for the continuation of this story. 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!

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