How I Got Here: A Traveler’s Unexpected Quest for Happiness

Last updated on July 12th, 2020

Adam’s Apple: The World Origins

The year was 2012, and I was studying at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) for my bachelor’s degree in accounting. Girlfriends came and went, I had my fair share of college parties, and I worked at my local Sam’s Club as an Accounting Associate.

One day, I came to a realization: I was depressed and did not know why. I had friends and was rooming with one of my best friends to this day, Dylan. I had great grades. I had a really nice apartment, outside of some horror stories about bed bugs Dylan & I still have PTSD from. I never had trouble finding a girlfriend, although some of them were questionable choices in hindsight. So what was missing in my life? Why was I so completely miserable?

I told no one about this for awhile, until eventually the one person I did tell was Dylan; he has always been there for me whenever and however I needed and is someone I can always count on. We had countless long discussions about life that went well into the middle of the night, bonded over some great movies he introduced me to (some deep like Good Will Hunting and some hilarious like Eurotrip), and he just tried to help me navigate these uncharted waters instead of allowing me to try to go through my struggles alone.

The topic of traveling came up one day, and he mentioned how freeing it is and told me about some of his adventures abroad; this certainly piqued my curiosity and interest until I finally made a declaration that I would be joining a study abroad trip somewhere the following year, 2013. Based on my Italian and Irish ancestry, my first choices were Italy and Ireland, both of which were quickly derailed due to insanely sky-high prices.

Feeling a little demoralized over seeing prices for many destinations, I decided to sort by price and see if there was anything reasonable I could afford to take part in. Of the lowest-priced study abroad trips, the one that caught my eye was Taiwan. Outside of seeing some items being made there, I had no idea whatsoever about where Taiwan is or what it has to offer; this would soon change, however. Some key advice Dylan gave me as I was getting more and more serious about the prospects of studying abroad was to simply have an open mind; leave your pre-conceived notions at home, embrace the differences, and immerse yourself in the local culture. Those are words I live by to this day.

I requested some information from the Global Studies office about the Taiwan 3-week study abroad and received a lovely booklet with tons of great information included. The first thing I remember Googling was what the heck night markets are; I spent the next week doing very little outside of work and researching all of the ins-and-outs of Taiwan. I felt so intrigued that I was ready to take the plunge and reserve my trip, but first I needed to have a sit-down discussion with an outstanding Taiwanese professor at MTSU, Dr. Kenny Jih.

The Meeting

Before my meeting with Dr. Jih, I discovered the reason for the Taiwan study abroad being so low-priced; he was helping to subsidize the cost in order to introduce as many people as possible to his country, which really shows just how wonderful of a person he is.

During the meeting, Dr. Jih showed so much authentic passion for Taiwan; I could see the pride in his eyes and could not help but smile. He discussed many of his favorite aspects, some of the cultural differences, and some of the activities study abroad students typically do while there. Lastly, he showed me several photos; there was one common denominator about the people in the photos: they all looked so incredibly happy, which is something I so desperately needed at this point in my life.

The meeting I had with Dr. Jih, along with the many discussions I had with Dylan, changed my life forever. Immediately after the meeting, I paid for the trip and reserved my spot for July 2013. I could not have been more excited..or happy.

My New Beginning

July 9, 2013. After furiously packing last-minute the night before (a tradition of mine like no other), I headed to the airport for my first venture overseas. After flights from Nashville to Minneapolis, Tokyo-Narita and finally Taipei, my 24+ hour flying adventure (including layovers) from America to Taiwan was complete.

We were all completely exhausted and jet-lagged as we arrived at some point on the evening of July 10th. Dr. Jih (he left America for Taiwan a bit earlier than us to meet up with his family) and Dr. Gary Chin were among several Taiwanese who came to Taoyuan International Airport to greet us and accompany us back to Hsin Shih dormitory nearby Chung Yuan Christian University (CYCU). This university is located in the Zhong Yuan area of Zhongli.

It was a fairly windy night, and as we were set to board the shuttle bus, my Atlanta Braves baseball cap went soaring across the ground. I thought, well that’s just typical for me and resigned to the fact that it was gone; to my surprise, the bus driver went sprinting after it and actually was able to recover it. As I thanked him, I couldn’t believe he did that for a total stranger, a foreigner from the other side of the world; perhaps my fortunes were changing for the better.

As the bus drove away from the airport and closer to the streets of Zhong Yuan, cliche or not, I remember these next moments as if they happened yesterday. I remember looking out the window and seeing what appeared to be a whole new world compared to what I am used to seeing back home in America; all of the building looked far different, the signs were covered in traditional Chinese characters, and there were scooters absolutely everywhere. For the first time in a long time, I thought to myself, “I feel so happy here.”

However, our ride back to the dorm wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows as we passed what appeared to be a brutal scooter accident and the individual was still lying unconscious; we never found out if the person was okay, but I sure hope so.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I experienced the awesomeness that is Asian convenience stores, went through my first (of many) typhoons, enjoyed delicious Taiwanese cuisine (you need some ji pai (Taiwanese fried chicken) in your life!), went on exciting adventures (through tall buildings, old streets, glorious mountains, breathtaking lakes), and best of all, made countless lifelong friends from all over the world. Even the ones I have kind of lost touch with over the years were great, and I appreciate all they did for me. You can read more about my study abroad experience here!

Taiwan flag

My Return

After the trip that changed my life ended, I was 100% determined to do whatever it took to go back for an extended period of time; one thing about me is when I’m determined, no obstacle will stand in my way. For the next several months, I was a constant presence in the Global Studies office at MTSU. At first, they were looking to send me to Soochow University in Taipei for a semester as an exchange student, which I was open to at first. But the more I thought about it, the more I really wanted to return to Zhong Yuan and CYCU, which to this day feels like home to me.

In addition, I felt one semester was too short and was really persistent in requesting the full year. After a lot of back-and-forth that spanned several weeks, they ultimately gave me a scholarship for a full year to study at CYCU. When I received the news, words cannot describe how happy I was; not to get too sentimental, but there may have been a tear or two of joy. In order to make this full-year exchange happen, I needed to add Global Studies as a second degree to Accounting, which I was happy to do.

In Taiwan, I was fortunate to have so many wonderful professors, including but not limited to Dr. Jimmy Lee, Dr. Gary Chin, Dr. Chandler Chu, Dr. Francis Diaz, and Dr. Stan Lin. I learned so much from all of them, but what I would like to share with you is the powerful words from Dr. Lee; so much of what he taught about life has stuck with me through the years. “Are we really living our lives, or are we just accepting it.” Sometimes, I have to remind myself of this to prevent myself from going through the motions. Living life to the fullest does not only mean living as if today was your last day, although that’s certainly part of it. What it truly means is making the most of each day, fully appreciating your blessings, and actively thinking on what you can do to make the world a better place for all. Never forget to “seize the day.” Today could be your breakthrough and time to shine.

I had so many memorable moments during my full-year exchange student program, which I recounted in Part 1 & Part 2 of my blog; for more information about my stay, please click on the links above. 🙂

F.R.I.E.N.D.S.

Love at First Sight?

So, you may be wondering how Mora came into the picture. We became acquainted back in July 2014, just 2 months after my trip to the Philippines, and I was instantly interested; however, I quickly learned that was just a one-way street as she never gave me the time of day, regardless of what I invited her to (ouch lol). While I previously dated, I was single during the Summer months as I was not sure at the time if I really wanted a seriously relationship going into my 2nd and final semester in Taiwan.

However, in September, something suddenly changed in Mora’s demeanor towards me. Instead of short, lukewarm responses, there were both random and deep phone conversations that lasted for 3+ hours, and it seemed that she was growing really interested in me.

Suffice it to say I was really confused as to why she had the sudden change of heart, but I certainly wasn’t complaining. So, I asked her out once more for a simple movie & lunch date in Taipei, and she said yes. I remember my roommate (and one of my best friends), SN, being excited for me and saying, “finally after months of trying!” I guess persistence does pay off (lol).

The date honestly couldn’t have gone any better, and you could tell there was a lot of chemistry between us. Not long after, Mora mentioned that she and her friends would be going to Club Myst soon for a fun October Friday night, and she really wanted me to come along. So, of course I said yes, and we danced & partied the night away. I asked her to be my girlfriend that night, and we have been together ever since. That’s not to say we haven’t had our fair share of issues over the years, like every couple is bound to have, but I could not imagine sharing this adventure of life through the years with anyone else.

The Apple of My Eye, Pun Intended

Back to the US

January 2015. A couple of weeks after experiencing New Year’s fireworks outside of Taipei 101, the 4th largest building in the world at the time (it was the tallest when built in 2004 and has now fallen down to number 10), I made my return to Tennessee to complete one final semester for both of my undergraduate degrees. In order to squeeze everything into a semester, I needed to take 21 credit hours’ worth of classes.

As my final semester was coming to an end, I had made the decision to get a master’s degree, either in Accountancy at MTSU or an IMBA at CYCU in Taiwan. The deciding factors for me were being closer to Mora and how much I missed Taiwan in the months I had been away. So, after applying, I was accepted to the program with a scholarship & stipend.

Excited about moving back to Taiwan for the 2nd straight year, I started looking into how to make an extra income outside of the stipend. It is fairly easy for native English speakers with degrees to become English teachers in Taiwan, so this is the route I chose, despite the fact that public speaking was always a weakness of mine in the past.

I had a Skype interview with someone at Gloria English Schools, and I was immediately offered a position. This was perfect for me as they were also offering 1 year of free rent in their dormitory for English teachers, which happened to be located in the district of Pingzhen and not too far from CYCU. In addition, I would have a Taiwanese co-teacher for each class to help with Chinese translations and anything else needed. For people curious about how much you can make as an English teacher in Taiwan, it varies from place-to-place, but I was offered 660 NT$ per hour, which translates to roughly $22 USD. If you can get enough hours, you can certainly afford to live in Taiwan; outside of Taipei, this country is very affordable.

Home Sweet Taiwan

July 2015. Once again, I found myself back where I feel more at home than anywhere else in the world, including America. Not long after arriving, I got settled into my dorm room and started preparing for my Alien Resident Certificate (ARC) and work permit application.

However, soon after, it was brought to my attention that CYCU’s long-standing tradition of providing free tuition to international students for their IMBA program was being terminated, effective immediately. Many emotions went through me upon finding out: panic, confusion, anger, frustration, sadness, just to name a few. I was still being offered a small stipend, but it was not nearly enough to cover tuition, and I was planning for the income from teaching English to cover living expenses.

After many discussions with the powers at be at CYCU, I was forced to make the painstaking decision of withdrawing my application from their program. This left me in a bit of a conundrum on how to proceed. I fully intended on spending the next 2+ years living in Taiwan, earning my IMBA, and spending a lot of quality time with Mora.

I decided, for the time being, that I would take a semester off from my studies, search for universities within Taiwan, and teach English. I made the decision to reevaluate my plans going forward on a semi-annual basis as I knew the Master’s of Accountancy program at MTSU was waiting on me back in Tennessee if I wanted.

Despite that chaos, I was determined to make the most out of a failed plan; I have come to learn things rarely ever go according to plan, so it’s better to roll with the punches when they come. And believe me, they will come.

Teaching English in Taiwan

After observing several classes from experienced teachers, it was time for me to start slowly accumulating hours. To say I was nervous is an understatement, but I overcame it and worked hard to teach each & every student as well as I possibly could. This required writing out detailed lesson plans in advance to form a good plan of attack. Outside of the older classes, it was always good to throw some games into the mix to get the kids excited to come to class each week and learn. I surprisingly was more of a natural at this than I ever expected. Some classes were more challenging than others, but overall, my experience in teaching was a good one. In addition, I was able to make so many awesome, new friends with all of my fellow teachers.

However, as it got near the end of 2015, I received word from MTSU that I was not only accepted into their Master’s of Accountancy program, but I could be a graduate assistant, have free tuition, be provided the Becker CPA Review program 50% off, and get paid weekly. It seemed like a no-brainer to me financially; although, I was really sad to not be able to live in Taiwan longer, but I knew I would be back.

Despite the difficult challenges that come with a long-distance relationship, Mora & I made the necessary sacrifices to make it work; the key was both of us making the required effort. For example, Mora came to visit me in March of 2016, and I popped the question; happily, she said yes!

I went back to Taiwan in July of that same year to marry her, and we celebrated it immediately with a trip to Japan and later that year for our honeymoon in Mexico at Excellence Playa Mujeres, arguably the best all-inclusive resort in the world.

What We Are Up to Now

The past few years have seen one or both of us make trips back to Taiwan and have exciting adventures in countries such as Mexico, Italy, Japan, and South Korea. Working on my skills as an “Instagram husband” has been a work-in-progress. Despite her claims to the contrary, I don’t think I’m too shabby of a photographer (lol). You’ll see a lot more pictures of her than myself on this page as she’s the far more beautiful one in this couple.

I personally have struggled mightily with something called reverse culture shock; it has been difficult to adjust back to living in America. It’s not that America doesn’t have a lot to offer; I just find it is easy to get back into the bad, old habits of putting too much emphasis on material items, television, and a lack of physical activity in everyday life that comes from living in convenient locations, such as Taiwan.

Since starting my accounting career full-time in November 2016, I have had to plan out trips ahead of time in a lot more detail. I won’t lie; I do miss having the freedom to travel whenever and wherever my heart desires. But we travel when able and make the most of it.

I do have dreams of traveling full-time in the future, which is one of the many reasons I started this travel website. I see so many people make the same mistakes time & time again when traveling; they make such detailed itineraries that allow no time for spontaneous exploring, and they don’t show the local culture the proper appreciation it truly deserves. I have made all of these mistakes before, so you don’t have to! When you make an effort to fully immerse yourself in the place you are visiting (or living), it will be a truly memorable experience, and you will have much less of the frustration, exhaustion, and bad mood that comes with an itinerary gone wrong.

When This Boy Meets World..

With your help & support, we can make this dream come true. All I ask is that you sit back, relax, maybe crack open a cold one & have yourself some delicious food, and just follow along. We love meeting new people, so if you ever see us out & about, please don’t hesitate to come talk to us once the Covid-19 pandemic has come to an end.

Until next time, stay safe & travel responsibly; just don’t eat the apple.

Adam & Mora

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  1. Augustus Mercado

    ♥️♥️♥️

    • Adam's Apple: The World

      Thank you!! I’m glad you enjoyed it.

      Often times, I try to take time to reflect back on some of these life-changing moments from the past to make sure I do not go through the motions in any aspect of life.

      It is so easy to get bogged down with work and trapped in a never-ending cycle of daily routines, which don’t really serve a greater purpose other than an escape from life. As Dr. Jimmy Lee said, “Are we really living our lives or just accepting it?” I think it’s important for everyone to self-reflect from time-to-time to ensure they are happy with their day-to-day life and making the most of their blessings and circumstances. Where there’s a will, there certainly is a way.

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