It is not uncommon to hear my friends saying “I go overseas to clear mods because it’s easier” and “I just want to travel”. As such, I did not believe in the purpose of exchange. However, it dawned on me that it’s my last year in university and I should probably try it once. This is how I embarked on my one-month summer exchange to Taiwan.
Embrace and Explore
Prior to the start of the programme, I went 2 weeks earlier to make a solo journey around Taiwan. This translates to buying a plane ticket without getting to choose a seat, taking an expensive cab without having anyone to split the cost with, and lugging my 20kg luggage from the airport to my Airbnb. Honestly, being alone felt lonely. Unable to embrace this feeling, I stayed within my Airbnb for the next few days until I reminded myself why I was on this journey. It was only then, I realised the joy of shopping alone, the joy of sitting in a cafe for the entire day, and the joy of conquering Elephant Mountain alone.
In life, there is always a point where you might feel lonely, whether physically or emotionally. While you may feel trapped in these emotions, be reminded to embrace this feeling and be open to exploring the world. Only then will you start to realise those unpredictable moments are the ones worth waiting for.
On the first day of the summer programme I did not know what to expect of the courses, nor did I know where the people in the programme were from. But I am happy that eventually, I was able to learn so much from the professors and get to know friends whom I can say are lifelong friends. Looking back, the reason could be that I was just being myself. My friends, whether they are from Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, or USA and France, were not bothered about how I speak, as long as they could understand me. The locals were extremely friendly to allow me to join them during dance sessions and supper. They were so hospitable to the extent that they offered to send me back to my hostel. It’s ok to be different, it’s ok to be yourself. People will appreciate you for who you are.
In life, we care too much about the opinion of others on us. The important thing is not to let anyone diminish your ability to care for yourself. Those who matter do not mind, and those who mind do not matter.
Asking for help
The one thing that repeatedly appears in articles on why you should go for exchange is to learn to be independent. When you’re in an unfamiliar environment, a lot of things can go wrong. I couldn’t wake up for my classes. However, since my classmate stays opposite me, she would knock on my door every time to make sure I got up. I decided to make an impromptu trip to other parts of Taiwan. I showed them my itinerary, and they recommended me on the things I could do or eat there. I decided not to bring my luggage around, and they offered to let me put my luggage at their houses. I did not have enough money to book my accommodation. They not only tried to help me look for a place to stay but also go the extra mile to help me book a hostel.
In life, society often preaches about being independent. We should deal with problems by ourselves. We should not burden anyone because they have their issues too. We need to hide our vulnerability. But this does not mean we should not ask for help when needed. Instead, being vulnerable in front of someone else is sometimes exactly what we need to do. Then, you will discover some people who genuinely care about you.
How hard is it to say bye to a person you’ve only known for a month? It’s hard.
The last few days of this summer programme/trip were filled with tears. As we watch the video montage and take photos on the last day, I know I will never get to see them all together again. As I took the train to the Airport with my friend, I knew that I will never get to have another friend who would accompany me till 4am just to listen to how I can’t bear to leave Taiwan.
In life, no matter how much you want to hold on to a person or cling to a moment you love, you have to say goodbye. Perhaps saying hello to another would open to more opportunities.