Halfway through my year in China, I decided to apply for a summer course in Taipei, Taiwan. I wanted to see the realities of the difference between life on either side of the strait. A year in China could never tell me everything about the place, and a month in Taiwan would never be enough, but it was as good a start as I could hope for. I went with a summer course because I not only wanted to experience Taiwan but also to continue to develop my Mandarin.
So I dragged everything I’d accumulated over my year in China to the airport and headed East across the narrow sea. If I had one worry going into it, it was only that in the month I had I might not get to see all I wanted to see or do all I wanted to do. I think these experiences that the Go Abroad Fund support can be amazing ones, but speaking for myself I certainly felt a pressure to “make the most of it”. Of course the time should be well spent, but you have to know what that means to you personally. For me Taiwan became less about seeing every inch of Taipei, or visiting every city on the island, climbing every mountain, drinking one of every kind of bubble tea or anything so demanding. It became about simply “being” in a place. Living in a quieter, residential part of town thirty minutes from campus, I settled into a rhythm. Of course outside of classes there were opportunities to visit places of interest natural, cultural or edible, but when you are immediately struck by a place and so quickly find yourself falling for it, this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity can lose the sense of urgency.
For me it fast became what I knew would only be the first step, as I know now I will return to Taiwan. Sometimes you can have planned your trip meticulously or have such clear expectations and goals, but they can so easily be turned on their head. I found myself wandering up a mountain every day to get to class, then walking along a river home. I traipsed through forests and climbed waterfalls on the weekend on a whim, discovered what was practically a second city beneath the street by accident, whiled away hours in the open-all-hours book store and discussed the finer points of Taiwan’s political situation with the proprietor of a food stall on the corner of my street at the crack of dawn. If there’s one piece of advice I would give it would be to go into things with an open mind: make plans but don’t be afraid to change them. You’re in charge.