Time flies! I can’t believe that I already finished one school year in Taipei; it feels like yesterday since I moved into my dorm for the first time and met all my amazing classmates. This week marks the start of my second year in grad school, and things are bound to get even busier and more exciting!
But before I get lost in all the crazy stuff that’s going to happen, join me as I look back on all the amazing things that happened to me during the past school year!
(Warning: It’s a long post!)
I came to Taiwan for grad school, so of course this one should come first! 😉
When I was an undergraduate student in the Philippines, my usual load was 2 to 3 classes in one day, and I would have classes from 8 AM to 6 PM (11 AM to 9 PM during my junior and senior year) every day. In Taiwan, I only had one class each day, and most of them were morning classes so after 12 PM, I was done with classes and I could do whatever I wanted.
But then, the workload and the course materials were intense. I don’t know if I’ve said this before in my previous posts, but I’ve experienced so many things in Taiwan that I never experienced in my whole academic career. For instance, I’ve never…
- read so many articles and books and had to finish them all by the following week
- given presentations every week
- participated actively in class, unless I’m called upon by the professor
- gotten a 30% score on an exam. EVER.
- cried over my grades
Even if I came equipped with a decent economics background, I still felt like I was falling behind in my classes. I had a hard time at first with my social development classes too, because I’ve never had to give lots of presentations during my undergrad years. My knowledge of political science was wanting. I really had to exert extra effort during those first few months in order to survive my classes. Basically, I was not fully prepared for all the things I was going to experience in grad school, and my shy personality certainly didn’t help during the adjustment period! I was used to just sucking it up and hoping that things would get better, but during my first semester I couldn’t even count how many times I faltered during class presentations, stayed quiet during discussions, and almost cried at the thought of one-on-one consultations with professors. All the added pressure forced me to re-evaluate my habits and my way of seeing things. I changed so many things about myself and the way I worked. For example, I…
- forced myself to recite whenever a thought or idea comes into my head
- took every opportunity to speak to professors one-on-one, starting with casual topics and then later opening up about my academic and career interests
- read and worked on the assignments as soon as I got access to them, and even read extra material to help me understand things
- swallowed my pride and approached professors whenever I had difficulty with a certain course material
I used to think that in grad school, you should already know everything and if you don’t, you’re screwed. Besides all the things I learned about my field, grad school has also taught me that sometimes, it’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to admit that you don’t know. Usually, people’s self-esteem plunge when they realize they have something negative that they need to change, but for me it was the opposite: the moment I acknowledged that I had to change and learn new things, everything started getting better and I gathered up the courage to explore my capabilities. I changed so many things about myself and the way I worked, and those changes did wonders for my self-esteem because I knew I was improving.
I’ve studied Chinese in the Philippines for a total of 3 years, but there were gaps in between lessons so I’ve already forgotten most of what I learned until I came to Taiwan. Due to this and my lack of reading skills in traditional Chinese (I was taught simplified Chinese in the Philippines), I was placed in the Total Beginner Level of Mandarin lessons.
Fast forward a year later – I’m not yet fully conversational, but I can say that I have vastly improved compared to the first time I came here. I now know how to order food, make a restaurant reservation, ask for directions, tell a doctor how I’m feeling, and give simple opinions on things. I can also read some street signs and establishment names. That’s the bare minimum to get through daily life in Taipei, so at least I’ve already got that covered.
But in learning Chinese, I realized that lessons really aren’t enough. Sometimes you have to go out there and just speak. Scary, I know. And you’re not going to be an expert right away. But you’ll definitely pick up some interesting things.
I joined the university choir last semester and despite being assured that language barrier wouldn’t be a problem, I was horrified to find out that the sessions were taught purely in Chinese. What’s more, our songs were mostly Chinese too! Well, long story short, the semester ended with me being able to understand what the conductor is saying when he’s teaching, and being able to tell when he thinks I sound bad! Lol!
And here’s an interesting story: Recently, I rode a taxi on my way home and the taxi driver started to chat with me. I’m surprised that I was able to keep talking for the whole duration of the ride (20 minutes)! Before that happened, I was convinced that a full conversation was impossible for me because of my lack of vocabulary; sometimes that’s true, but for that particular situation I was surprised that I knew so many words and that some of the sentence structures already came so naturally to me! Who knew?
Besides Taichung, which I blogged about earlier, I also got the chance to explore Yilan and Hualien, two famous spots in Taiwan’s east coast.
But the best and most memorable trip for me wasn’t for fun or touristy purposes. It was a field trip for one of my social development classes to an indigenous village in Taiwan, where an aboriginal botanist showed us the cypress forest they are protecting from illegal logging. Not only did I see Taiwan’s natural beauty, I also got to see this indigenous group’s culture through their use of the forest resources and their enthusiasm in protecting these resources for future generations.
Meeting people is already difficult, but I was sure it would be even harder to do so in a foreign country where you’re a complete stranger to the local culture. This is why I really went out of my way to meet new people during the past year. I went to events, spoke to people, joined organizations… I did all of those so that I could build my own social circle in Taiwan. I’m glad I did, because I got to meet lots of bright and wonderful people in Taipei, both international students and locals. A handful have become close to me; they have been my travel buddies, holiday companions (it’s super sad being alone during Taiwanese holidays, I swear), stress balls, review-mates, and so much more. Some of them have left Taiwan already, but I’m really happy to have met them. This just means I have more reason to travel the world, since I will have friends no matter where I choose to go!
Living without my family in a foreign country gave me the opportunity to get to know myself on a deeper level and learn life skills that I wouldn’t have had the chance to learn if I had my parents constantly looking after me. But this isn’t just about learning household stuff or financial management because it is so much more than these things. For me, independence is more about discipline than anything else: getting your ass out of bed and going to class (despite the temptation to go back to sleep), being conscious about your health, doing things now instead of putting it off for later, putting off unncessary purchases, among others. After a year in Taipei, I can say that I really learned how to take care of myself, make decisions, and trust my instincts.
In this quest for independence, I also learned how to handle myself during days when everything just seems to be falling apart. Sometimes I would wake up feeling like crap, and sometimes I would be super duper ill. Sometimes I would beat myself up over a bad test result. Normally, I would be very self-critical during times like these but when I moved here, that mentality changed. Of course I still allowed myself to feel what I had to feel: I wasn’t okay, I wasn’t feeling great, I did really badly. That was fine. But instead of dwelling on those for a very long time, I got right back up after reflecting and started again. Because I only had myself, and if I didn’t love and take care of myself, who will?
Of course I still have a long way to go, and I admit it. It definitely wasn’t easy, but going through the process of learning, adjusting, and re-learning made me discover that I could do so many things that I didn’t know I was capable of, making me more self-confident.
TLDR; it was an awesome school year and I learned so many things about myself and Taiwan! Now that I’ve finished reflecting on the past school year, I think I’m ready to take on the next semester! Let’s do this!