Coming home to the Philippines after two years in Taiwan feels so strange, and lately I’ve been finding myself reminiscing and thinking about my academic journey in Taipei.
I think I’ve already emphasized this enough: Studying abroad is no joke. Yes, it’s fun and you will experience so many things that you will never experience if you stayed home, but it can be challenging as well. There are some things you just won’t be able to prepare yourself for, and being away from home in a foreign country where no one speaks your language can make things harder than they already are.
But knowing this, I still believe that if given the chance, I would still choose to do this all over again because the sweet and happy memories (plus the lessons I learned) all make up for the difficulties.
Studying in Taiwan has got to be one of the best life decisions I’ve ever made, and I will never get tired of saying this because it’s so true. I was able to do so many things that helped me grow not only in terms of academic development, but also in terms of personal development as well. I know I’ve said some of these in my previous posts as well, but still, I would like to take this moment to reflect on my experiences and be grateful for all the things that I was able to experience, such as:
This has got to be one of my favorite things about my stay in Taiwan.
My classmates and friends all live with other people, either in the university dorms or a shared flat off-campus. Whenever I tell them that I live all by myself in an apartment, they always ask me: “But don’t you feel lonely being all by yourself?”
Well, the answer is a big NO.
Honestly, I learned how to be my own favorite companion when I started living by myself. This is because being alone and not having anyone else to help you with anything will provide an avenue for you to get to know yourself on a deeper level: you will learn so many things about yourself and the way you handle problems and issues. And just like when you’re living with someone else, living by yourself will enable you to discover your best and worst traits, and you will have every opportunity to work around them or improve on them. After all, your household and maybe even your life would be so disorganized if you don’t get your act together! Living by myself and knowing all of this has helped me develop a sense of self-awareness. I learned how to trust my instincts and keep my composure in overwhelming situations. Also, I no longer feel the need to depend on other people for my happiness or satisfaction. Sure, socializing and having friends is nice, but I am perfectly comfortable being alone even on days when everyone seems to be partying because I don’t see being alone as a bad thing. Instead, I see it as an opportunity to recharge and look after my own needs.
In addition to the benefits of self-awareness, living alone has also given me the opportunity to learn many skills that I would never have learned at home: household chores (cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, etc.), planning, time management, financial management, negotiation, and most of all, discipline. I started out in Taiwan knowing absolutely nothing about these things, but with no one taking care of me, I had to learn all of these by myself.
Now, I’m so used to living alone that I’m actually having a bit of a hard time readjusting to living with other people again!
I’ve never travelled alone prior to my stay in Taiwan because I’ve always been so sheltered back home. Going out alone was frowned upon, what more travelling to a new country?
Well, travel is one of the biggest perks of studying abroad, and I made sure that I got to explore as much as I could while studying in Taiwan! This is where I learned how to take public transport, plan trips, find my way after getting lost… and I loved every minute of it.
Taiwan is such a beautiful country with so many amazing sights and experiences to offer. Since the country is a small island, it’s so easy to get around and explore its different towns and cities… and each place has something different in store so I definitely thought every place I went to was a must-visit.
But sometimes, I didn’t even feel the need to go out of Taipei because there are so many things to do and see even in the capital city.
I don’t think I would have been able to visit so many fascinating places if I didn’t live there. I would never have learned how to plan trips and appreciate getting lost in a foreign country and just taking in the sights (yep, I’ve gotten lost countless times too!) Plus, I was even able to find hidden gems and local delights that tourists don’t know about, just because I’ve lived there for an extended period of time!
Pursuing a field I really loved (and discovering others I didn’t know I would love)
I always knew I wanted to pursue a combined degree in Economics and Social Development, which is why I went to Taiwan in the first place. I am very grateful that I was given the chance to learn more about the field that I only studied in passing during my undergraduate years, and after 2 years, I really feel that I made the right choice in pursuing this degree.
But then, graduate school was where I learned that I shouldn’t limit myself to the degree I’m studying if I really want to improve and find more creative ways to solve problems. So, more than the knowledge I gained about economics and development, I am more grateful for the chance I was given to explore other fields that I never knew I would be able to use to address economic issues during the course of my study. I am especially grateful for discovering geography and data science – two amazing fields that changed my perspective in answering economics-related questions. Working with huge datasets and statistical software used to overwhelm me because of the very technical processes involved in dealing with them. I know I’m still not an expert on these fields, but I am just so glad that I learned the basics (and beyond). I don’t think I would have been able to produce a thesis like the one I have written if I did not have the geographic and statistical models to help me analyze my data.
I am actually looking forward to applying my learnings in these fields in my future jobs. I get so excited at the mere thought of solving difficult economic questions by looking at the data and using different tools to find a solution!
Becoming better at meeting and relating with other people
I only have a handful of very close friends and I usually have the tendency to shut other people out of my life, either because I don’t feel like socializing, or because I just feel that we won’t click. I also used to be painfully shy, so there’s that.
But in Taiwan, I went out of my way to socialize with other people since I knew that it can be difficult to meet people in a foreign country, more so if you don’t speak the language. I learned that it’s okay to go out and meet new people, because everyone benefits from each other’s views and experiences. But then, I also realized that I don’t have to try so hard to be friends with everyone because that’s just not possible. It’s just like anywhere else, really: You will meet a lot of people in school or at work but you will only have a few people you can consider your close friends… and that’s perfectly okay! No one will take it against you. Besides, you don’t need to be super close friends with someone to be able to relate to them, work with them, or even be nice to them.
I still think I only have a few close friends, but I’m now more open to meeting new people and I’m actually more flexible now, being able to relate to and work with different kinds of people regardless of their background. During my stay, I learned that the important thing is making an effort to go out there and talk to everyone I meet, because I will surely hit it off with a couple of people. Also, it will serve me well to listen to other people’s stories since I can always learn something new from them, especially if they’re in a completely different field from mine.
Finally, all this socializing in Taiwan helped me in overcoming my shyness. Sometimes, it’s still there, but overall I can definitely say that I’m now more confident with myself than I was two years ago!
Learning a new language
I’ve always had a fascination for languages, and I’ve always wanted to be fluent in at least one foreign language (nope, English doesn’t count, haha!).
Living in Taiwan not only gave me the opportunity to learn Chinese (Mandarin), but also to be exposed to it every day. Even if I’ve taken Chinese classes before, nothing compares to speaking and learning in the country where it is spoken, and conversing with the locals. I learned so much more in my 2 years of daily exposure to the language as opposed to 2 years of Chinese classes back in the Philippines, just because I was immersed in a situation where I had to speak Chinese every day. Besides my weekly Chinese class, I also attended clubs and social gatherings where people spoke zero English. It’s scary at first, but learning this way is actually fun. A lot of times, I feel like a baby who doesn’t understand anything at first but learns the meanings of words and phrases through context clues. Plus, I never felt embarrassed nor shy to speak Chinese around the locals because they were so patient with me and were always encouraging me to do my best in speaking their language.
Before I went to Taiwan, I set a goal for myself that I should be fully conversational in Chinese by the time I graduate. Personally, I don’t think I’m already conversational, since I still don’t have a wide vocabulary and I struggle a lot with word recall. But on the bright side, I am able to understand a large part of locals’ daily conversations, so I’d like to think that there was a huge improvement.
Living and studying in Taiwan made me develop a great love for the Chinese language, so I still plan on continuing my Chinese language studies even though I’m no longer living there. Who knows, it might be useful for the future!
TLDR; Taiwan changed my life, and I’m very thankful that I got the opportunity to live there and experience everything that it has to offer. The past two years have been the most amazing years ever, and if given the chance, I would relive everything in a heartbeat.
Oh, and here’s a little vlog about the things I saw and experienced for the past two years 😉