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I’ll admit that what finally triggered my decision to write a blog post documenting my first experience in Taiwan is a raging typhoon that shut down the entire city for a day. This is probably the first break I caught after a frantic month of repeated attempts to get organized, adapt to my new surroundings, and master a foreign language. With this being my first time stepping foot outside North America, I’m pleasantly surprised that I’m still in one piece. So far I’ve managed to survive poisonous mosquito bites, all of which initially swelled up to the size of tennis balls. I also got hit by a moped in a small alley, but on a brighter note I have yet to eat something dirty enough to send me to the hospital. The weather here is atrocious; one minute it’s unbearably hot and then next thing you know, my umbrella is flying away in a thunderstorm. I haven’t had too much trouble communicating with the locals, but I still struggle with automated machines that rapidly spew out fancy adult vocabulary.

Another common obstacle that most foreigners struggle with is ordering food at restaurants or street side stands that don’t offer English menus or display pictures. Usually when I find myself caught in this situation, I start off by scanning the menu for anything I can recognize, and then I mostly end up ordering the same thing everywhere I go. If I don’t recognize anything, I sometimes ask if the restaurant has any of my favorite dishes. Then there are those awkward moments when I’m unsure of how to order a “caramel machiatto” at Starbucks using Chinese, so now I’m gradually learning what everything is called through trial and error. This isn’t really a concern for me just because all I really want to eat in Taiwan are beef noodles, xiao long bao, papaya milk, and slushies, but I suppose if I’m already here I really ought to try something new.

I initially found this experience frustrating as I was unfamiliar with getting around in the city, I couldn’t decode most of what looks like hieroglyphics printed everywhere, heck, I spent at least ten minutes trying to figure out how to reload minutes onto my pre-paid phone (again, automated machines!!) However, what followed my initial frustration is the inevitable feeling of accomplishment when I realize I’m gradually reading more characters every single day. Sometimes I would randomly stop to read a sign in front of a store or on the subway, and I’ll get so excited and read it a few more times from the beginning. Then I’ll happily prance off from the metro station with a beaming smile on my face while the locals shoot me weird looks for reading a warning sign out loud three times. In defense of taking the time out of a busy university life or delaying my job hunt to travel, there really are some priceless experiences that are unattainable in a typical classroom setting.

While I was chatting with a friend about my first impression of Asia, he mentioned that the interesting thing about culture shock is, “millions of people do it that way.” What I am currently experiencing is the beauty of a globalized world in which I have access to a wide spectrum of cultural differences to observe, to learn from, and perhaps integrate into my daily life later on. Cultural immersion almost feels like I’m reborn as a child trying to figure out a new set of rules as I try to adapt and integrate myself into a different society. I guess the most important lesson I learned from traveling abroad in this past year is that regardless of differences, in any given part of the world, people are actually more similar than you think. Everyone struggles to provide for those they care about, everyone seeks love and acceptance, and on that note, everyone feels pain. While it’s always easier to criticize one other methods or differences, it’s important to remember that we are all human. As people, we all have the ability to make choices to positively impact on our environment wherever we go, and perhaps one day, there will be a day when people can finally coexist peacefully in this chaotic world.

September 2012

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