Over the summer, I studied abroad in Taipei, Taiwan, which is 100 miles off the coast of China. Out of the many international destinations Illinois State offers, I chose to make the journey to Taipei. In an effort to expand my cultural knowledge, I chose to visit this Asian country because it had such a vivid culture, so different from my own. I spent four fulfilling weeks in this country, which I will always cherish. Living in Taiwan was an experience that I wish I could relive because it opened new perspectives in my daily life. Everything there was a culture shock, but a culture shock that I definitely welcomed.

Seven Illinois State students participated in the Taiwan program.

One of the more challenging things about studying in Taiwan was not knowing the formal language, Chinese. I grew from this experience as a lot of the time I felt out of the loop. I am so grateful to have experienced that feeling. I am pursuing a career in Special Education and my students will often not know English. This situation made me think of creative ways to communicate with people and how I could apply these ideas in a future classroom of my own. I made sure to immerse myself as much as I could in the culture by learning how to say some basic phrases in Chinese, like “Hello,” “How are you?” “bathroom,” and “thank you.”

It wasn’t a huge burden not knowing Chinese, because Taiwanese people are some of the friendliest and lovable people you can come across. I remember taking the MRT (public transportation) for the first time and being completely lost. I asked the conductor of the bus if he was willing to help me, but he did not know English. Even though it was a bit embarrassing, he went out of his way to make sure I was on the right bus by yelling across the bus to everyone asking if anyone knew English. After this, several people were willing to help and made sure I got off at the right stop.

The education system in Taiwan was not all that different from ours. For Special Education, they used the same system of documentation and called it the same name too, IEP. Something I noticed was that breaks are highly valued. In between every class, students had 15-minute breaks to relax and re-energize for the next class. For one of the breaks, it turned into a 30-minute session of free time.

Another surprising difference was how much value was put into making sure the students were part of a community and how they should respect that community. Every day after school was over, students were assigned roles in cleaning different sections of the school. Students also helped the cafeteria staff pass out and make the lunches for their peers. Another thing that caught me off guard was the duration of class periods. Students in Taiwan were in class from 8:30 a.m to 4:00 p.m. After this, the students were expected to go to an after-school camp which required more work from the students. This would go on until about 7 p.m. A lot more expectations were put on Taiwanese students than American students.

One of my most favorite parts about studying abroad was my host family and how close I was with them. Even though they knew very little English, we tried to make it possible to find a way to communicate with each other. I appreciated and still appreciate them very much for all that they have done for me. By the end of the trip, there were tears from how hard it was saying goodbye. They taught me what it’s like living in a Taiwanese home and allowed me to become fully ingrained in their culture. Every weekend, in our free time, we would spend time together wandering the city and viewing historical landmarks. From the moment I met them, I knew I made a long-lasting relationship with them.

Studying abroad is such a beneficial experience for college students. I am extremely grateful to the study abroad office, who was instrumental in helping me obtain scholarships that made this life-changing trip to Taiwan possible. My time in Taiwan and exploring a culture different from my own expanded my mind. It was one of the best times of my life and introduced me to various friends and connections in Asia. I am truly looking forward to the day I am able to return.

To learn more about the Taiwan study abroad program visit: https://studyabroad.illinoisstate.edu/destinations/taiwan/taipei/