I’ve just returned from a two week study abroad in Taiwan through the University of St. Thomas where I am working on a masters degree in international studies.
I have always dreamed of traveling to Asia but, to be perfectly honest, I had always imagined myself first visiting the majestic temples of Cambodia or the pristine beaches of Vietnam. I had never really given Taiwan a thought, not for any real reason. It just never occurred to me. Then, one day, I received an email discussing various study abroad opportunities at St. Thomas which including Taiwan. Without a thought, I was all in.
In the weeks to come, I learned about Taiwan’s delicate relationship with China and the fact that only 20 countries around the world recognize Taiwan as an independent nation. Keep in mind there are “approximately” 193 countries in the world (but that’s another story… check out this YouTube video for more on the debatable number of countries in the world).
I also learned Taiwan was once under Dutch rule, Spanish rule, Japanese rule; I learned about the ’92 Consensus, the “One China Policy,” the South China Sea dispute, so much more. I love history so this was terribly interesting but there are some things you can only learn through experience. Here are the top 10 things a study abroad will teach you.
1. APPRECIATION OF OTHER CULTURES. It’s easy to question and judge cultures that are different than yours. Traveling somewhere that is vastly different from your native country gives you a greater understanding and appreciation of those differences. Allowing yourself to fully experience a new place (its people, language, traditions, and everything in between), will develop a great appreciation of and love for other cultures.
If you like temple hopping, you’ll love these images of the Matsu Buddhist Temple in the Zhunan District.
See more from the Tainan Confucius Temple.
2. THE ART OF MAKING FRIENDS WITH STRANGERS. By doing a study abroad, you can begin developing a network of friends and professional contacts from around the world. Studying abroad allows you to meet a diverse community of people from every corner of the world. You will meet a people of all different backgrounds and ages. I myself have made friends in Germany, Greece, Italy, Mexico, the Dominican Republic and, most recently, Taiwan.
3. GRATITUDE. We all have things we complain about throughout daily life. Sadly, it’s human nature. When you travel, you are quickly able to adapt a “glass half full” outlook about life in general. Travel makes you realize, life isn’t such a struggle after all. It’s actually pretty incredible and there are millions of things to be grateful for, if only just the little things.
Even though there are some things I’d like to could change in my life, after traveling to Taiwan, I am more excited and grateful about the life I am living than I have been in a while. Below is an amazing image I captured on our way to Jiufen Village. I was absolutely feeling gratitude that day. If you want to see more from that day, click here.
4. REAL UNDERSTANDING OF CULTURAL RELATIVISM. If I have realized anything from this experience, it’s that learning is truly a lifelong process. The only way to get a real understanding of a people, culture, or place is to be there and learn about the its customs and traditions, to eat its food, to spend time with locals, to learn about its history, and to visit its sites. Being able to see a country through it’s own culture is an eye-opening experience and has made me realize that I am privileged in so many ways.
5. THE NEED TO TRY NEW THINGS. Sadly, life is all about doing things we don’t want to do…. I don’t want to go to work today, I don’t want to take the trash out, I don’t want to walk to the store in this heat (Summertime in Houston, is usually around 100⁰).
Like it or not, we will all be forced to do tasks we would rather not. At home, I can be as unyielding as I want. Travel has a funny little way of making you try new things, like it or not. However, you may just discover that you’re glad you tried it. Taiwan had me trying so many new foods, many of which I still have no idea what they were. If I wasn’t there, in that environment, I probably would never have tried them.
6. HOW TO STEP OUT OF MY COMFORT ZONE. To be quite honest, this have never really been a problem for me but it always surprises me when people are shocked that I’ve dared to travel. This is especially the case when I’ve traveled abroad alone. However, I do have to admit that the study abroad to Taiwan did in fact put me a little out of my comfort zone.
In Taiwan, you will find many English speakers. Surprised, aren’t you? I was too but I also quickly realize how disadvantage I was due to my inability to speak or read Mandarin. It was a humbling and sometimes awkward experience but I got through it and so will you…. I mean, let’s be real, you have no choice but to.
7. TO BROADEN MY PERSPECTIVE. Studying in Taiwan has opened my mind. I see things relating to Taiwan and Asia in a different way. It has not only given me a greater understanding of the Taiwanese people but also, greater empathy. I am now vested in Taiwan. I want to see the country prosper even further. I want all the good things for Taiwanese people as I want for myself. After all, we deserve it.
8. A CHANGED SENSE OF IDENTITY. As a ‘not-so-young’ student, I can tell you, with all certainty, the person you are is constantly changing and will continue to do so throughout your entire life. That being said, there is nothing so impactful as experiencing another culture. That was absolutely the case during the study abroad in Taiwan.
For me, having the opportunity to be in Asia changed how I identify with the world. I think of the world in more global terms instead of the focusing on the microcosm I live in. It has also changed the way I relate to people and has completely revitalized my desire to do more travel. I’m already planning my next trip.
9. THE WORLD IS BIGGER THAN YOU THINK. Running in the same circles of people, often for many years, can make the world seem pretty small sometimes but after traveling abroad, you begin to realize that the world isn’t such a small place and that there is so much to learn, see, and do. Once you begin to experience how much the world has to offer, you’ll never be the same and you’ll never be able to stop traveling.
“Oh the places you’ll go.” – Dr. Seuss. Views from the Taipei 101.
10. THERE ARE THINGS YOU WILL NEVER LEARN IN A CLASSROOM. Nothing against high ed, I am in grad school after all, but there is absolutely an education you receive from travel and it’s an education no book or professor can ever offer in a classroom. You will know this from the very first time you travel abroad and allow yourself to fully engage in a new culture.
During the Taiwan study abroad, we had the opportunity to spend time with college students, take meetings with government officials, and go to the places the locals go to. It is in these moments that you really begin to learn about the country you are visiting. No class will ever be able to teach you those things. While both are valuable, one cannot be exchanged for the other.
Lastly, I just have to say, my Taiwan study abroad was an incredible experience. I’ve met lovely, open, kind people throughout the country and have seen some truly breathtaking sites. What I loved most, however, was having the opportunity to learn about a beautiful and rich culture that is very different from my own western culture here in the United States. Being in Asia, specifically in Taiwan, has been an experience I will treasure. I can’t wait to return. Many thanks to my new Taiwanese friends!