Alex McInnis

Taiwan

Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
School: P.K. Yonge Developmental Research
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Gainesville, Florida
Host District: 3482
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Taipei Far East


My Bio


Hello my name is Alexander McInnis. I am a senior at PK Yonge Developmental Research school and will be taking a gap year in Taiwan. The elation that over took me when it was announced that I was going to Taiwan was too much to handle. I am so thankful for this opportunity to travel abroad. I have participated in many activities over the years but the ones that have stuck with me have really helped me become the person that I am today. The first being the Martial Art known as Aikido. Aikido is a Jiu Jitsu and Judo-like martial art which aims to not injure your opponent. I have practiced this for roughly 6 years and have helped teach the kids classes on Saturdays for some time now. I have been playing the violin for roughly 5 years and helped teach the orchestra class at my school for about three years (until its ultimate dissolution last year). When I'm not doing either of those things I will go with some friends to downtown Gainesville and busk, eat at deliciously over-priced restaurants, and play games with friends. I feel like this exchange opportunity will give me some much needed perspective. Through my life I rarely ever traveled and subsequently, have a narrow grasp on the ever changing global community. I feel as thought the world can be a much better place if there are open-minded people who inhabit it; and what better way to expand one’s mind then to travel and live in the shoes of others.

Me in front of the sign for the doctor

Me in front of the sign for the doctor

my host cousin being himself

my host cousin being himself

my friend and I in front of tainan 豆花

my friend and I in front of tainan 豆花

my classmates and I

my classmates and I

Journals: Alex-Taiwan Blog 2018-19

  • Alex, Outbound to Taiwan

    October was a really odd month. Pretty much only because of the Halloween party. It was decided early on in the month that would dress up as Miss America for Halloween. But before that I was really training hard with the track team. The track team trains six hours a day everyday. Three hours in the morning and three hours at night (or rather after school). I was doing my absolute best to attend all these practices in an attempt to get closer with my classmates. My schedule looked about like this. 4:30 wake up, leave at 5 to catch the 5:12 train to arrive at Taipei main station at around 5:45 walk to the green line and arrive at roughly 5:50. From there ride three MRT stations and transfer at Nanjing Fuxing arriving at roughly 6:05-6:10. From there ride seven stations to arrive at school to make the 7:00 training (allot for time to wait in lines at MRT). From there I’d train until roughly 11:00 and start class with my classmates. Training starts with warms ups and in the mornings during off season its strength training. I never knew how out of shape I was until training with people. Lord Almighty. It was usually squats and other sorts of exercises specifically for track. After class on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday we’d go to the gym and continue training at school. However on Tuesday and Thursday we’d leave school and 14:00 to go to Taipei arena and train in the large arena there. This was super cool the first time. I asked my classmate if she thought it was cool that we caught to train in Taipei arena and she looked at me and laughed “it was cool the first time, but it’s extremely exhausting.” I’ll never forget her saying that. At the arena we warm up of course then we run… we don’t actually stop running. It starts with 15-17 laps around the 400m track, then we divide into which events we are doing. I had no idea what I was doing so I just asked what I should do. The coach put me in 100m dash which I thought was pretty nice. “Shortest distance, less to run, not as hard” was my reasoning. Needless to say I was severely mistaken in the line of thinking. I don’t know how many times I ran that 100m but it was coaches goal to get me, and the rest of the team, to vomit everyday. I say that and it sounds really bad but his philosophy is that it means you’re pushing past your mental limits. This was one of my seemingly unmeasurable goals for exchange, to push past all of my limits as much as possible. But now I had a sure fire way to know whether or not i pushed or not. Although this is not to say that my goal each time was to train hard that I vomit but it was just a bit of a test, a right of passage so to speak. Anyhow, after all of this I also asked my Rotary club to see if they could help me find some Tai Chi or wing chun to practice. They found a really wonderful women who teaches in taoyuan on Thursday nights 7:30-9. So I also practice taichi every Thursday in taoyuan. It became a sort of way to strengthen my spirit. The way in which we trained was quite difficult for me. It was very slow and extremely precise. Each practice challenged my patience and frustrated me. I was constantly being corrected and at first I was really embarrassed. Everyone else in the class couldn’t have been a year shy of 67 and I was the only one struggling. A part of me was extremely impressed and another was confused as to why I was unable to reproduce these seemingly simple movements. However after thinking about it for a long time I think it really doesn't matter how accurate the movements are its the mental benefits you gain from it. The ability to be relaxed and still have control and power over yourself and things around you. A lesson I’m admittedly still struggling to learn but am happy to have figured something out. NOW, the moment you’ve been waiting for. Me, dressed in a dress constructed only of the flag of these United States (well actually we just bought an American flag pattern dress). I went to a Rotary sponsored event in drag. I showed up, and we went to a night market to mess around for a little bit. Then Rotarians and Rotex lead us to this bar they had rented for the evening for us to eat at. The food was really good, all fried and gross you know? They had each person walk down the aisles of the restaurant showing off their costume. The time finally came for me to walk around the restaurant. I didn't really know what to do so I just danced to the music that was playing. Which was okay. Then the Rotex called for a pseudo awards ceremony. They’d ask people to nominate someone for best costume, sexiest costume, most unexpected, and best overall. Apparently a lot of people really like my little bit so I won best over all and won 500 NT and a cool little phone lens. The Rotarians thought it was really funny so I thought the whole night was a win.

    November was definitely the lowest point of my exchange. It was the point when I felt most home sick and began to have troubles deeper within myself. These were issues that were technically omnipresent, just not issues that were often brought up until I left my monotonous environment back in the States. The ever changing atmosphere of exchange really brought out the uggly parts of my personality. Those things that you try to keep hidden from those around you. I found myself becoming more impatient and aggressive with my friends and host family. Seemingly for no reason. I was able to recognize this behavior and recognize that this was absolutely no was to act, but I couldn't find a way to stop. It wasn’t uncommon for me to try and isolate myself in my room during this time. I can’t imagine what my host family must have thought. Quite frankly, If I had an exchange student living with me acting the way was acting I’d be very angry. But thankfully they were more patient with me. I remember in the second week of November, which seemed to never end, they asked me what was going on. I really wanted to say nothing, nothing is happening. But for some reason I just said “I don’t know” which I guess was a better answer than “nothing” because they nodded and just continued about their business. To be honest I didn’t pay much attention to it at the time but now I think they were just looking for any kind of explanation. Even if I didn't know they accepted that as an answer. One of the other things I thought which seemed more likely at the time was that they really didn’t like my uncertainty; That they took that answer as another line of disrespect. But I actually asked them later, and this is one of the moments I knew this host family was my absolute other family, they said “it’s okay to not know why you feel some way, this is really new and difficult so we understand. We’re just glad it not something that we’re doing. That’s what we were concerned about.” but a lot of this changed after I was invited to go to a place that I think really changed my perspective on life. I went to Taroko gorge with my second host family. They had invited me to join them on this trip as a sort of first impression. My second host family hadn’t really told me a lot about what we might be doing but I just thought it sounded like a really cool opportunity so I didn’t ask any questions and trusted it would be moderately safe. I stayed with them the night before because I had to wake up extremely early in order to get there at a reasonable time. The next morning we had breakfast and drove down the east coast of Taiwan, it was one of the beautiful but dangerous rides of my life. Flying around corners where on one side its mountain and the other is cliff, speeding down hills in the rain. When we finally arrived at the hotel i was already breath taken. The hotel we stayed at was ON the mountain. We’d passed by temples on the way up and the scenery was so different than anything I had ever seen even in pictures. The first day on the mountain was mostly just relaxing and walking around the premises of the beautiful hotel. It was owned and operated by and aboriginal tribe. The hotel structure was more similar to a camp with cabins as a pose to a sort of ‘traditional hotel’. The cabins lay at the base of a small cliff on an itty bitty plateau that seemed just big enough for these structures. It all seemed so perfect, they even had wifi. As night started to fall I became more and more obsessed with the things around me. This was really the first time I had ever truly experienced mountains. I hadn’t really ever traveled anywhere before this and now there are these monolithic towers of rock erupting out from the ground. Although this unprecedented awe I had been experiencing was coming to an end, I could feel the homesickness creeping back to the front of my conscience mind. Thankfully it was getting dark and i had hoped to sleep it off but, and I cannot make this up, the Rotarian and my second host dad snored so loud that I was absolutely unable to sleep. This, naturally, was very agitating. After a while of trying various methods to block out the quake like rumbles of their obviously marvelous slumber I got my things and decided it would be preferable to sleep outside. It was at this point when I forgot my blanket inside and tried to open the door that I knew I had made the wrong choice. I didn’t have a key. So I’m outside in the dark no blanket and locked out of the room. I was too frustrated at the time to try and wake up the Rotarian and didn’t think it was too cold so I thought it best to just find the nearest bench and rough it for the night. Thankfully the nearest bench was directly in front of the cabin. So I plopped down there and in the background… the snores… I can still hear the snoring. So I just give up I start walking around and thinking. And thinking. And thinking some more. Which was a bad idea because now I was getting sad again. I just felt like my whole world (or at least the idea of my world) was falling apart. So I just kinda started walking. And walking. And walking some more. And sooner or later I wasn’t anywhere near the hotel. I was at one of those temples we’d passed on the drive earlier. I took a moment to appreciate it and sat down to just think and observe what was going on around me in an attempt to cheer myself up I guess. I looked around saw the same thing I saw earlier, but also something different. The mountains were no longer stationary, at least in my mind. I realized that these mountains, this scenery, the river that cuts through the landscape, is constantly changing. It just from my perspective I can’t see it and I have no way of stopping it. The mountains are growing and changing shape over time, the river is slowly getting wider and deeper. The trees grow and die. Everything is at the mercy of the laws of nature and there's no point in resisting it, because you will lose. It’s such a simple idea to understand on an intellectual level. It’s easy to acknowledge that yes, change is going to happen and you have to find a way to deal with it rather than resist it. But to really internalize it. That’s not something I’ve ever experienced until this point. Another thing I realized is how you should try to improve yourself and intern that will benefit the group you’re apart of. If you’re as respectful and kind as possible to everyone and you try to be the best ‘you’ you can be, then I think your life will be fulfilling and wonderful. It sounds a little crazy when I put it into words but I really felt like it was a truly profound experience. I finally found my way back to the hotel room I think at around 4 am? And slept on the bench. The day after we walked around the park and saw more of the scenery. We went to a cave with water pouring from the ceiling. Then we went back to Taipei. A few days later I had Thanksgiving with some of the other American exchange students because they all wanted to celebrate. I made the best chili I could with the ingredients I had. We danced around a little and I did a legendary death drop. You know the dance move where you fall on your back gracefully? Yeah i didn’t actually know how to do it so I jumped into the air, super-maned on my back, and fell straight down making a loud thump. Overall November was a good month.

    December was a really interesting month. I was able to go to Sun Moon Lake with my host family and the exchange student at my school’s mom, had a rotary Christmas party, and went SCUBA diving in xiao liu qiu. Shortly after I returned to school after Taroko national park I was confronted by my friend at school and said that her mother was coming to visit early. I then told my host family. Somehow no one told me that we were all going to sun moon lake together. I wasn’t really bothered by this just no one told me until they showed up at the apartment the day they woke me up at 5:00am and said “hey we’re going to sun moon lake.” So I was of course excited. The drive was around 3-4 hours. Erica’s, the exchange student at my school, mother was really interesting to talk to. I really enjoyed her company along with my host family. It was a really fun time over all. We walked around the lake a little on the first day. Went to the night market and forced Erica’s mom to try some local food which was really fun. And had some amazing Assam tea. We went back to the hotel room, played some smash bros ultimate™ and went to sleep. A simple but wholesome and fulfilling day. The next day was the day that we had planned to travel across the lake. We went to some temples and some old streets. At one of the temple’s they had free books and things that you could take. I was talking to the guy at that temple and he kept giving me things to take and I couldn’t really say no. all the stuff was really cool. Like the 100 vegetarian dishes cookbook, some other Buddhist texts, and a little charm. After the boat ride was over we went biking around the lake and saw some more of the scenery. The weather that day was wonderful. Then after this we all went back to Taipei. A very simple and fun trip I’d say. The month went by very quickly. It was also during this time that had changed host families to my second. It was Christmas in what seemed like a week. Rotary had previously told us that we were going to go back to yilan for the Christmas party. The Christmas party was actually quite fun. We could video call our parents in front of everyone and wish them a merry Christmas, we got to exchange gifts, and of course we got to dance. My gift was a traditional Chinese puppet that I had previously won in culture class. I received a sweater which was really nice and warm. I unfortunately was unable to call my parents for Christmas. It was a little too early in the morning for them so they said I could call them later. I really hadn’t called or spoken to my family before this point too much. A part of me was proud I was able to resist the temptation but another part of me wanted to say hello to everyone and see what was happening back home. Finally we were able to dance. You may or may not remember but I had previously attempted to perform the ‘death drop’ maneuver at thanksgiving. This was my chance to try again. Of course, turn down for what was on and there I was… in the center of the circle. Everyone watching, exchange students, Rotex, and Rotarians. And it happened. I did it, and didn’t hurt myself. The hype was unbelievable and I solidified my position in group as ‘death drop Florida man’. After Christmas there was new years. My second host family had previously asked about my diving experience. I’ve had some experience and told them accordingly. So they planned and booked a trip to a small island off the coast of southern Taiwan called xiao liu qiu. When we arrived at the hostel we were going to be staying at, Saw that from that point we were able to see around the entire island. It was gorgeous. I was missing the ocean so much and finally I was surrounded with it. My first dive was a little rough. I had some trouble equalizing because it had been a long time since I had done any diving, but thankfully it wasn’t a very difficult dive and I was able to get used to it a little easier. We got to see several sea turtles and over fish i didn’t recognize. Pacific fish I thought looked familiar but had no idea how to ask because i didn't know their Chinese names, let alone the English names. We resurfaced and ate dinner. Had a great time watching the Taipei countdown on TV. the next morning we had another dive which was also really fun. But i had to return early because I wasn't using my oxygen efficiently. Then for the next several days I just chilled out around the island. Sat on the roof and watched the ocean, listened to the sounds of the island. It was very relaxing. A really cool experience.

    January was the upward curve of my mood and development on exchange. This was really when my Chinese started to improve to a point where I could hold a basic conversation with most people. This high of continuous and consistent improvement felt amazing through the entire month. I think it was mostly due to me moving host families. My second host family spoke no English at all. I was forced to use Chinese even when I had an emergency. This continuous exposure was the best possible thing to happen at probably the best time. This host family also lived in keelung. Keelung is actually outside Taipei. It’s about a 35 minute bus ride into Taipei every morning so yeah… my schedule got a little more hectic. At 4:30 run to the bus stop and hopefully and get on the 1061 or 1062 and arrive at songshan station. From there go to nanjing fuxing and rinse and repeat from the previous schedule. So yeah, just lots of time on transport. But through the rest of the month I began to dread going to track more and more. I lost the sense of responsibility I felt towards attending each grueling practice. My classmates were too focused and tired to interact with me during practice and they wanted to quit themselves but their attendance at the school depended on their track performance. The coach was literally running everyone into the ground and things didn’t really seem to have purpose in practice. I’d ask my classmates if they’d ever had to do remotely like this in years past and they said that this was new and didn’t seem to be improving their times or technique. So after a lot of thought and self deliberation I decided it was best to quit the track team and focus my time and effort on another endeavor. What that was at the time I honestly didn’t know. But it really helped me. My energy quickly returned, I felt like an actual person again. I had time to indulge myself during the week and do things I had been wanting to do since the beginning. Like take all my friends out to see keelung! I planned a whole day trip for some friends and me to go to Keelung and show them the city. Many of them hadn’t ever been before and this was my opportunity to also explore the city a bit more. So I took them all around and we had a great time exploring the markets, temples, and seaside scenery. One thing Keelung is famous for is the street food. It’s not quite as good as in southern Taiwan but the Miao Kou night market has some of the best seafood in the north. We enjoyed extraordinarily large bubble teas from a small stand on the corner at the entrance of the night market. It was really cool to take other people around a city for a day. I felt like I was really fitting in to this place and that i really belong here. I was able to identify which stands were good and which were bad. I was starting to pick up and local sense of things. Felt good.

    February everything seemed to slow to a halt. The excitement of the life I was living became normal everyday life and that was okay with me. Being here became living here in February and it just became normal life. The once seemingly insurmountable obstacles of the culture were now easily more easily navigable paths. Of course not without my mishaps here and there but certainly much smoother than before. In fact, I started to notice when tourists would break these unspoken cultural rules. The most common one is standing on the left side of the escalator. You don’t do that here. You leave that side open for people to walk up and down. Or talking very loudly in public places. There are just things you do and don’t do that take time to learn. Other exchange students around me were going through the same thing and it was like we were all assimilating almost uniformly. But also within our own groups. A sort of unique exchange student culture was developing quickly. Certain rules and of course memes that you have to follow as apart of this group. I found it all very interesting. Now that most of the hype of just living in another place is long long gone and we’ve had some time to settle in more effectively. We somewhat effectively began the process of further assimilation. But the thing is with Taiwanese and Chinese culture is that there are thousands of years of it to learn in such a short time and we’ve all kind of accepted that we won't be able to learn even half just because of the sheer amount of quantifiable things there is to learn let alone the qualitative things. It seemed daunting at first but after all the people said mei guan xi and you learned something new, things just started to fall into a better place. Of course I’d still make a lot of mistakes during things I'd only seen once or twice or things that were kind of obscure. But everyday interaction I had down I’d say. I was developing a new confidence within myself because I was actually doing it. I was actually living semi sufficiently in another country. And i would have a chance to test out my new found language ability and cultural adeptness on my schools graduation trip with my and other classes. The trip was five days long. A bus trip around the island and making stops mostly in the south. Since I had quit the track team I had been seeing my classmates a little less than I liked. I really liked hanging out with them but because of their training schedule it was difficult once I wasn’t on the team. Two of them in particular I became really close with two boys named Wu Huang Yu and Ting Fong. I was really glad to see them again and hang out on the trip. We ended up going to the chi mei museum and walked around. I noticed that they weren’t nearly as excited about the museum as I was. But I guess I’m just a nerd and like museums. Then we went to walk around in some flower gardens in tainan. The flowers were in full bloom and it was gorgeous. After that we stayed at a hotel and went to kenting in the morning to go play a dodgeball tournament which my class won. We weren’t allowed to swim at the beach which the florida man in me screamed about. Then after that we went to another hotel and walked around the kenting night market. A few days and interesting activities later we were back in Taipei. It was a nice trip to end the month of February.

    March was when I moved back to my first host family. I didn’t have a third so the plan was just to move back to my first. I have an extremely good relationship with this host family. I absolutely cannot imagine exchange without them. They have taken me many places and welcomed me like their own son so quickly. Every month the whole family gets together to eat and talk over dinner. This month we were all going to a steakhouse to eat and my host family had asked me to invite Erica. They all really enjoyed her company. At the dinner we were able to interact with everyone in Chinese without much issue which was good as previously if I had a mishap they’d switch to English. As for the rest of the month it was mostly just maintaining regular life in Taiwan. One thing that was a continuous effort was jade mountain training. Earlier in the year I had signed up to go and climb jade mountain. After quitting the track team I wasn’t getting much exercise and could feel fitness sort of falling away. So I started to try and exercise as much as I could while still maintaining the schedule that was comfortable for me. Thankfully after Chinese class every Tuesday and Thursday I was able to go with a few friends to a gym and work out a little bit. I had the pleasure of meeting two French exchange students named martin and Eugene. They were gym bros so it was an interesting time for sure. But rotary also had designated times for training. We went to yangmingshan to train several times and most of the time it was extremely wet and cold to simulate the peak of jade mountain. Mountains were also a thing that I was finally getting used too. I’d never really seen them before Taiwan and by this point I couldn’t imagine a landscape without them. 
    My school life had taken an interesting turn since I quit the track team. I was spending a lot of time by myself. Once I got back from Chinese class my classmates were usually already in practice and the classroom was empty. I didn’t mind for a while but it gave me lots of time to think, overthink, calm down, and study. But it started to get really lonely. I was just sitting in this room for hours a day by myself with little to do. I asked the school if there was anywhere else I could be ad they said the library. But I’d still be alone. So I just tried to make the best of the situation. I didn’t really have access to a computer while in the room nor did I have access to internet fast enough to do anything significant. I was left to entertain myself. So I just started doing math. I honestly don’t know why but I’d just write down certain problems and do math. Then when that got boring I’d try to imagine certain scenarios just as thought experiments. Then after that I tried meditating. This was actually very helpful. Trying to center myself was a really helpful thing but all of this only lasted so long. Weeks and weeks of this grew tiresome, except the meditation. I was very difficult for me to think of new equations to solve or new scenarios. I just started to get lonely.

    April was more of the same from last month. But I was much more comfortable by myself. I was just able to use the time to reflect and relax. A sort of thinking period through the day that was actually productive. I found myself being able to control my thoughts and emotions a little bit more than when I left. It certainly was a nice feeling. Another thing that happened this month was the last practice jade mountain hike. It was actually really beautiful this time around but still quite wet. We started out the 9 km at yangmingshan. Then we continued through the trail much more uniformly than in previous hikes. It was a lot more organized and controlled. I really appreciated that because on some of the other hikes we’d wait at the resting point for upwards of 20 mins for some of the people line the back, which granted I didn’t really mind but it seemed to use a lot of time. But it was important for those in the rear to take it at their own pace so it made sense. Anyhow, this time was different people were able to say a lot closer together and it made the experience overall much more enjoyable. We could walk and talk about various things. It was almost like a bonding experience that you see in TV shows. Like a workers retreat or something. Another thing that was different about this hike was the fantastic clear weather. It was sunny the entire time and the wide was very nice at the top of the mountain. 
    April was more of the same from last month. But I was much more comfortable by myself. I was just able to use the time to reflect and relax. A sort of thinking period through the day that was actually productive. I found myself being able to control my thoughts and emotions a little bit more than when I left. It certainly was a nice feeling. Another thing that happened this month was the last practice jade mountain hike. It was actually really beautiful this time around but still quite wet. We started out the 9 km at yangmingshan. Then we continued through the trail much more uniformly than in previous hikes. It was a lot more organized and controlled. I really appreciated that because on some of the other hikes we’d wait at the resting point for upwards of 20 mins for some of the people line the back, which granted I didn’t really mind but it seemed to use a lot of time. But it was important for those in the rear to take it at their own pace so it made sense. Anyhow, this time was different people were able to say a lot closer together and it made the experience overall much more enjoyable. We could walk and talk about various things. It was almost like a bonding experience that you see in TV shows. Like a workers retreat or something. Another thing that was different about this hike was the fantastic clear weather. It was sunny the entire time and the wide was very nice at the top of the mountain. 
    I made a decision in April that I don’t think a lot of people are going to agree with. I thought it was time for a change okay!? I cut my hair really short. I told people it was because I was going to pursue an ROTC track in college and that my hair to be short for that but the real reason is because it just really needed to be cut. It was so unhealthy they wouldn’t even let me donate it. It was just a rats nest on top of my head and it stopped being cool. So I cut it. Felt super weird at first. I haven’t had my hair cut like this since sixth grade. But I had various reactions, I had one guy look at me straight in the eye very serious and say “you’ll never be the same again” whereas my when I walked into my class they all were shocked and a wave of “好帥!” flooded the room. I was really enjoying the life I seemed to building in Taiwan. I have friends and people I absolutely consider family. So yeah, that was the extent of my April.

    May was when a lot of things started to happen again. In the beginning of May I finally went to jade mountain, went to jia yi and tai nan with my host family, and said my last goodbye to my class. Jade mountain was… a challenge (to put it lightly). The first day was very simple and easy. We went to the hotel at the base of the mountain and stayed there the entire day. It was simple and fun. One thing we noticed was how much rain and clouds there were. However we were all reassured that this would clear up by the next morning and continue to be nice throughout the trip. We all chilled around the hotel playing cards games, walking around the really pretty grounds, and talking about our experiences thus far. I was talking to the new Australian on the trip Gus who I shared lots of interests with. We were both interested in a pilot track through the Airforce and just sharing our hopes and concerns about such a career choice. I also talked with a German girl Magda about life and her general philosophy on things. Anyhow I had lots of stimulating conversation about various topics on this day. The next day we left the hotel at around 7:45 and began our 8km hike to the base camp. As promised the weather seemed gorgeous and wonderful. However as we ascended the weather slowly got worse and worse. It wasn’t raining yet but we could tell that there was a strong possibility. About 4.5km in it started to rain very lightly and get cold. The trail was starting to flood and all of our shoes were getting soaked. Only about a kilometer passed then it started pouring down rain. Of course because at this point we were roughly 3,400m high it was getting really cold. The last 3.5km of that hike were freezing and wet. When we finally arrived at the small building that was base camp we were all a bit, confused. We were all happy to have made it to some kind of structure but this place was just as wet and cold as outside. Our excitement was quickly replaced with existential dread and various mummers of “why did I sign up for this.” Many people were starting to feel quite ill, myself included. The altitude at the base camp was roughly 3,570m which is the highest many have ever been outside an aircraft. So here we all here, freezing cold, soaking wet with no way to dry off, and feeling really sick all trying to pile into a set of three large bunk beds in a room no bigger than a janitor's closet. The facility had a set of nice sleeping bags which was a blessing for us because we were able to get out of our wet clothes to get warm in the sleeping bags. The next morning we had to wake up at 2:00 am to make it to the peak on time to see the sun rise. So we all tried to sleep at 19:00 to get sufficient sleep. So after dinner at 19:00 we all laid our heads down and tried to get some sleep, seemingly simultaneously everyone at 10:30 said yeah I can’t sleep. See we sat the rest of the time just looking at the clock just praying for it to be 2:00 but at the same time praying we’d be able to stay in this moderately controlled environment. So 2:00 finally did come around and we did make it out. Everyone was wearing soaked clothes and shoes. The hike to the peak felt like I was a walking dead man. There was not a single part of my body I could feel. My wet clothes had soaked all the heat out of my body, the wind wasn’t helping, and the continuous dropping temperature wasn’t doing me any favors either. Then we reached a certain point where we had to start bouldering. There were chains you could grab but none of us brought gloves. The rock had little streams forming on them so it was getting dangerous to climb. All of our hands were hurting from climbing and grabbing the cold wet chain. When we finally reached the top we all quickly took our pictures and left. The hike down was the real endurance test. We still had to hike in our wet clothes and it was still pouring rain. But we summoned the last of the energy that we had and left. We made it back. I realized how much of a city boy I’ve become. Anyhow after this may host family took me on some trips to places down south to just take pictures. We first went to jia yi, this was a really cool place to go because we took a boat out to this sand bar to catch these really small crabs. I’m not sure why but it was super fun and it felt like the beginning of my exchange again because everyone only spoke Taiwanese and it was really difficult to understand what people were saying. I’ve tried to learn Taiwanese but it just hasn’t been something I’ve been able to learn alongside Mandarin. Next we took a two day trip to Tainan and took pictures there. We went all around and saw all sorts of things. The last thing I did was say goodbye to my classmates. They threw the most wonderful party for me. I can’t really describe the feeling of seeing them for the last time. It was really painful and I cried in front of everyone but I also felt a great sense of closure. These were the people I spent a lot of time with. They helped me get through the year. They accepted me and welcomed me into their lives, class, and country. Then they started to say their goodbyes to me individually. That was extremely painful and made me really not want to leave. It takes a lot of love to make someone who’s already graduated high school want to go back just to be with a group of people. I love them all and I’ll see them again someday. But damn, in that moment I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to stay more than ever.

    Today, 2019/6/21. 
    Today is my last full day in Taiwan. I have this deep feeling in my stomach and chest like I’m about to fall through the earth. Yet at the same time it doesn’t feel real. It doesn’t feel like I’m about to go back to a life that I built so long ago. Everything has changed and it just doesn’t quite feel like going home is the right decision. Unfortunately it’s my only option. I have my family back home of course and it’s not like there aren’t things I’m looking forward to ding and people I’m happy to see. But I just can’t shake this feeling like it's just not my time to leave yet. I know I have too and I just have to face it with a smile and move forward. What else can you do in the face of great change? Just bare and grit the bittersweet pain of saying goodbye to everyone. Bare and grit the pain coming home and having normal things somehow be different. Bare and grit the pain of having to remake your life again. These are all things we signed up for in the beginning. Exchange has helped me to grow as a person and helped others do the same. It has been the finest experience of my life and I wouldn’t have done anything differently. Well maybe a few things. But you know what, I did it. I made it all the way through this year. I’m leaving on my departure date and I’ll be back in the US on the 23rd of June. Actually that is going to literally and figuratively be the longest day of my life. It’ll be the 23rd of June for 48 hours because I’m crossing the international date line and then I'll have just begun making the grandest transition of my life back into the culture and family life I once had. I think people have got it all wrong. The hard part of exchange isn’t the exchange itself. It’s what you do with it after. Coming how and getting used to being in something that by ever metric you should function and be happy I but there is just some barrier you’re unable to break down prohibiting you from fully integrating back. I cannot express the gratitude I have for my host families. They have truly kept me afloat here. They have been like real family and I absolutely need to come back and see them soon. This isn’t really closing a door and it’s not an absolute goodbye. It’s a see you a lot later sort of deal. My hot brother and I fully intend on being in consistent contact by playing smash brothers and just talking. I think things will suck for a while but just like in the beginning of exchange they’ll eventually turnout okay. Life goes on no matter what and I don’t want to get left behind. Just gotta keep moving forward no matter what. I’ll stick to my two life motto's. “Go hard or go home” and “ if it’s not hard, it’s not worth doing”

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  • Alex, Outbound to Taiwan

    The first few weeks of my exchange have gone very well. The first two weeks of August were all about getting acquainted with Taiwan and my responsibilities here. My first night with my host family was really brief. I arrived at their apartment and immediately fell asleep. The plane ride was exhausting. The next day they told me that I was responsible for my own room, my own clothes and so on. I was honestly quite relieved that they were willing to accept me as a family member so quickly and easily. A few days later I had a meeting with the school at 13:30, however I was complaining of some shoulder pains. So my host dad suggested that before we leave to meet the school we see a traditional doctor. To be honest I was really nervous about seeing a traditional doctor because of the things I have heard and read. I wasn’t really on board but I was like, what the heck might as well right? So I said “sure that sounds good.” But it wasn’t at all what I expected. We drove outside of Taipei into the mountains down these tiny roads. With each turn the road got narrower and seemed not as well maintained, until there was no road. Then there was what looked to be a really small parking lot, almost on the edge of a cliff with the mouth of a trail at the back of it heading downward. So I, extremely confused, was wondering what I’m about to see. We get out of the car and walk down this tiny dirt path to this small shack with a few patients and this old man doing what looks like a judo technique on another old man hanging upside down. I am scared. My host dad speaks to him in Taiwanese and explains what the problem is. The doctor gestured me to lay on my side on this old massage table in the center of the small shack. I do so and he proceeds to do… something and he tells me host dad exactly what the issue is. He finagles my arms in sorts of positions and my shoulder feels a lot tighter by the end. It really helped. I think it was a super cool experience. He said to be really careful with it for the next three days and put some herbs on it. I then went to meet with my school which was productive. I met with the other exchange student at my school who was also from the US. We sat through the meeting and learned what was expected of us. We were essentially expected to show up and be respectful. There was very little in the line of school work that they expected us to do. I was placed in the athletic and sports class and thusly I was obligated to join a sport. They had three available; Track and Field, Archery, and Handball. My obvious choice was archery but they said that I didn't bring a bow, and lacked experience to be on the team, I had no idea what the heck handball was, so I sufficed with track and field. The other exchange student did so as well. Although she was placed in a different class. The next week school began and my first meeting with my classmates was almost like that out of an anime. The teacher walked me in, introduced me, had me introduce myself in Chinese (which was admittedly very rough) and sat my in the corner at the front of the class closest to the windows. Although one of the first things, or rather people, I noticed were two people; One was another foreigner which I was surprised to see, and the other was a boy who wouldn’t stop staring at me. The other foreigner was a girl who had lived here almost her whole life. Her Chinese was perfect and she had agreed to help me with mine, thankfully she was also on the track team. School was slow for the first couple of weeks so I was thankful to finally have my orientation. I would be able to meet all of the other exchange students in my district(s). The designated meeting time was 6:30 am which sucked. But once I arrived I saw a few other exchange students, but they had all mostly circled up into their own little groups by this point. It was so fast, people had already formed little groups. Thankfully I was able to sort of go around and introduce myself to everyone. I had brought my violin to this event which was a great conversation piece, it really helped me find an opening to conversation. Exchange students are always very curious I find. Any how we arrived in Yilan which was a little ways away from Taipei but it was beautiful. Most people were complaining about the heat, but me being the Florida man I am I enjoyed it. We were all assigned into groups in roughly 8 people. The Rotex took us through the itinerary of the things that were to come and they leads us through some icebreaker activities. The icebreaker stuff was honestly a little cringy but it was effective. We sat through several hours of lectures, not unlike our first orientation, and were given chances to earn little prizes by answering questions. It was boring but a worthwhile activity. That about sums up my first month of exchange.

    Click HERE to read more about Alex and all his blogs

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