Lauren, outbound to Taiwan

Being a Rotary Youth Exchange student is a lot like being a toddler with almost-adult responsibilities. You travel halfway across the world by yourself. You take public transport around the city, make new friends, and see things you've never seen before. You even have your own budgeting to manage. Yet, at the same time, you have the speech abilities and cultural knowledge of a six year-old. Everyone calls your name like a lost puppy if you lag behind the group, convinced you'll get lost. You forget where your house is. Oh, and you also cry for your mommy a lot.

The day I'm writing this marks the one month anniversary of coming to Taiwan. Coincidentally, it's also the date of the Mid-Autumn/Moon festival. It's honestly so hard to believe everything that has happened has all been crammed into four weeks. It's been thirty-one days since I pulled an all-nighter as I anxiously waited to board an airplane that would take me into a new life. The next twenty-four hours would be the longest wait of my life (combination of excitement and inability to sleep a wink on any of my flights).

Thirty days since I exhaustedly marched into the Taiwan Airport greeting room, meeting with two of my host families and some of my host club. We must've taken thirty pictures, before my host sister realized I was in desperate need of sleep. So we drove forty minutes to my new home in Taipei, only stopping to grab a bite to eat at McDonalds (still the only time I've eaten McDonalds since I got here).

It's been twenty-nine days since I stared at my new bedroom ceiling thinking to myself "Oh my god, I'm in Taiwan.” I woke up to the most amazing smells of lunch: the day happened to be a celebration to honor our ancestors, so our living room was covered in a feast. The rest of this day would be spent frantically running around the city, exchanging money, taking passport photos, filling out forms for resident cards, and trying new food.

It's been twenty-eight days since I went to my Inbound Orientation and made it my goal to meet as many exchange students as possible. I collected dozens of pins and made so many new friends. We played lots of team building exercises and even made our own barbecue.

It's been twenty-six days since I took the MRT for the first time and went to Ximen, which is like a Taiwanese version of Times Square and very popular with the foreigners. As promised to all of my fellow exchange students, I went to the Modern Toilet, a toilet themed restaurant. It was everything I had hoped for and more!
It’s been twenty-five days since I stood in front of my classroom for the first time and confidently introduced myself in Chinese. The rest of the day would be spent smiling and waving at shy students whenever they glanced at me - and eventually talking to some of my future best friends.

It’s been twenty-three days since I had my first “uh-oh” moment and basically ran into the language barrier face first. My host mother had taken me to Chinese class, an hour bus ride away from our home and my school. We normally get out of class at 11, and to eat free lunch at school I have to be there by 12. But since we got out late, I knew I wasn’t going to make it to school for lunch. I tried to tell my host mother this the whole way home so she could let me stop for lunch, but our language barrier prevented her from understanding. So instead, I ended up having to sprint to school, running up six flights of stairs and two steep inclines. I managed to get to class with my lunch with a solid five minutes, with a small bowl of rice, a single chicken tender, and a sports drink. Honestly, this was probably the smallest meal I’ve had while in Taiwan (my host mother would have been beside herself if she had understood).

It’s been twenty-two days since I got out of school early to go to my first host club meeting. I stood in front of the meeting and gave a similar introduction to the one I did at school. Though I confused two of my lines, everyone was forgiving and I managed to get through it. I was sent home with my allowance as well as a box of pineapple cakes from one of the host club members.

It’s been twenty-one days since I went to the Eslite Spectrum: possibly the coolest department store I’ve ever been to. I explored a floor of artisans, selling everything from jewelry to soap to cacti. I even found a coffee shop-like area where you could rent paintbrushes and paints to sit with you coffee and make art. It was possibly the coolest thing ever.

Afterwards, we went down the street to walk through an art exhibition with more artisans - except this one was based around food. I was offered dozens of free samples (that for some strange reason were only free for me - strange). At one point, I was offered the most bitter coffee I had ever tasted. But like a good exchange student, I downed it all, and managed to smile (after wincing and making my host mother laugh).

It’s been sixteen days since I explored the Bitan Bridge, an amazing boardwalk beside a river. I tried out my language skills, naming the types of dogs I saw and learning new words from my host father.

It’s been fifteen days since I explored a 24/7 night market, a European chateau, and the Fisherman’s wharf with some new companions. I met up with my host sister from my second host family, her friend, and the French exchange student (who currently is in that host family). We all walked together, taking selfies everywhere we went, and sharing umbrellas. I even tried sushi for the first time, which I have mixed opinions on.
It’s been thirteen days since I met my extended host family for my host grandma (Ama)’s birthday. We celebrated at a fancy restaurant, where I met my various uncles, aunts, and cousins. Everyone was super welcoming, and despite the new wave of homesickness, I was so happy to be accepted into this family.

It’s been twelve and a half days since I experienced my first earthquake, which nearly gave me a heart attack. I sat in my room, at 2am, trying to decide whether or not it was really happening. It was only confirmed by my friends at school the next day, yet no one but myself and my host mother had actually felt it.

It’s been eleven days since I went on a huge field trip with all of my fellow exchange students. We ate Taiwanese pizza (we call it that because it’s always covered in strange assortments of toppings) in the Taiwan City Council meeting room, explored a museum on Taiwan/Taipei’s history, and gaze across the city on a balcony made especially for the city council. This normally was unavailable to the public, but they pulled a few favors for the Rotary Youth Exchange students.

It’s been ten days since I dined on The Top restaurant. This restaurant is situated in the mountains just outside of Taipei, overlooking the entire city. My Rotary club gathered here to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival, dining for hours on delicious food.

It’s been five days since my classmates tricked me into eating duck eggs, one of the less pleasurable experiences I’ve had here. But it was very interesting to try, and I managed to convince everyone that I actually enjoyed it by eating three pieces and smiling. This surprised everyone, who seconds before had been wanting to video tape my reaction. On the same day, my classmates provided me with a fruit, who’s peel is big enough to be worn on your head. After being asked by my classmates, I happily put it on, wearing it for the rest of the day.

It’s been zero days since the Mid-Autumn Festival. I celebrated this by going out with my classmates for a barbecue. Since it was pouring rain (a typhoon was on it’s way), we sat in a pavillion near where my friend Hiro lives. We spent an hour getting our miniature grill started (we had to light the fire and tend to the coals ourself). Then we grilled our own food, dancing to music, and toasting marshmallows. It was a bunch of fun. I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get to see the moon on the Moon Festival (especially because this same moon, when viewed from America/Europe/Africa in a few hours, would be a Super Blood Moon). My host sister later assured me it was the same moon I saw in the United States, which I acted supremely surprised about (“It’s the same moon? I thought we had multiple moons???”).

Overall, this month in Taiwan has possibly been the best month of my life. I’ve tried so much new food (my weight gain definitely shows it) and I’ve visited so many places that I never thought I would see in my life. I already have a bunch of friends: classmates, teachers, host parents, siblings, other exchange students. I’m so thankful to be here - thank you to all of the Rotary members back in the States that made this possible for me! I hope I can update this again soon, so my journal won’t be as long. Until then, I’ll try to get exploring so I have more adventures to add!

To see my home page and some photos click Here