Always Asking Why

Written by Anna Dolliver (University of Texas-Austin) Student Correspondent CET Taiwan, Fall 2017

As I transition from a summer language program in Tainan to the CET session here in Taipei, I’ve been thinking about what I plan to do differently with this second study abroad term. I loved my time in Tainan, yet I want to do even more while in Taipei, starting with asking myself “why.”

I love setting goals, but sometimes in my determination to accomplish things I spread myself too thin. To avoid sacrificing depth for breadth, I encourage students planning to study abroad to ask yourselves “why” before and during the program. My primary “why’s” entering this semester concern my internship, language goals, and location. These questions will help me ensure that the goals I set align with what I truly want to do rather than guiding me into distractions from my reasons for being here. Not to say that impromptu adventures are a distraction; often the unexpected moments become some of the most memorable. But having an idea of your direction can help you organize the bulk of your time and remind you to make the most of your time abroad.

Stumbling upon a farmers’ market in Dongmen

Why this internship? Think about what you want to do as an intern and what you want to gain from your experience. What questions would you like to ask your coworkers, and what can you do for them with your own skills? The lessons you learn may be different from what you anticipate, but knowing what interests you about a position can help both you and your coworkers benefit from your internship. I wanted to use my writing and research abilities in a professional setting, so I asked how I could use those skills to support the organization.

Why this language? Considering your language goals before diving into classes helps you concentrate your study methods. Are you learning this language to become a translator or to chat with your friends? Should you focus on business-related vocabulary or research terms related to your hobbies? Asking yourself why you’re studying a language leads to many other questions, but it helps you clarify why you’re here. Since almost every person has a different interpretation of language fluency, it helps to determine your specific, measurable goals for taking a language intensive program. Instead of saying “I want to become fluent in Chinese,” I can remind myself that I want to learn the language to converse with others and possibly become a translator. Then, I can set related goals like learning more specialized vocabulary about my hobbies and get to know local friends while speaking the language.

Studying at my first of many cat cafes

Studying at my first of many cat cafes

Why this city? Think about the location of your study abroad. What do you want to see while you’re there that you can’t see anywhere else? How do you want to spend your free time? I chose Taipei to explore Taiwanese culture in a big city rather than the smaller cultural capitol of Tainan. I love traditional characters and want to learn about the blend of Chinese, Japanese, and indigenous cultures that influenced Taiwanese culture. I want to explore various histories within Taipei and Taiwan, visiting art museums, cat cafes, and other cultural hubs. I want to meet new friends and hear their stories, to understand Taipei through their eyes.

As you ask yourself “why,” don’t forget to set aside time to explore and spend time with friends. Goal setting can help you fully embrace your study abroad experience, but the people you meet studying abroad shape the memories you will bring home. Whatever your personal study abroad goals may be, the people you befriend will help you find the answers to questions you didn’t even know you had.