Written by Sarah Phipps, (UNC Chapel Hill) Student Correspondent CET Taiwan, Fall 2018
I love learning from other’s mistakes, and I want to take the time to allow whichever prospective study abroad student is reading this to learn from mine.
Prepare yourself for the culture shock you will experience. I have traveled internationally to eight other countries apart from Taiwan, two of which were independent trips while I was still in high school. I am very confident in my ability to adjust to a new place. But, adjusting to living somewhere new is completely different, and it is important to keep it in mind. You are not a tourist, you are not simply a week-long visitor. I make this point because you need to feel at home here, and you will need rest while here.
It is not reasonable to expect yourself to be full of energy and on the go for each minute of the three months. Make time for yourself, and keep your mental and physical health at the forefront of your priorities. A great way to care for yourself, is to be understanding with yourself when you need time to lie down and rest, rather than becoming angry with yourself for not having the energy to go out. I learned this from experience.
When I am hungry, my blood sugar drops, and I feel very panicked. All I can think about is when my next caloric intake will be. When this happens, I am not the best version of myself, and I disappoint myself in the way I behave.
If this sounds like you when you are late for class and skip breakfast, I recommend you prepare to bring a few comfort snacks for your first few weeks in Taiwan. After the first few weeks, you’ll find snacks you like and you’ll be able to self-manage your routine. Pop over to my personal blog to read the 9 other top things I recommend bringing along with you on your study abroad experience: https://sarahjeanphipps.com/2018/10/10/10-items/
Friends will make your study abroad experience rich, more so than any tourist site you see. Do not be afraid to make the first move. You’re likely coming from your comfort zone, in which you rarely have to make plans, they usually just seamlessly fall into place. Add each person you meet on Line, and ask them to dinner if you enjoyed your first interaction. Join a few language exchange groups on Facebook, and ask one or two individuals out to dinner. Ask your coworkers at your internship if they’d like to have dinner. Taiwanese individuals are usually very hospitable, and they’ll likely find time for a meal with you. I encourage you to do this as much as possible in the first weeks to open the opportunity to meet a few really good friends and develop deep relationships.
My life mantra is: the people who surround you are who make life the beautiful creation it is. And, quality is better than quantity when it comes to friendships. Make surrounding yourself with positive, uplifting individuals who push you to be a better you and are there to catch you when you fall a priority.
It is not always easy to make friends, and it most certainly takes time. What is my advice if the months go by and you still have not found a friend to meet for coffee when you need to talk? Make the phone call. Call your best friend. Be sure the person you confide in knows you need a regular chunk of time on their calendar. When you get down, or you are feeling overwhelmed and alone, it is a natural instinct to shut all doors. I know this because I did it, multiple times. I soon saw the pattern; after talking to a friend from home, I was rejuvenated, energized, and ready to go explore. If you operate like me and feed off the energy of your loved ones, I hope my words will prevent you from making the same mistake I did.
Before you leave for abroad, make sure your friends know you need them. It is natural for those at home to feel as though you need space to be on your own, to grow, and explore a new land. Your friends may avoid sending you texts or asking you for time to speak on the phone. Your friends love you and want you to have the time of your life. Make sure they know you need them, regularly.
About a month into my time abroad, I told my best friend I was hurt because we were not talking as much as usual. Little did I know, she was doing what she thought was best for me. She was giving me space out of love, when really, she missed me just as much as I missed her. Once we cleared up this communication and made sure to have a nice, refreshing conversation at least once a week, my experience grew so much brighter.
Technology has many downsides, but the upside is you can see your loved ones, even though they’re on the other side of the world from you. Don’t make your time abroad harder than it has to be. Utilize FaceTime. On the other hand, when it is the middle of your day, and you are out with new friends exploring, put your phone away. Be disciplined on this. Many of these experiences will only happen once.
Teachers at ICLP truly care about their students. Take the time to get to know your teachers on a personal level. If you are able, bring a few gifts from home to share with your teachers, it will mean the world to them. Don’t be afraid to ask your teachers to dinner with you and your fellow classmates. My classmates and I did this and we had a lovely time.
I hope you are able to learn from these tips, and maximize each moment you have in Taiwan. Live, go, explore, and enjoy all the beautiful island of Taiwan has to offer!
Finally, here is a link to my blog: www.sarahjeanphipps.com. I have posted several blogs in regards to sites I’ve visited, cafes I’ve tried, and more. On each, you’ll find travel instructions. Each location is relatively easy to visit from the CET Apartment. I offer this resource, because I had a hard time at first knowing what to do when I had free time. I hope my recommendations make it a bit easier for you. 🙂