It’s hard to believe how fast a year can go by. Just 12 months ago I was sitting in my new bedroom in my grandmother’s apartment in Taipei. The humidity was engulfing me as I practiced writing characters at my desk. I was thrilled to be back in one of my favorite cities but this time it was different. I felt the tired burden of unfamiliarity and starting over: coming to a new place and restarting every aspect of your life. I was asking myself: Where will I go to church? Which small group will I join? Am I going to join clubs, teams, or sports groups? Who am I going to hang out with on Friday nights? These are the things you suddenly have to start over with from scratch whenever you move to a new place. These routines to our daily lives seem set in stone because they sort of happen as we live. But when we leave and restart in new cities or countries, suddenly we realize just how much home we had at home. While it can be exciting, the idea of putting yourself out there and making a point of meeting new people can feel exhausting. And it was.
Being an adult is hard in this way because you suddenly don’t have lots of “required” or “structured” activities to attend in which you can meet other people your age. You don’t have school or soccer practice or band rehearsal or youth group that you have to attend. You have to start structuring your own life and taking the initiative to get plugged in. Things aren’t necessarily thrown at you showing their availability – you have to go find it on your own.
Probably one of the hardest parts of my time in Taiwan were the first three weeks where everything was just figuring it all out. Figuring out who to eat dinner with after class. Figuring out who to hang out with. Figuring out which bus to take where. Figuring out how to order things at restaurants. Figuring out if this Chinese class was too hard and if I had to drop down. Figuring out how to deal with the massive thunderstorms that swept the city nearly everyday.
Each day was a new adventure to be had. I learned so much in depth about the culture of Taiwan and other Asian countries. I met people from all around the world. One moment I was watching my Tibetan monk classmate engage in debate with my teacher about the true meaning of wisdom, next I was learning about how easily you can pay off police officers in Indonesia over speeding tickets. At one point I was engaging in conversation on an hour-long bus ride with a wine connoisseur from Hungary. At another point I was trying my first craft beer at a hipster bar and meeting an Australian Ron Swanson lookalike. The people I’ve run into abroad have all had such phenomenal stories or backgrounds that make each small conversation unforgettable.
Over the past year I did so much. I wandered night markets. I ate stinky tofu. I sang KTV until my voice was gone. I went surfing. I hiked mountains. I experienced typhoons. I played ultimate frisbee. I went on scooter trips. I translated a movie. I ate my weight in shaved ice. I consumed bubble tea. I discovered my favorite pineapple cake store (when I actually feel like eating pineapple cake). I found my favorite local food shops and my preferred route of walking home. I mastered the art of texting while disembarking an escalator. I also mastered the art of riding a bike with an umbrella in hand through the pouring rain. At one point, in the middle of it all, I looked up and realized everything about this place seemed familiar. And that was when I knew it was home.
It was an unforgettable year in Taiwan. I can’t wait to go back and see more of this amazing country.