Anyone who has lived abroad has gone through a series of self-realizations and glorious light bulb moments of “I can do it!”. As most people will say of their time abroad, with a sigh and a look of longing, it changes the mind, perspective, and frankly, one’s entire life. The following is my journey, from its humble beginnings:
Growing up, I spent the better part of my life in a suburb, where every family unit had 2.5 children, a cat name Fluffy, and a dog named Spike. Though grateful for my upbringing , it lit a burning fire within me motivating me to get out and see what else the world had to offer. Around age 14 the inexplicable desire overwhelmed me, and I set just one goal for my life; to see the world.
When my last year of college rolled around, the fire still had yet to be quelled, and there was really only one way to put it out: I had to live abroad, and there wasn’t anyone in this world who was going to stop me.
And so, without much of a plan, I took off for Taiwan the summer after college ended. In the days leading up to my departure, I had the requisite terrified thoughts:
I don’t know a soul there, I have no plans, nowhere to live, and I can’t even speak the language well.
What in the heck am I doing??
As I said goodbye to my mother at the terminal in LAX, the tears I’d been fighting for days finally freed themselves, and the worries really began to sank in.
I stumbled onto the plane and sat in the wrong seat. Why? I’m not sure. My actual seat was several rows back and a completely different seat number; there was really no mistaking it. I just looked like a crazy person.
I landed in a world I could not have expected. The air was heavy, sweet, and sticky. Through it I waded into a taxi, stammered with my broken Chinese, and finally found my way to my hotel, the hotel I’d booked for only 3 days. After that, I needed to have it all figured out.
The next day my stomach announced through a series of grumbles that it was time to eat. I slunk out of bed with the realization that I’d need to find some courage rather than huddling under the covers, petrified. So, I grabbed a map and headed out into the August weather of Taipei- which to this day I can’t imagine could possibly be more miserable than Hell. (Though nobody has been able to confirm nor deny this, which will probably remain true until we find more effective methods of communication with the departed than Ouija boards, but I digress.)
Immediately, a few things were clear. Though it wasn’t raining, I was perhaps the only female without an umbrella, and as an extension, was the only one with a tan. This was particularly exciting because back in California, I was a pale shade by comparison to most of my friends.
I had found one perk. Things were on the up and up!
Secondly, my God, were there a TON of motorized scooters everywhere. It appeared as though everyone had a death wish, particularly those who thought it made sense to pile three people onto just one scooter, all while weaving in and out of traffic alongside insane taxi cabbers and other vehicle-driving folk who seemed to think that the lines on the road were a mere suggestion.
But back to the food hunting before I get too carried away…
My college classes didn’t well-equip me to string sentences of Mandarin together, and my understanding of food characters only extended as far as rice, noodles, and various types of animal. So, I did what any American would do, I walked right past the street vendors with chicken necks and stinky tofu and right into a burger joint. There I pointed to the least suspect looking item, which was a plain burger with a rice patty bun and some…interesting…sauce. I figured I might also grab some candy bars, as they could be enough to live on for at least a few hours should the intrepidation of the morning escape me by mid-afternoon.
Oh it was all-too clear, I was not in California anymore. But I had landed, I had navigated my first food purchase, and the next day is when the real work would begin.
Realization of day one: I friggin’ did it.
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