Becoming familiar enough with Taipei that you countenance yourself enough to get to where you are supposed to be going without being glued to Google Maps; understanding just enough Chinese that make daily interactions so much more manageable and less stressful; figuring out how to pay your bills at 7-11; becoming a regular at one of your favorite Taiwanese breakfast joints; not being completely overwhelmed when trying to find your way around Taipei Main Station; sharing a smile and small talk with your neighbors while waiting for your trash to be picked up; laughing together with older Taiwanese hikers as they speed past you and your friends on your way up a mountain.
Telling your taxi driver on accident that you need to go to Taoyuan Airport instead of Songshan Airport and completely missing your flight to Matsu; getting on the bus in the complete opposite direction of where you need to go; just nodding along when someone says something that you don’t understand; getting caught way too many times in the rain without an umbrella; trying to ask for something in your broken Chinese and failing miserably; still not understanding Taiwan’s traffic rules; forgetting your mask at home.
When reflecting back on my last 11 months in Taiwan, the small, minuscule details of my daily, sometimes mundane, life always seems to surface when I try to put together the pieces of my Fulbright journey. Taking the time to write all these down seems a little silly to me as these experiences have just become ingrained into my everyday life. Most of the time, I don’t even give them a second thought. But, as the first year of my Fulbright ends and the second year is about to begin, I can’t ignore how these small details have shaped my experience in Taiwan.
I think everyone who has lived abroad can relate to the idea of having “good days.” For me, this means the days when I feel very confident in my Chinese abilities; I feel comfortable navigating the city without the help of technology; I have positive, meaningful interactions with those around me. However, with the good always comes the bad and I feel that sometimes, especially when living abroad, the “bad days” can weigh heavily on us. Those days when I can’t seem to understand anything going on or being said around me. When I take the completely wrong exit at the MRT and end up having to walk an extra 15 minutes to my destination. Those days when I feel like every single persons’ gaze is on me and I feel isolated from the world around me. During my first few months in Taiwan, the “bad days” definitely took a toll on my mental health and wellbeing. My confidence in myself would be completely shattered after one embarrassing or uncomfortable experience and imposter syndrome would creep into my mind, telling me that I didn’t belong.
Thinking back on these “bad” experiences, I know now that they were, and still are, instrumental in my personal growth and in some cases, unavoidable parts of life. Although I’ve been in Taiwan for a little under a year now, I’m slowly coming to terms with the fact that the “bad days” are inevitable and instead of dreading them or wishing them away, to sit with the discomfort and reflect on what small, good things I can take away from the situation.
Learning how to build and practice resiliency in everyday life has been one of the greatest challenges I’ve faced in Taiwan. It’s something that I work on every day and would not be possible without my incredible support system made up of friends and mentors both here in Taiwan and in the United States. Their encouragement and friendship have guided me through the “bad” days while also allowing me to celebrate the “good days.” To me, practicing resiliency in Taiwan means speaking in Chinese even if I’m worried that the other person may not understand me and not being afraid to approach someone and ask for help if I’m lost. Building resiliency also requires me to practice self-compassion, which means being kind to myself, and recognizing that I am going to make mistakes and being okay with that.
The culmination of my experiences in Taiwan has shown me that the small moments in life carry so much meaning. Small “bad” moments have broken me whereas small “good” moments have made it all worth it. Small “bad” moments have taught me so much about growth, resiliency, and self-awareness. Because my grant is not quite over yet, this challenge of resiliency is one that I will continue to battle. But, I also know that these skills are not just limited to Taiwan but are something that I will carry with me back to the US or wherever post-Fulbright may lead me. I hope that during the second year of my Master’s program and living in Taiwan that I am able to continue this process of reflecting upon both the good and bad moments and building resiliency from them.
Managing Editor: Yu-Ping Chang 張瑜玶