I’m sorry to report that I’m not writing to you from the best mental state. But hopefully this is temporary.
Before diving into what’s currently happening, I wrote a few little notes during my travel day. Enjoy…
Hello from 38F, currently passing over Salt Lake City on my way to sunny California. But, as you all hopefully know by now, this is only the first leg of my trip to Taiwan (yippee!). I still have a 3 hour layover, 12 hour flight, and 3 hour train ride to go (yippee…)
It is 12:39pm Boston time, so 9:39am California time, and 12:39am Taiwan time. So far, I have slept for maybe 2 hours total, broken up apart by 1 minute increments. I have watched Argo (which didn’t necessarily make sleeping after that easy), and I have eaten a full bag of Welch’s mixed fruit fruit snacks (apparently there are 7.5 servings per bag, and 12 grams of sugar per serving… so there’s a fun realization). I downed a blue plastic cup filled with orange juice that tasted too much like it’s cardboard box, and I have just been handed a thin package that supposedly contains a ‘strop wafel’ in caramel flavor. I don’t know why they thought this was a waffle, cause this is definitely just some kind of chewy (yet also tough) space cracker. There’s still 1 hour and 25 minutes left on my flight… so time to put on a movie that I don’t care about.
So I’ve landed in SFO and I’m at my gate with a few other girls on my program. It’s actually starting to hit me just how much is about to change. I’ve dealt with this situation before, but unfamiliarity is always humbling. You can’t really prepare. You can’t think too much about it, cause you’ll just psyche yourself out. It’s a tough situation. And I know I just need to stick out these first few days until I feel acclimated, but it’s still… unnerving.
2:12pm (California time): “Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to not see the shore.” -my TV monitor at the exact moment I needed that quote. Prepare for takeoff.
I didn’t write any more after that last part, but I slept a little bit on the plane and watched a few more movies. At the airport I caught up with some other students on my program and we took a train (a very, very quiet train, I might add — the American idea of “loud” vs “quiet” is much different in Taiwan, where an American speaking tone is considered shouting) to Tainan, where we will spend the majority of the program. We were whisked away by some Taiwanese students and loaded into 6 taxis. Upon arriving at the dorm, I unpacked my bags and filled the closet in my single dorm room. I dragged myself downstairs to get some filtered water and had an awkward encounter with the nice security guard working the night shift. Then, after a long day of travelling, I knocked out from utter exhaustion.
Alrighty then, now that you’re caught up, I’m writing to you currently from my dorm after my first day of orientation. And I gotta say, I’m going through a rollercoaster of emotions and the majority of them aren’t exactly positive.
Despite other students on my program living in the surrounding dorm rooms, it’s quite lonely. Don’t get me wrong, I have a spacious room with my own refrigerator, TV, bathroom, and balcony. But it’s very quiet, and I’m pretty much alone with my thoughts. It has been another long day, but instead of being physically strenuous, it’s been mentally and emotionally strenuous. We’ve had hours of welcoming speeches and information sessions that have really just drilled into us the fact that this is going to be a difficult program.
It all just seems like it’s happening too fast. I have a 2 and a half hour placement test tomorrow with written and oral components. Then we have 4 classes every day, 2 oral presentations, written midterm and final exams, research projects, and the almighty language pledge that prevents us from speaking English for the duration of the program. To top that all off, we’ll have hours of homework every day. And once these 8 weeks are over, I’ll have 3 days to turn around and leave for college again. It just feels like I haven’t had a summer vacation, and I really really really need one.
I keep reminding myself that this is an extraordinary opportunity, that I’m going to learn so much, that I’m going to make wonderful memories and make fantastic friends here, that I shouldn’t worry about grades or credit as long as I’m having a good time, but that’s all too overwhelming to think about right now. It’s not reassuring, it’s pressuring. Too much pressure to make every single moment count. What if I just want to relax for a little bit? I don’t remember the last time I did that. And I know I’m still suffering from jet lag, and that this time I don’t have Yuan Yuan or a welcoming host family to scoop me into their arms and show me the ropes. But right now I just want to go home, and that’s a terrifying thing that no one talks about on these programs. I’ve even been avoiding contact with friends and family because I don’t want to face them while I still haven’t adjusted.
I already love Taiwan, though. It’s a maze of alleyways and dauntless motorcyclists but I do love it here. There are restaurants and fruit markets everywhere. The streets range from massive highway intersections to a one-person-wide slit between two buildings. Walking on the sidewalk is an adventure on its own, since each store front has it’s own section of street. You step from wooden panelling to cobblestone to red brick to metallic surfaces. Sometimes the walkways are level with the road and motorcyclist pull right up onto the store front to park, while other walkways require taking a few steps up or down. The narrow alleys weave endlessly between dilapidated building walls, decorated with long stings of ivy, potted succulents, broken furniture, birds in cages, chairs stapled to walls with plants on top, and pretty much anything else you could think of. It really feels like another world… if this other world still had 7-Elevens on every street corner.
And once again the students on the program are great and easy to talk to. After all, we’re all we’ve got.
In the end, I know my current mental state is the result of overwhelming syllabi and loneliness, paired magnificently with insane heat, dehydration, and jet lag. It will turn around, simply because it has to. I’m just fragile right now.
I thought this was an important post to write, not just to show how intense these language immersions are, but also for me to organize my emotions.
I hope you’re all doing well.