“A Different World”

I began my study abroad trip about two weeks ago by flying into Taoyuan International Airport in Taiwan from Narita, Japan. I used their developed public transportation network to get to National Taiwan University where I would be studying. NTU is located in the island nation’s capital Taipei, or Taibei in Chinese with “bei” meaning north, and is considered the best university in the country.

If you want to understand Taipei, imagine if you will an entire city being a downtown, lit up as bright as Las Vegas, as dense as New York City, as much tech industry as the Silicon Valley and with more traffic than Los Angeles. Taipei brings a new meaning to the phrase “a city that never sleeps.”

When I got here it was my first time in Asia, other than the three prior days I had spent on a layover in Tokyo. I immediately realized that even though I was still on earth, I was in a different world. I could spend a lifetime talking about how different my hometown of San Diego is from Taipei. Unlike most places in America, the vast majority of people here in Taiwan, particularly in Taipei and the other major cities such as Kaohsiung or Taichung, live in high-rise apartment buildings with units as small as an American family room. Though Taiwan, officially the Republic of China (not to be confused with the People’s Republic of China), is not by any means a poor country, it is a crowded one. So land is very expensive and most people live in extremely small spaces. This is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand it makes owning a car virtually impossible for most people and of course having less room reduces your standard of living. But the great thing about it is that virtually every street is a main street, even the alleyways in between are bustling with activity. Not only that but few people want to stay inside because all they have inside is a bed, a shower and a toilet, so people are constantly out and about.

What fascinates me is that everyday feels like a holiday because of the night markets located in every district. Each one has stands with food and shopping open every single night. They are even larger to what one would expect in Balboa Park around Christmas. Maybe it’s because I’m new to the place, having just arrived two weeks ago, but everyday feels special and unique here and I think the locals view it that way at least to some extent too. I love my home but memory of it seems dry and empty at night in comparison to the sheer level of activity on every street at any hour of the day and night.

My experience with the people of Taiwan so far has been overwhelmingly positive. They are genuinely some of the friendliest people you will ever meet. Though reserved in their communication with others, not unlike most Asian cultures, if you engage them their true colors of friendliness and sociability show. Complete strangers help me when I looked lost or confused. In a place obviously foreign to me, people were eager to help, provided I would muster the courage to engage with them. Once even after a long night, some complete strangers who I had struck up a conversation with offered to give me a ride on the back of their motorcycle back to NTU. Maybe it is partially because I am viewed as a guest, because I physically stick out like a sore thumb, but even then it speaks volumes about the hospitality of the Taiwanese people.

Taiwan has treated me very well so far in every way possible and it has only been three weeks with four months to come. So far, there hasn’t been a single dull moment, and I mean that. I would highly recommend Taiwan as a place to go whether you’re studying or just going on vacation, it should be on everyone’s bucket list. Also more broadly, most Americans and likely most Aztecs have never gone to Asia. If you ever have the opportunity, I say go for it. The lights and the richness of the entire continent will leave you breathless. Taipei might be a city that never sleeps but Asia is a continent that never sleeps. If you are thinking about studying abroad, I know most people at SDSU chose Europe, but I highly recommend Taiwan or elsewhere in Asia, particularly if you are an adventurous person.

078A0154aMiles Streicek is a junior Finance major studying abroad at National Taiwan University in Taipei, Taiwan for the fall semester. 

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