I wrote this essay six years ago when I was studying master’s in Taiwan. This essay reflects my hopes and dreams at the time. Although some of those dreams changed overtime, I am happy for the person I have become. To this day, I still keep on hoping and dreaming.
It’s just a two-hour flight from Manila, yet Taiwan possesses a totally different culture. Even English, which is considered as an international language, has seen limited use in Taiwan. As I set foot on this island, I immediately felt the pressure. Although I know that more challenges will come aside from the great language barrier, it didn’t stop me from losing my motivation to live here for the next three years.
My story started when my father lost his job after I graduated from college. I was supposed to enroll in law school right after graduation but since my father lost his job, I was forced to work to help my family’s financial burden. At first, I was disheartened because I have dreaming of becoming a lawyer all along, and now that dream became almost impossible.
Guided by my dream to continue education, I was granted a scholarship funded by the Taiwan government to study in Taiwan for a master’s degree. In my mind I was thinking that after I get the degree, I will be able to find a job with much higher pay so that I can pursue law school. I am lucky because the scholarship is quite different from other scholarships. The major difference is that the stipend is given in cash and I am responsible to budget to meet my obligations. In this way, I am able to save money and sometimes if I still have enough, I send some to my family.
The classes then begin.
My excitement on the first day of classes was replaced by discomfort when the professor started her lecture in Chinese. I really had no idea what to do. Should I tell her that I do not know any Chinese? I think she knows that fact since almost half of the students in the class are foreigners. My brain felt pain after that class.
Since my university has a significant number of international students, it offers free Chinese courses. I took the opportunity to learn Chinese since it is free. Imagine this, I already have a full scholarship from the Taiwan government, plus I can learn a new language without spending part of my scholarship. Awesome indeed.
In my Chinese classes, I made new friends from countries such as Poland, Kyrgyzstan and Belize. In my 22 years of existence, I have never met people from those countries so I am really happy to know them. Although we come from different countries with different cultures, there is one thing we have in common: We think that Taiwanese food is really oily and there is no way for us to get used to it. Although in general the food is oily, Taiwan has lots of traditional snacks that are really delicious. Furthermore, tea shops selling different kinds and flavors are all over the island. I must confess that I am not a tea lover, but after drinking several times here in Taiwan, I already became one.
Another first-time experience for me was ordering at the restaurants here. I entered a traditional Taiwanese restaurant. The place looks good, but when the waiter gave me the menu, everything is written in Chinese. I can’t read even a single character nor can say that I don’t speak Chinese. To make things worse, there are no pictures on the menu so I don’t have any clue which to order.
Since I don’t want to embarrass myself, I just ordered the one where my finger landed. Then the food came. It was noodles with soup and green leafy vegetables. It looked great. When I tasted the soup, my mouth could not take it. It was very spicy. I told myself I must learn Chinese the soonest possible time. Otherwise, many instances of this kind will occur in the future.
After a few months, I already somehow adapted living here. Sometimes I can’t believe that I can already read the complicated characters, which just a few months earlier were impossible for me to learn.
During weekends and holidays, my friends and I would go on a bicycle trip to the countryside. Taiwan is a bicycle-friendly country so it is very pleasant to ride a bicycle even during long trips. As we traveled, we get to see the beauty of Taiwan as well as learn authentic Taiwanese culture.
The experiences I had so far helped me to understand how exciting life can be. And only through experience we can become a better person.
In school, I never forget my obligation — to study. I am being paid to study. I cannot think of having any other opportunity greater than this.
Although I have no obligation to compensate the Taiwan government even after graduation, I felt the need to give back to Taiwan for giving me this golden opportunity. Recently, I completed a three-month volunteer work to teach English to underprivileged Taiwanese kids. I felt a sense of satisfaction that somehow I was able to help. But still I think that no matter what I do, I cannot equate the generosity of Taiwan to me. I will be forever indebted to them.
After my Taiwan stint, I will be finally able to fulfill my lifelong to dream to become a lawyer. I hope my experience can encourage my fellow youth to pursue their education regardless of circumstances. I believe that an educated youth can accelerate the progress of our country.
This article was first posted on Philstar.com on November 26, 2010.