Yes…I will admit, even though it is the first week, I’ve already done a lot of shopping. I mean, how could I not? The prices here are amazing, and the store people are so lovely.
I can already say that I love Tainan. There’s something about how different it is from New Zealand that really caught my fancy. I have only previously been to Australia and a couple of the pacific islands, so this is my first time seeing Asia.
All it took to get me excited was seeing all the signs written in mandarin on the bus ride to our hotel. It was about 4:00 am New Zealand time, and we still hadn’t slept, but I kept my eyes open, vigilant not to miss out on seeing what Tainan looked like for the very first time. I knew it was an older town blessed with older architecture and monuments. Despite this, the maximalist, unplanned districts packed with small, individually-owned stores snuck into my heart instead. Even when walking the same street a hundred times, back and forwards from the hotel to National Cheng Kung University, I saw something new every time. One time, we even passed Tainan’s pride parade! It stretched for a couple of kilometres near our hotel, and the music was blasting!
Speaking to those fashion and sustainability lovers out there, I already found a few second-hand stores that reminded me of my local ones back home. Even the staff carried the same kind of energy, and I told them how much I loved their stores and what New Zealand is like!
But of course, this isn’t just a holiday, and I am so excited that I have been able to practise my language in both a school setting and out in public at the same time. I love how excited people get when they hear us speaking Mandarin and sharing their language and culture. A couple of days ago, when Juliette (my lovely roommate) and I went out to eat, some locals bought us some skewers for free and told us to enjoy Tainan! You can really appreciate that the locals are proud of their city and country; it feels so warm to be embraced this way, especially when you stick out like a sore thumb with brown hair and blue eyes.
After our amazing whirlwind of a weekend exploring Tainan, classes started, and a little bit of stress crept up at the amount of homework expected! I know this trip will be a challenge, but I came prepared, and my Mandarin is something I am truly determined to improve. The main challenge was having classwork in Traditional Chinese. Essentially, a large portion of the characters is a different, more complicated version of what we had previously learnt. But I had always wanted to learn to read Traditional, so I am thankful for the opportunity! My reading skills will be broadened to other countries, such as Hong Kong and Macau, that also continue using Traditional Chinese.
The chance to speak with other international students is also such an awesome opportunity. Everyone has been so kind and eager to learn that finding common ground is easy. During classes, we only speak Mandarin, and to my joy, that continues out of class too. I had a lovely lunch with some of my classmates, and we all persevered to introduce ourselves and chat about general life, using Mandarin the whole time. It was a little bit of a struggle trying to think of how to rephrase every thought you’d commonly have with friends, but it seriously forced me to change my frame of thinking and enable me to keep the conversation up, even when it is quick!
I can’t say that it has all been sunshine and butterflies, though; it is also a challenge! During my one-on-one, twice-a-week class where we chat with a postgraduate student and they help us with our work, I found myself very overwhelmed. Although the person helping me was very nice, the questions she was firing at me threw me for a loop. I realised that my ability to articulate my thoughts regarding the class topics was not as good as I would have liked it to be—especially with the added stress of it being the first class. From that experience, I learnt that it’s okay to say that you don’t know something and that it’s okay to slow down. It’s just accepting and knowing what you can and can’t do that really helps you to grow.
Anyway, that’s enough from me for now. I hope you can tell from my writing vigour that I am having an amazing time. I still truly look outside each day and thank every moment that led up to being here. Once we moved into the University dormitories, I even popped my chair onto the balcony so I could sit and appreciate the view every morning and night. I can’t wait to share more about my experiences and relive memories in these blogs to appreciate what I have overcome.