Despite your expectations, my year in Taiwan is not a vacation. I am blessed to explore Taipei and the island of Taiwan, but there is also a far less glamorous side of the exchange that many forget. 8 hours per day, 5 days a week. School is where I spend a majority of my time. It is a significant part of my daily life, so I wanted to share my stories with you.
A typical school day for me starts at 6:15AM, when I get out of bed. (我每天6:15早上起床）I have enough time to wake up, shower, and possibly review a bit of chinese homework before going down to my mom’s apartment on the fourth floor for breakfast. She always makes a delicious meal for me. Some days, it’s a sandwich with a fried egg. Other days, an egg/corn fried tortilla, a chinese quesadilla. I have just a few minutes after breakfast to prepare my school bag before heading out for the day.
At 7:25, I walk approximately five minutes through the narrow Taipei alleys and markets to Dongmen, the nearest metro (MRT) station. I hop onto the Tamsui-Xiangshan line, headed in the Xiangshan direction. This MRT line is underground, so I miss out on the beautiful morning views of the city. However, two stops later, at Daan, I transfer to the #1 line. This line is elevated, giving panoramic views of the city. I take the Taipei Zoo direction to Wanfang Hospital Station. (Side note – The Taipei Zoo is absolutely amazing! For one canadian dollar, you have access to a vast array of the world’s beautiful animals. The best part? My school is only three MRT stations away!) If my precisely timed MRT expedition goes to plan, I arrive at school at 8:00. I stop into the Research and Development office, where my counsellors work. I say 早安(zao an), meaning good morning, sign my chinese name, 孫力楷(Sun Li Kai), in my attendance book, and head off to class with the three other exchange students in my school. I am grateful to share the joy and difficulty of exchange life with my three school buddies. I rely on them to keep me sane, and I hope that I can provide the same to them. Ben, David, Valentina, thank you.
WanFang Senior High School, 萬芳高中, has a beautiful campus. In contrast to Canadian schools, it has relatively few indoor hallways. Rather, they are open air, allowing a more natural scenery within the school life. From my seat, I can look out one side of the classroom to the basketball courts below. Out the other side of the class, I can look out to the mountains that surround Taipei City. Within the first few hours after rain, the sky is so crystal clear, allowing me to see far and wide. Other days however, the smog closes in, sometimes even hiding the mountains from view. The one downside I have found in the open classrooms is the sweltering heat. Even in November, the average day here easily reaches 25 degrees. 30 degrees is not uncommon. Coming from the dry climate of interior BC, the humidity is what kills me. The second I step outside, I already feel drenched in sweat, and it only gets worse throughout the day.
My class schedule differs slightly from that of the other Taiwanese students. For one, I don’t attend English classes. After a week of attending class to help the other students, we were notified that we were going to be reassigned to other classes. The teacher didn’t appreciate our suggestions for her English, despite her explicit request for exactly that. Instead of the daily English class, I join PE with other classes. This has given me numerous benefits for my exchange. For one, the exercise to burn off my Bubble Tea addiction. It also gives me a chance to meet other students in my school and develop friendships. I have also significantly improved my basketball skills. For many of these kids, ball is life. I can’t wait to see how far I can go in the next few months. During other classes, I try my best to stay engaged. I still don’t understand the majority of spoken or written chinese, so I fill my time with other learning. I study my chinese lessons, read books, or write. These activities progress my day much more quickly. Other times, I am allowed to spend an hour in the library. I can listen to music, work on my blog, edit photos on my computer, or study chinese. I enjoy an hour’s escape from the classroom to enjoy peace and seclusion. I find that life gets chaotic at times, and the time allows me to gather my thoughts.
At 4:00PM, I am dismissed from class. If I don’t find myself at a nearby gym with classmates or exploring the streetfood culture, I return home again via MRT . I occasionally take the bus instead, or use YouBike, a genius bike rental system that allows you to pay a small fee of approximately 20 cents to have a bike for 30 minutes, returning it at any of the numerous kiosks.
In my time here, I have also participated in a number of extracurricular activities. For one, I am a part of the school guitar club. We practice together each Friday from 4-5PM. Improving my guitar skills is a goal of mine for the time that I am here. As a result of the homeroom system here, class competitions also become much more accessible. My class participated in a school-wide basketball tournament and track and field tournament. In the basketball tournament, we finished fourth. It was a heartbreaking loss in the bronze medal game, but I’m so glad to have had the opportunity to play. My class finished first overall in the track and field tournament, from over thirty classes in the entire school. I participated in numerous races: 100m, 4x100m, 4x400m, and an extremely fun race, the 20×100. In all relays, I ran as anchor. It was an incredible feeling running into the finish line with the entire crowd cheering. I was chosen to accept our class’ third place award for the 20×100 relay. What a crazy experience. Our school celebrated its birthday with a large school carnival. Each class was responsible to decorate their classroom and sell various food and drinks to raise money for the school. The girls in my class had the idea that if anyone bought the ice cream we were selling, they could have a picture with the wai guo ren (foreigner). The ice cream sold quickly to put it lightly.
One day, the counsellors from our school took Ben, Valentina, David, and I to Maokong, a beautiful mountain village accessible to the public via gondola. The trip to the top was just as amazing as our adventure once we got there. The floor of the gondola is completely made from glass! At the top, Ben led us to a secluded temple in the jungle. His host mom had showed him the trail, and very few people knew about it. I was blown away by the natural beauty. The temple is carved into a vertical cliff face, with a waterfall pouring overtop. From there, we continued on the trail, finally finding ourselves on a road in the middle of nowhere. We had actually walked into a new city, from Taipei City to New Taipei City. It was an incredible adventure!
I have truly enjoyed my first 2.5 months of school here at WanFang. I have developed close friendships with numerous students, found myself engaged in many school events, and learned significant information about myself, the chinese language, and the culture of Taiwan as a whole.
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