In the week or so since returning to Singapore, I’ve been keeping busy. Meeting up with friends, catching up on schoolwork, reorganizing my wardrobe – anything that will fill the hole Taiwan has left in my heart. Because how do you go from constantly meeting new people and creating your own epic adventures to studying in the library every day and settling for movies and shopping because there isn’t anything else to do?
So here I am, staring at my screen, trying to distill four months of traveling, making new friends, doing crazy stuff, feeling vulnerable, missing home into four learning points. Memories may fade but I know the lessons I learned (sometimes the hard way) will remain with me forever.
Say yes to the unfamiliar
Remember that blanket or pillow you had as a kid which you couldn’t let out of your sight? Even after it became smelly and yellow and no longer squishy, you clung onto it because you felt safe in its familiarity. We all have our comfort zones that we’d be happy never to leave. But saying yes to things that seem scary or crazy will tell you much about yourself – what your limits are and how far you can challenge them. I skipped school and took off for Tokyo, alone, midway through my exchange. Scary? You bet. Nerve-wracking? Absolutely. Would I do it again? A thousand times yes. I survived four days in Tokyo on my own and discovered I was so much stronger than I thought I was.
But know when no means no
Okay, let’s be honest here. We all know what really happens when you put a bunch of young people together in a foreign land, away from the prying eyes of parents, friends, girlfriends, etc. (Mom, if you’re reading this, I swear I’m not speaking from personal experience.) Embarrassing mishaps, drunken lack of judgments, crazy nights out magically disappear by invoking the golden rule – what happens in Taiwan, stays in Taiwan. It’s true; safe in the knowledge that nobody back home will ever find out, (unless these incidents find their way to Facebook) people tend to have a lot more fun. But as liberating as that may be, it’s all too easy to get caught up in the moment and end up doing something you wish you didn’t do. You don’t need a cost benefit analysis to know when something wasn’t worth it, so figure out which lines you’re willing to cross and which you won’t. And stick to them! Say no when you mean it and never let anyone pressure you into doing otherwise.
You don’t really know someone until you live with them
If she’s a stickler for cleanliness and you’ve never cared much for it, yet both of you are too polite to straight-out quarrel over it, then you can expect plenty of passive aggressive behavior regarding whose turn it is to clean the bathroom. I am of course referring to roommates here but this notion can be applied to other groups of people – spouses, in-laws or anyone else you might have to live with in future. Tip: Communication is key. Nobody is a mind-reader. If there’s an issue you’re bothered about, talk it out. Letting the issue simmer isn’t going to do anyone favors. Looking back, I wished my roommate and I had talked frankly about our expectations and set certain ground rules from the start. Perhaps then our relationship would not have gotten so strained. P.S. Her last words to me before I left Taiwan were – surprise surprise – regarding the bathroom.
Life moves on whether you want it or not
It’s very strange to think that so many wondrous, beautiful things can happen within four short months. Friendships are more intense because the specter of goodbye lurks in the background. Every place you visit seems more amazing because you’re living in the moment, committing everything you see to memory because you know you have so little time. Life seems oddly disconnected from reality; one moment it’s lingering and the next it’s flipping faster than you can say, “Time flies.” As much as I want the exchange experience to never end, I know that life goes on regardless of whether or not I’m ready for it. And the only thing to do is to be prepared, to treasure each day and to make the best out of every minute we’ve been given.
Looking back, I realized that I’ve gained so much from these four months. Sure, my waistline wishes I had never set foot in Taiwan but I’m glad I did. I’m thankful for all that I’ve seen and experienced and most importantly, for the friendships I’ve made. To every person I was lucky enough to have met, a big thank you. Your presence made my exchange so much more unforgettable.