The View from Up Here

There is a saying that goes “time goes by quickly, especially when you’re having fun.” Our first full week in Taipei has already come to an end, which means we are officially ¼ of the way through our one month American Councils ‘Tradition and Modernity in Taiwan’ program. Before I arrived in Taiwan, I did not know what to expect. While this is not my first time doing a study abroad program, this is my first time traveling to this island. Going to a new country always fills me with a mix of emotions, ranging from excitement to fear. I had so many questions and concerns running through my mind. In the months leading up to the program, I sent our program director, Scott, many emails, to all of which he responded kindly and promptly. His patience and enthusiasm not only made the process a lot more bearable but also aided in easing my pre-travel nerves. Before I knew it, I was on my 15 hour flight to Taipei!

This first week was jam-packed with educational experiences, fun adventures and opportunities for cultural immersion. I have been able to use my Mandarin skills to order food and bubble tea, learned how to do Tai Chi and Chinese knotting and spent a relaxing afternoon tea tasting with my new friends. I have also had the pleasure of visiting what feels like a countless number of temples, a puppet museum, 3 night markets, the national palace museum, the gorgeous MaoKong mountain, and my personal favorite, Taipei 101. Taipei 101 is the landmark that is shown in many promotional pictures and videos encouraging people to visit Taiwan. It used to be the tallest building in the world, so when I found out I would be traveling to Taiwan, I knew I had to venture to the top of this magnificent building.

Growing up in Newark, NJ, means that I’ve been to New York City an innumerable amount of times. When I was 11 years old, my mom took me and my sisters to the Empire State Building, and it remains the only time I’ve made such a classic ‘ NYC tourist’ move. I’ll never forget standing on top of what seemed like the entire world, and thinking about how much of my life I still have to live and how vast this big rock we live on really is. I remember moving past my fear of heights, looking down into the big grids of the city and almost seeing the heartbeat of the city before me. This has always stuck with me and when I’m at a low point in my life, I think about how small my problems are to the grand scheme of the world and think about how different life is from above. In my juvenile mind, the Empire State Building was the tallest point on Earth. I didn’t feel like I would ever have the ability to go higher than that, but the dreamer in me longed for it.

As I write this, I’m more than 7,000 miles away from home sitting in my dorm room reflecting on how much life has changed since I thought about the vastness of my life all the way up on the Empire State Building. I’m a completely different person now. I came to Taiwan with a head full of feelings and confusion, but being in this big, unknown city, has not only given me a challenge to fit in and find myself, but also to revisit that feeling like I’m on top of the world again. The other day, I visited  one of the tallest buildings in the world, and rode the fastest elevator in the world all the way up to the top. I’ll be honest, elevators kind of freak me out, and this one was no exception, but once we got to the top and could look out over the vast city that seemed to stretch on for even longer than what I had imagined or even seen before, I felt like all my problems were starting to become manageable once again. I am graduating college next year, and I am having a hard time trying to figure out what it is I want to do with my life. I desperately want to slow down time, but life doesn’t work that way. They say “time goes by quickly”, and that 47 second elevator ride up 89 floors was the perfect embodiment of it. I didn’t have enough time to worry or question things, I just had to stand back and enjoy the ride.

Since my 11-year-old journey to the top of the Empire State Building, I have had the opportunity to disregard my fear of heights and elevators and visit the top of the Shanghai Financial Center, the Seoul Lotte World Tower and of course Taipei 101. Being at the peaks of these gigantic architectural structures at different points in my life has always felt like I was seeing the world for the first time. Staring down, embracing my fears, and breathing in the atmosphere gives me the feeling that there’s nothing I can’t handle. I cannot wait to see what the rest of my time here in Taipei brings. Life doesn’t stop for anyone and there’s nowhere to go but up, so I might as well try to have fun!

By: Starr Phillips

Program: Tradition and Modernity in Taiwan

Term: Summer 2018

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