Packed In

Why am I so entranced by what others see as a hard slog, even at the peak of pressure and stress, here around the world in Taiwan? Here’s a glance at my schedule – I think it can explain why.

I set my alarm for 7AM. I pack my things and step out into the sunny streets and stumble my way down the sidewalks to class. If there’s time before starting, I buy breakfast at a food truck (anything from onion pancakes to fruit sandwiches) and eat it on the way.

One on one class starts and I’m paired with a teacher for fifty minutes of sight reading and discussing an article, reviewing homework or tests, and preparing presentations.

Then there’s an hour of break time. I usually spend it on homework, but sometimes use it to get a packaged lunch, run errands, meet teachers, or practice playing music on the roof of the building.

Next, our first large class: nine of us in the 300 level, plus a leading teacher, and others observing. We take a dictation test, and then discuss the new chapter’s content and grammar. An hour later, we switch to “second large class,” – drilling and practice.

Lunch break – we hustle out to a street nearby, lined with shops and restaurants. I usually get a small box of fresh mango and pineapple along with a small lunchbox, and take it back to campus.

Then – discussion class, where just three of us talk over a current affairs topic, and every three days hold a role-play debate. Another hour break, and we reconvene for a special class, depending on the day of the week – culture class, meetings with our resident director, or time set aside for language partners. The evening is free, but assignments and homework take most of its time, amid the hot, bustling city of Tainan. On Tuesdays I go to a language exchange and meet people from all over the world who have come to Tainan with an interest in sharing their culture and experiences.

I never spend a weekend at home. I travel almost to the other end of the island to climb Alpine mountains, explore Taipei, or go with friends to stay at a Taiwanese host family’s house. I never need to worry about transport or security – Taiwan is convenient, safe, and friendly. I can eat a new kind of food every day (American, Chinese, Japanese, Taiwanese, Vietnamese, Mexican, German, Italian – all available) – or the same kind, from a new vendor. No moment is wasted, waiting for something to happen – if it’s not happening, I can go out and make it happen. If I want, I can ignore everything about my life before and after the program, and live purely here, now.

Though it’s the second time for me, it all feels just as new as the first day.

But for the lack of cameras, it feels like it could be part of a film. Nobody’s daily life could possibly be this packed, this intense, this interesting, in such a unique place.

And yet, for me, it is, so that even sleep deprived, overloaded with assignments, speaking a new language, living with new people, I savor the stress, and I enjoy everything that happens here.

By: Greg Laslo

Program: Taiwan Intensive Summer Language Program

Term: Summer 2018

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