Everyone breathes a huge sigh of relief after senior year of high school when those endless rounds of SATs have passed and college applications are finally done. Shortly after I started college, however, I realized that high school senior year was just the tip of the iceberg. Like so many others, I was juggling a job, extracurriculars, and scholarship applications on top of classes. I was also constantly searching for internships to immerse myself in the real world – this required the most persistence, but my efforts paid off in the end.
This past summer, I was fortunate enough to earn a place at National Taiwan University through a professor there who was also an old family friend. From mid-May to the end of July, I worked as an intern in one of their labs, helping to investigate genetic causes of prostate cancer. During my free time, I wandered off on my own around Taiwan, exploring popular landmarks and eating everything the country had to offer – all of which was a nice break from college life. Although I frequently visited Taiwan as a child, I never fully appreciated my visits until this summer when I was mostly on my own. Here are some major highlights:
1. Local travel is incredibly easy. Most major cities have metro systems that are inexpensive to use and can get you around pretty much anywhere. During my entire two-month stay in Taiwan, I traveled exclusively by foot and public transportation – there was no need for a car.
2. Night markets. Every night starting around 5pm, vendors roll out their carts and set up shop around the street, selling anything from clothes and food to bedsheets and electronics. These areas tend to get very crowded on non-rainy days, but it makes for more exciting experiences!
3. It is a shopaholic’s heaven. If you’re like me and can’t get enough of malls and boutiques, Taiwan is the ideal place to visit. Clothes are fashionable and usually incredibly cheap (think skirts for under $2 USD), and malls are abundant around every metro station. By the end of my stay and the first time in my life, I grew tired of shopping.
4. Food was cheap, abundant, and GLORIOUS. You could literally walk downstairs and buy a full meal next door for under $1 USD, or go grocery shopping a few blocks away. It doesn’t matter if your food is from 7Eleven or a high-end restaurant – everything is unique in taste and seasoned perfectly (the McDonalds are also much better than the ones here in the USA, in my opinion). The Taiwanese are truly advanced in the culinary aspect. My favorite places to eat were at restaurants in shopping areas because they tend to be very nicely decorated, each restaurant with its own theme.
5. Did I mention the food?
Although my main purpose of visiting Taiwan was for a lab internship, this past summer was also the first time I experienced so much independence. Being mostly on my own allowed me to observe the culture differences of a foreign country that I failed to appreciate before, and I arrived home with a much more open mind. If you are looking for an internship or similar opportunity, I urge you not to shy away from those that are slightly out of your comfort zone. After all, the world is full of the unexpected, and spending time doing something new will only help you grow more confident as a whole.