7 Lessons in 7 years

Staying strong since 2009 

In 2009, after a short stint working as a writer-researcher in Eat! Bulaga (yes, I'm serious, people would often laugh thinking I'm joking!), I decided to apply for graduate studies and a scholarship that will not make my parents shell out money. It was around June when I received the acceptance letter from one of Taiwan's universities, and weeks later, the scholarship application results were announced. I was granted a 2-year full scholarship from the Taiwan representative office (TECO) in Manila and was set to leave home early September. I was 20 years old.

My mom refused to talk to me weeks before I left. She didn't want me to go and insisted I continue working in Manila. My dad on the other hand was happy that I received the scholarship and said it would give me a chance to hone my Chinese skills (and 'my being Chinese', exact words of my a-peh- uncle, dad's elder brother).

But my mom had no choice. She kept quiet while I processed my papers in school and other documents required for my student visa. I knew she was really sad. And then I asked her to accompany me to buy my luggage few weeks before the flight. I remember going to MOA with her and eating lunch in complete silence. 

They dropped me off at the airport. My college barkada arrived few minutes later to give me a surprise farewell. After checking in and giving everyone a hug, I went straight to line up to the immigration. I tried my best not to look back. I sent a message before boarding the plane and tears wouldn't stop from falling. 

I landed Taipei seven years ago today. I cried myself to sleep every single night for almost 2 weeks during that September of 2009. Crying while praying, while texting my parents, while Skype-ing with them, while taking a shower. I Skyped every day after class to tell them how my day went. When I have dinners with classmates, I tell them I'd be late and sometimes they'd wait for me online. That is how I survived my university years. The first couple of months were difficult, but I learned along the way. And I have never stopped learning since. Every day in this expat life is a learning process, it is like going to a university where your professor is "life" itself.

Here are some lessons I have learned and have taken by heart:

1. Be kind and grateful, always.
It takes little effort to be kind and to say thank you. I learned to help people who are in need as a way of giving back and paying it forward. I could not thank enough the people who helped me during my early days here. There are times that I fail to be nice or kind, but each time I think of the goodness God has given me through people who show their love and care and I'm reminded of my mission to help others. I've also learned to be appreciative of even the littlest of things. Here in Taiwan everyone says thank you to bus drivers when they reach their stop. I've developed the same habit of thanking them and even the ah yi's or aunties who clean the office and security guards who look after us. This is a throwback photo of a thoughtful classmate's gift to me when she learned it was my birthday:

2. When in doubt, Google (and have a lot of patience).
After graduation, I didn't have a big group of Taiwanese friends to guide me through job search, apartment hunting etc. They were all busy with their thesis so I was shy to bother them. I Googled everything and was able to find job banks, and a local Craiglist. It took so much time to read (and backread) threads about living in Taiwan but I guess it's all worth it. I found my apartment online too after checking out almost 13 places. I remember crying inside the bus while watching the rain pour because I was just too exhausted to house-hunt. I now laugh when I look back and remember those days. Chasing Pavements was the theme song of my life back then. 

3. Be open and adaptable.
Being an expat will introduce you to different kinds of people- a multitude of colors, cultures, races, religions, values. At 20, I found it hard to adjust but I slowly learned to keep an open mind and to apply the Filipino value of 'pakikisama', camaraderie. Pakikisama will take you a long way. That and a couple hundred ounces of patience hehe. I made great friends during my university years- Slovak, Korean, American, German, French, Singaporean, Indonesian to name a few.

4. Take care of yourself.
Because no one else will. Lately I've been gobbling up Vitamin C tablets. We've been looking after a friend in the hospital and I could not help but feel bad for her. Like me, she's also an expat working here without her family. Imagine having to stay in the hospital alone most days when friends can only get to visit at night. I know it can also happen to me so as much as possible I try to eat healthy to avoid getting sick, and to always be extra careful wherever I go or whatever I do. I will not forget that experience in 2012 when I slipped and hit my head on a wooden headboard. I was so dizzy but still went to work. I remember being so afraid to sleep that night because I might not wake up anymore. I think I even wrote some goodbye letters! Silly but true!

5. Have a constant group of friends.
"No man is an island" sounds so cliche, but it holds true. We all need someone to lean on to, or have a random dinner with when we had an awful day at work. My "Taipei constants" consist of my fellow Filipino TECO-scholar friends, my Wenshan housemates, and people from my church family. We run to each other when we schedule a trip to Costco, or if we go on long vacations and we need someone to pay our rent or phone bills on our behalf, or if we have little milestones to celebrate. It feels really nice to have them around.
Last week's get together, missing Hana and the Gatmaitans!

6. Keep in touch with family and friends back home.
My life relied so much on Yahoo Messenger and Skype back in 2009. 3G was not as widely-used then. I only signed up for 3G service when I started working in 2011 and availed of a Blackberry phone. Now things are easier with Viber, Whatsapp and Facetime. An expat friend once told me she envies how I'm still close to my friends back home and even said that maybe it's because I'm a communications graduate and I love communicating. I was bewildered at her remark and told her it has nothing to do with being a Communication major. I said it takes so much effort to maintain and nurture friendships, and if they are truly important to you, you will go the extra mile to at least be with them virtually. (Screenshot taken during my 21st birthday in 2009)

7. Pray. Your faith will keep you strong.
I still wonder how I managed to thrive and survive even after 7 long years. It must really be the grace of God. My faith in Him has strengthened every fiber of my being. I have grown so much, not only emotionally but also spiritually. I'm beyond grateful for everything- for all the storms, sunshines, sunsets, and rainbows that come my way. I will use every opportunity I have to serve and magnify His name, for all my life.

Happy 7 years, Taipei! (Buti pa tayo may anniversary! Hahaha!) 

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