Hello everyone! My name is Raimi and I’m a summer intern here at CIP. I’m really inspired by CIPs focus on cross-cultural experiences, as I believe there are few things more important than a borderless education.
Before interviewing with CIP for this summer position, I left the U.S. for a semester abroad in Chengdu, China (located in the country’s southwest region). As I was traveling through a neighboring province during our Autumn Festival (AKA Chinese New Year) break, the Coronavirus epidemic exploded throughout China and I was forced to leave five days later. After many stressful phone calls, emails, and decisions, I found myself back home in my childhood bedroom desperately trying to figure out how to salvage the rest of my semester. However, as time passed, a plan developed.
After a month of being back home, I returned to Asia for a three month intensive language program in Taipei, Taiwan. In total, I was in Taiwan for almost exactly three months: from late February to late May. Before leaving for Taiwan, I had no idea what to expect. I’d seen beautiful pictures of the country on several travel Instagram pages, and knew it was a tropical island, but beyond that, I had no idea the multitude of learning experiences and rich cultural history it presents.
After three months of living in a foreign country on my own, I am confident that cross-cultural experience is 100% worth the difficulties it comes with. Whether that experience is for three months in an academic setting or two weeks training with a local organization, you’ll learn a lot. For example, one of the biggest challenges I faced was through adapting to a new cultural environment.
Having never lived outside of the US, I was fascinated learning about the different cultures in each city and neighborhood I visited on the island. And though new cultural experiences such as night market culture, social etiquette, and public transportation kept living in Taiwan new and exciting for me, they also posed difficulties. The complex unspoken rules and expectations of restaurant etiquette in Taiwan always left me confused and frustrated. For some reason, I simply could not grasp it. Restaurants don’t always follow the hours they’ve posted online, or on their storefronts. At first, I thought it might have had something to do with the weather, but whether it was a beautiful sunny week, or rainy monsoon weather, shops stayed inconsistent. When ordering, sometimes you write your order on a printed menu, other times you walk up to one of the chefs and tell them. I never knew, and still don’t, when you should do which, or if there is even a difference!
Half the time, you pay before you eat; the other half, you pay after you eat, and I could never figure out which was correct without asking. And finally, after eating, there are trash bins to throw your trash away, but most people leave their trash at the table and an employee comes to clear off your table. However at some restaurants you are expected to clear your food, but there are no signs or verbal cues to distinguish when to clean and when not to.
Clearly, these cultural differences caused confusion that would not have been experienced if I were in my home country, but it was also these difficulties that kept me appreciative of any similarities to the U.S. that I faced. Even the slightest reminders of home such as hearing a familiar song in a department store, feeling a breezy Chicago-like wind in the daytime, or running into the occasional English speaker struggling to order lunch at a hole-in-the-wall style restaurant gave me comfort.
Living in a new city, regardless of cultural differences, can still be challenging. However, with the right support system such as living with a host family, or connecting with co-workers/classmates, the experience can become rich with memories and feelings of belonging.
My experience with education abroad helped me grow in ways both intended and unintended, and I hope yours will, too! Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org or call our office to start working with CIP Chicago on your own educational experience!
Author Raimi Woodruff