Being a foreign student in the middle of pandemic and finding a new me

Magdalena Cahyani Widada
Graduate Institute of Mass Communication

Billy Cox, American bassist once said that, “life’s greatest difficulties always happen right before life’s greatest breakthroughs.” And it seems that these words of wisdom can represent what I felt during my time in Taiwan.

Flashback to the fall semester of 2020 when the pandemic hit many countries in the world. I still remember how I finally made it to Taiwan and started learning in the classroom after going through so many obstacles during the pandemic. For example, my visa was delayed, I had to take online classes in Indonesia first, went through a strict quarantine process, and so on. I thought the obstacles would stop there. But apparently not. Because my journey in Taiwan is an adventure to find a new me.

I came to Taiwan with the preparation of learning Chinese for daily conversation for about five months in Indonesia. I thought it was enough for me to understand what people are talking about in school and the surroundings. However, I still find it difficult to understand what people are saying when I arrived in Taiwan. So, I felt like I couldn’t really blend in well in class, especially in my first year. The education system influenced by a different culture was also one of my struggles. I even felt like I wasn’t as smart as my classmates and I didn’t belong there. At that time, I asked myself a big question, “will all of these struggles be worth it in the end?”

adventure learning

That big question kept lingering in my mind until I slowly started reading books by Brene Brown during the period of online classes in Taiwan due to the increase of COVID-19 cases. I found out about this author because one of my professors recommended one of her books for us to read. From there, I started to look for other books that she had written. Eventually, I read one of her best-selling books that was recommended by Google. Honestly, I wasn’t into reading serious books before, and I didn’t know what drove me to suddenly become curious about Brene Brown’s books. But it turned out that reading her book felt like it brought me to see a different side of life. A side of life that I have never known before.

Going back to my story about language barriers and feeling inadequate compared to my classmates, I realized now that I didn’t have to think that way. It was actually Brene Brown’s book entitled “The Gift of Imperfection” that made me aware of celebrating my imperfections. Often times, when we haven’t reached our own self-made ideal standards, we tend to judge ourselves and give negative affirmations. But in reality, reaching our ideal standards takes time and process, and we often forget that. And language barrier is something normal when we come to a new place, especially a place that uses a different language from our mother tongue. Also, I am not the only one who has experienced language barriers when first arriving in a new place, right? Because to really understand what native speakers are saying, we need to get used to the new environment first which I didn’t have this mindset before. Thus, it took time for me to realize that not being able to master something right away doesn’t mean that I failed, but it’s a signal for me to try again. Since everything will become easier when we get used to it.

Language barrier may have been my biggest challenge during my first year in Taiwan, but when I look at myself now, I understand what other people saying in Chinese, although sometimes I have to ask them to repeat their words, I also can answer questions from others in Chinese, even though I still answer them in simple sentences, and I can go to other areas outside of Taipei by using my language skills I learned while studying. All of those are progress, isn’t it? From this experience, I learned that no matter how challenging the obstacles I face in my studies, as long as I have positive mindset, I will walk towards the right direction.”

At that time, online classes were not as bad as I thought, because I had more time to pursue a new hobby, which is reading books. Additionally, attending online classes during pandemic motivated me to create a new project as well, which was a podcast named “Talks over Distance” on Spotify recorded by using teleconference platforms. In the podcast, I talked about the challenges of studying or working during pandemic with people from different countries around the world. I conducted interviews not only with Indonesians in overseas but also with foreigners. And the conversation materials on the podcast were also largely taken from books I read during pandemic. Of course, I didn’t just read books by Brene Brown. I have read many other books as well.

So, the pandemic may have initially seemed bad for me and many people. But it turns out the pandemic has shaped me into a new me, with new things I enjoyed so much and it all started with a good mindset about myself. Thank you, pandemic, for leading me to discover new breakthrough in my life while I’m in Taiwan.