Not Surviving, But Thriving

Mason Edward Maas
Department of Chinese as a Second Language


Being a foreigner in a country over 7,000 miles away from one’s hometown is already challenging, but when the world is going through a pandemic, it can feel almost unbearable. The world was somewhat “normal” when I first arrived in Taiwan back in 2019. However, after a mere four months, things began changing. I don’t want to pretend that what I went through was nearly as difficult as those who lost loved ones because of COVID-19, because it wasn’t. Nevertheless, I consider myself lucky to have come out of COVID, figuratively and physically, with a new perspective on life, a better sense of responsibility, and maturity.

Coming from a western country and being the oldest of ten, I already had a strong sense of independence. I didn’t rely on my parents for much, and unlike most Americans, coming to Taiwan to study was actually more expensive than it would have been to stay in the United States. While I could rely on my parents for emergencies, I was on my own for most of my expenses, including food, rent, and any other necessities I might need. I thought teaching English while learning Chinese would be fairly straightforward for me, and a steady source of income, but COVID-19 changed that. Nobody wanted to meet face-to-face, especially with foreigners. I remember one time when I was waiting for a train, I coughed, and the person sitting next to me got up and nearly ran away.

Teaching online at that time was not as easy as it is now. Eventually, the economy got better since Taiwan was bouncing back from the first wave of COVID-19, but I still had to learn how to manage alone. Finances were not the only challenging aspect; I would say the hardest was making friends. By the end of my second semester, most of my classes were strictly online. As a first-year student from another country, I didn’t have connections like my classmates. I was the only student from my country in my year in my department, and even my Taiwanese roommates had gone back to their hometowns to muddle through online classes.

But life finds a way. It wasn’t easy to meet new friends, maintain relationships, keep up my grades, or find work, but I did gain something new: confidence. I was able to take this time to work independently on myself, gain confidence through finding work and studying on my own. I also learned to make friends online and meet in small groups when it was allowed. Discipline was also something I was able to develop when I was forced to spend more time by myself. Even though I didn’t have someone to stand next to me and hold me accountable for everything I did, I learned time management skills through online tools, discussed upcoming homework with classmates, and held online meetings for group projects, thus using my education to improve my social experience in an online world.

In the end, I was thankful for my experience. I am glad it was difficult enough to push me, but not enough to break me. I was surviving at first but learned to thrive despite adversity. I hope to maintain the improvements in discipline and confidence that I gained. I believe that COVID-19 is one of many rough points in my life, but everyone should take these difficult experiences and learn from them, grow from them, and thrive in the end.