Out of almost any city I’ve visited, Taipei has to have one of the best public transportation infrastructures in terms of both efficiency and convenience. While the roads can still get pretty jam-packed with traffic – especially with all of the motorbikes riding around – a significant amount of people in the city rely on public transportation. The city’s metro system, the MRT, is extremely clean and almost never late, running from around 6am to midnight everyday. The highest fare runs no more than $2USD, so it’s very affordable as well. There’s also the public buses, which are even cheaper and still very convenient. Like any city, rush hour means it can get very crowded, though this typically will only last several stops. It continues to amaze me that, even when it’s crowded, many Taiwanese people will leave the ‘priority seats’ open for the elderly, disabled, and pregnant passengers to sit. This is an attitude and level of respect that I’ve seen in several other respects here as well and one that is deeply linked to Confucian tradition. Much like the Japanese, queuing to the right side of the escalator and allowing people to pass on the left is also widely practiced here and lets you move at whatever pace you want. In fact, I’ve noticed that, even though Taipei is a relatively big city, people here are still fairly relaxed and not constantly rushing or jaywalking like in other cities.
My commute to school each day is about 40 minutes depending on traffic. While this may sound like a lot, it is surprisingly pretty manageable given I only have class three days a week due to the 3 hour once-a-week class structure. I have several options for getting there, though I typically choose to ride the bus directly. This costs between $0.50-$1.00USD depending on which bus I take. With no transfers and some time to kill, I often use this time to listen to music, podcasts, or even do some reading, so it passes pretty quickly. I’ve found that the trade-off for living off-campus is living more directly in the city and engaging with the community in a wholly different way than by living in a school dorm. In this apartment, I have a Taiwanese flatmate with whom I practice my Chinese (in fact, he speaks English well but will only answer in Chinese), a friend from Richmond also on semester exchange, and one other roommate from Europe. Our apartment is located conveniently next to a metro stop, so I can reach anywhere in the city in about an hour at most. This has meant exploring the city has been a lot more accessible on weekends, on top of discovering new restaurants, parks, and other places.
Though it certainly wasn’t easy starting off, living like this in Taipei has given me more autonomy and independence than I’ve ever had and has helped me decide what I like most and least about living in a city, my living and spending habits, and other useful information that will teach me a lot after I graduate, too. I’m fortunate enough to have had other experiences abroad where I got to live in both a student apartment and with a host family, so I would say each has its own perks and each gave me different perspectives and insights. I’d encourage anyone studying or traveling abroad for extended periods to look into finding ways to engage with the culture and the community that are somewhat more unorthodox, like taking language/calligraphy/cooking classes and/or finding locals to help you get out of your comfort zone. I think what I’ve realized most of all is any experience like this is completely what you make of it, which is both a heavy responsibility and a fantastic opportunity.