Explore and Grow while Studying Abroad! My Story in Taiwan: Biking with the Elderly

Programs for this blog post

January in Taipei

Authored By:

CIEE Taipei

By Brenna Tosh (2024 J-term student in Taipei)

My CIEE experience in Taiwan was transformational. I seriously encourage anyone considering one of their programs to take the leap of faith and do it. It is well run, the staff are incredibly nice and knowledgeable, and the co-curriculars are helpful and entertaining. I think it’s incredibly important for young adults to experience the world through study abroad programs, and CIEE is a superb choice. I thoroughly enjoyed my course, which I attended every weekday but did not feel overwhelmed by: Art, Culture and Identity in Taiwan. It was enlightening and gave me so much to think about for the rest of my years in school. I really enjoyed my free time as well (and there was a lot of it)!


One notable experience was early on was on a Sunday morning, when I decided to venture outside of the area I was accustomed to around my dorm’s campus. I knew there was a big park that I would eventually find if I just kept walking, so walk I did. Once I reached it, I knew I was in a great spot to experience local culture in a genuine way. I ate my breakfast (a simple sandwich courtesy of the complementary breakfast coupons CIEE arranged for us) on a park bench and just sat and did some people-watching. I observed an elderly man practicing tai-chi and some girls who looked about my age letting their dogs have a play date. When one ran over to me, I got to ask the owner what its name was in Mandarin! She was shocked I knew the phrase, and it was a nice feeling to know I was one step closer to immersing in the culture than I had been before.


Then I got up and kept walking through the park, and as I did I passed by an elderly man doing his daily exercise with a caretaker and yet another elderly man out and about, playing saxophone for his wife under the shade. The elderly sure are more active here than I’ve ever seen them in America, that’s for sure. Finally I reached a small pond, with a swarm of funny-looking bright red bikes surrounding the water. I knew that exercise equipment in public parks was a feature of Taiwan, and was excited to come across my first one! There was already a man and a woman sitting on the bike and pedaling, backs straighter than mine has ever been. I decided to take a closer look! The day was mine, after all. It turned out that they were playing a game: with QR codes attached to each bike, the city had set up a way to encourage exercise around nature! Once I scanned in, I joined the game of pedaling for 2 minutes and found that the more I pedaled, the more water would spurt out of the pipe attached to the bike! I loved this moment not only for the exercise it gave, but because I was able to look up and see smiles on the faces of the two adults pedaling alongside me. I had taken another step towards immersing in the culture, and the locals were enjoying having me do so.


That is just one story of how exploration and observing local behavior while on a CIEE trip can lead to enhancement of your life and personal experiences of the world! It may have been a small moment, but it was one of many that increased my self confidence, independence and appreciation for cultural immersion. I had similar reflections after being able to visit an old military camp-turned eclectic artist village and hiking to the peak of the Elephant Mountain trail to see Taipei in all its beauty at dusk, while eavesdropping (harmlessly) to the conversations of locals my age around me. Not to mention how incredible it was to walk around some of the oldest historical streets with my CIEE professor, laugh hysterically in subway stations about the love of coffee with my CIEE Taipei Program Manager, or watch in awe alongside my CIEE Taipei Center Director while the Presidential polling booths teemed with action.


All that is to say that you can make it work, I highly suggest you do a program with CIEE. You’ll come back changed, and will have expanded your horizons (and camera roll) for the better. Seeing the world is something everyone should experience while they can!