My senior year has been a ride, literally and figuratively. In October, amidst the onslaught of Spanish lit essays and midterms, I was given the opportunity to travel to Taiwan and tour the island… on a bicycle. It’s still hard to believe that it happened.
I remember exactly where I was when I found out that I had won. It was a beautiful, sunny Carolina day, and I was chilling on the quad in front of Wilson Library. As I skimmed my emails, one subject-line popped out at me:
“You’re going to Taiwan!”
NO. WAY. That Student Universe sweepstakes that I applied for way back in July? They had chosen ME (and four other awesome college kids from around the US and Canada) to go to ASIA?! Two months and a few international plane rides later there I was, in Taipei, stuffing myself with bao buns and sipping on boba tea.
Our Cycling Experience
So what sort of experience is in store for a college student that gets sent halfway across the world (literally, the time difference is 12 hours, my internal clock went haywire!) during the middle of the semester, for FREE?
Well, let me tell ya. We rode bikes. We saw amazing landscapes and dipped into exciting new cultures. My trip was funded and sponsored by Student Universe and the Taiwan tourism board. The cycling tour that we participated in was the Taiwan Cycling Festival – Formosa 900.
I remember feeling super nervous as the trip approached, considering I hadn’t ever really ridden a bicycle in any sort of hardcore manner – I didn’t even own any cycling shorts! Somehow, though, my bum survived those 7 days of cycling.
I recommend doing some pre-trip cycling (i.e. in your local gym or on your own bike at home) before embarking on any sort of organized bike tour. I definitely learned that the hard way! Though I’ve been an avid cross-country runner since middle school, I felt myself growing some new lil’ leg muscles after that first day of cycling around Taipei.
The tour started off pretty chill, with some easy miles through the city of Taipei and the parks. When we weren’t on our bikes, we rode in a van to our next destination. Most of our rides took us up mountainous terrains and beautiful views. My favorite part of the trip was our visit to a small mountain town. We stopped there, ate lunch and toured one of the local palaces.
The Best Part?
And we ate food. So. Much. FOOD.
Of course, this was one of the highlights of my trip. The amazingly soft and cloud-like bao buns that I mentioned earlier are little balls of pure joy. Most of the time they’re filled with a sweet lemon curd or some tasty red bean paste.
We were so well-fed. TOO well-fed, actually. Three square meals a day, each consisting of some traditional Taiwanese cuisine. That’s to say, fish, fish, and more fish?? Um, yes, please!
After a few days on the mainland of Taiwan, we flew to a neighboring island, Penghu. Penghu proudly calls itself home to “the most beautiful bays in the world!” I would have to agree.
All in all, Penghu was awesome, despite the level 10 TYPHOON that we encountered throughout our time on the island. Did we still bike? Yes. Yes, we did.
Our amazing tour guides knew so much about every aspect of Penghu, and were especially eager to share with us all that they knew. Not only was this whole adventure an aesthetically pleasing experience, but I definitely learned an incredible amount about Eastern culture too!
Not only did I have a great time interacting with a culture completely different from my own, but I also created memories with a small bunch of truly genuine people. The other college students that were on the trip (Andrew, Nic, Sierra, and Owen) made the experience all the better for me (and a hilarious one, at that!).
Though there were countless moments of hilarity, I think my favorite moment was when Andrew took it upon himself, in the midst of the crazy typhoon, to teach us a dance to this song, “Skibidi.” It’s great, please google it right now.
Taiwan was truly amazing. I am so grateful for the opportunity that I was given, thank you Student Universe and Taiwan Tourism Board! It’s still just like this one big dream that happened. For now, I’m back at school, but needless to say, I would go back to Taiwan in a heartbeat.