Purple leaf

An itinerary of life lessons

Maggie Roth studied at the University of Macau during the Fall 2017 term. She is a BBA/Math-Actuarial Science student, with an Option in Finance, on the Waterloo campus.

When you immerse yourself in a new culture, when you have a full conversation using solely hand gestures, when you become the outsider or the minority, when you visit places and have all of your expectations shattered, you undoubtedly learn lessons that will stick with you. These lessons may make your heart warm and these lessons may break your heart but either way, they will make you grow.

During my semester studying at the University of Macau, I had the privilege of travelling to many places within China and to other countries in Asia. These places touched my heart in many different ways and I am so grateful for the lessons I learned abroad. This spotlight is a travel itinerary of some of the lessons I learned while travelling throughout Asia.

One of the first trips that I made on my exchange was to the island country of Taiwan. Taiwan is a beautiful country with vibrant night markets, colourful and ornate temples, great hikes, and amazing street food. Please do me a favour and try the stinky tofu! The most beautiful thing about Taiwan, however, is the kindness and generosity of its people. I could write a whole spotlight article recounting all of the displays of kindness we received but I will simply tell you about a girl named Nien. While confusedly trying to find a temple a girl – Nien – approached us, asked what we were trying to find, and gave us directions. We thanked her and parted ways. While in the temple which Nien had guided us to, I felt a tap on my shoulder; she had returned to give me a handwritten note full of tips and ideas for our trip. She had even drawn pictures. As Canadians, we have a good reputation for being nice people but Nien and the people of Taiwan made me aspire to new levels of kindness. Be so kind to people that they feel like family in a place far from their home.

The Philippines is very high on my list of travel experiences. My friends and I had a week packed full of adventures in the beautiful Palawan province. We went scuba diving, snorkelling, wakeboarding and tubing; we swam in lagoons and waterfalls; we soaked up the sun and watched some unreal sunsets. Yet my lesson was again taken from the people we met there. People in the Philippines tend to have dispositions as sunny as their skies. They radiate joy and their contagious smiles inspired this journal entry: “Slap a big ole grin on your face and keep it there. It will brighten your own day and the day of everyone around you”. Don’t worry, be happy – am I right?

One of the last trips that I made on my exchange was to another island country: Japan. A whirlwind of old and new, familiar and foreign, beautiful and wacky – Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka swept me off my feet. From toilets with heated seats and multi-button control panels to the fashion and teen subcultures, there is no shortage of quirky yet ingenious or beautiful things in Japan. My first Japanese lesson was a reminder to be as wild and weird as you want because things that are different are exciting and amazing. Japanese culture is deeply rooted in respect and this becomes very evident as you travel in Japan. Everything is done with the utmost care and attention and this taught me my second Japanese lesson: put in effort and say thank you! The people around you deserve it and you do too.

In Macau, where I did my exchange, there is a beach called Hac Sa – a beautiful place for beach barbeques, sun rises, and hanging out with friends or with a book. The water, however, is not as beautiful as the scenery. I love swimming and was raised in a town that a big (dirty) river runs through so I am no stranger to swimming in water that is probably best left alone. One of my favourite exchange memories was a day and night we spent swimming in that murky water. So here is one of my main Macau lessons – feel free to take it both figuratively and literally: swim in the water even though the locals look at you and say, “You really went in there…?!” Live boldly. But avoid swallowing the water, please.

Studying abroad is an amazing way to meet new people, see new places, and learn new things. I am so grateful for the people and places that touched my heart and the lessons I learned along the way. Thank you Laurier and the University of Macau for making this semester so special.