Living Abroad as a Canadian Exchange Student: Part II

For my last blog entry, I interviewed my good friend Jessie about her experience living in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, while studying hotel management on exchange. We recently met up again to talk about the six months she spent completing her hotel management internship at a five-star hotel located just outside the city of Taipei.

Jessie stayed in a staff housing complex in a different neighbourhood from the hotel. This dorm-style building was rather dilapidated and dirty, and there was only one washroom for each of the building’s four floors; the place was quite a contrast from the pristine hotel where Jessie worked. When Jessie misplaced the key to her room, she was able to use her doorknob as a foothold, pull herself up by the doorframe and climb in the window above her front door—in other words, the place was alarmingly easy to break into. Fortunately, Jessie’s roommate, Trinh, was very easy to get along with. Trinh was from Brampton, and had also attended classes at Humber North.

A shuttle bus brought Jessie to the hotel for morning shifts and home after evening shifts; otherwise, it took an hour to get to the hotel by public transit. At the hotel, Jessie worked as a guest relations officer, and this position provided a decent amount of variety. She did a lot of paperwork in the front office, but she also regularly worked at the front lobby, checking patrons in and out at the front desk and occasionally functioning as a concierge.

Jessie was the only Caucasian employee in a staff of a couple hundred people (the general manager being the only exception), and she didn’t always know exactly what was going on in the front office because she didn’t speak Mandarin. This could be frustrating and even intimidating at times. She edited documents and worked on group order forms, which involved a bit of a learning curve—although the computer programs could produce English fonts, the functions and menus themselves were in Mandarin, which required Jessie to memorize where everything was located in the drop-down menus (e.g. how to save files and print them). Jessie’s responsibilities also included researching Taipei bars, restaurants, clubs and other such venues. Along with online research, she was encouraged to personally scope out these venues and compile reports on what the locations had to offer.

Since the hotel was only a three-minute drive from the airport, a wide array of patrons stayed there, including Taiwanese actors, athletes from all over the world, and even a few famous Korean movie stars. Airline cabin crews made up a large portion of the visitors. A Vietnamese air crew—a fun-loving group that was always friendly to Jessie when she was working at the front desk—was known to check in and then immediately change their clothes and head out for a night on the town. Jessie became very fond of meeting the guests and hearing their travel stories, and they could often be counted on to recommend interesting places to visit.

“I honestly loved the people I worked with,” Jessie said. She got seven days off every month, so she spent some of that time on the beach with friends from work. A guy named Charlie taught her how to surf, and she was instantly hooked despite the constant sunburns. Jessie also became good friends with a fellow intern, Tiffany, who was from the United Kingdom. Tiffany would regularly accompany Jessie to what are known in Taiwan as “night markets.” These are vendors that sell all kinds of local food and are open until the small hours of the morning (depending on the location, of course). On one memorable outing, Jessie bought a bowl of pig kidney soup at 1 a.m. on a Sunday in the pouring rain!

Jessie’s internship salary wouldn’t be called generous, but this just meant that she had to be smart with her money and live on a tighter budget than she was used to. She was able to save a decent amount and, more importantly, she got the chance to fully immerse herself in a different culture through the experience of living and working abroad.

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