Two weeks ago, I went on my first-ever public speaking engagement!
I was invited by the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in the Philippines to speak for the Taiwan Scholarship Orientation, where the incoming scholars can get to know each other, get some insights regarding the scholarship experience, and familiarize themselves regarding the scholarship guidelines.
Of course I accepted the invitation since the Taiwan Scholarship program is very close to my heart, but the process of preparing for it wasn’t easy!
Public speaking: A background
First, a little background: People who know me from school know how much I dread public speaking. Besides having to deal with a bad case of imposter syndrome, I also have to deal with the fact that I have a strange mixed accent that doesn’t sound like it’s from anywhere.
Now, I know that public speaking is part of life – I had to do it all the time especially for class presentations. In grad school, I had to present in class so many times, more than I even care to count… but that doesn’t mean I’m good at it, and it definitely doesn’t mean that I eventually grew to like it! I found the experience tolerable at most. But I would still avoid situations where I have to speak if I can help it.
So, I had mixed feelings while preparing for this event. On one hand, I LOVE sharing my experiences and learnings as a student in Taiwan, and to some degree, I was already doing this on a one-to-one setting. I was already encouraging potential students to apply for these programs and giving them tips on how to navigate life in Taiwan. I knew that this event would be a great way to reach more people and share what I knew to the incoming scholars. But on the other hand, I was so self-conscious about speaking to a large number of people; what would they think? What if they made fun of my accent? Would they even care to listen? What if they thought I didn’t have the right credentials to stand in front of them?
Seeking out growth and new experiences
But in the end, my love for Taiwan and my passion for sharing my experiences and helping other students get through their journey triumphed, so I overcame all those fears and focused on the lessons I would like to share to these scholars.
I spoke about life as a student in Taiwan and how they can make the most out of this opportunity. I approached this talk from a different angle, however. I didn’t just want to tell them how to excel in academics. The mere fact that they were accepted into the program already proves that they have what it takes to be successful in the realm of academics. Besides, I am sure that people are already giving them lots of study tips and reminders to study hard while they’re there. So instead, I chose to focus on aspects that scholars tend to forget: cultural immersion and personal growth.
When you’re so focused on your tasks and deadlines, it’s so easy to forget that there is more to this scholarship than just grades. When you’re in an unfamiliar environment, it becomes second nature to seek out familiarity just because it’s convenient, be it sticking with fellow foreigners instead of going out of your way to befriend locals, or becoming a slave to your studies instead of taking time to explore your city. But if this is all that there is, why even study in Taiwan in the first place? The essence of this whole experience is consciously seeking out growth and new experiences, so I urged the incoming scholars to not only study hard and get good grades, but also devote time to immerse themselves in the culture in any way they can. Learning the local language, exploring new places, befriending locals – doing all of these (and more) would not only increase their knowledge about the country, but also has the added benefit of helping them become more self-confident and independent. Living in another country and adjusting to a new culture requires a whole new level of self-awareness and tenacity, and in my opinion, this is the perfect setting to develop those qualities.
At the end of the day, this scholarship is not just about earning a degree; it is also largely about getting to know Taiwan and its wonderful culture. And really, more than any academic honor or award, this deeper appreciation for Taiwan and its people is the most important thing in this journey, and one that will stay with you for a very long time.
Meeting the scholars
After the talk, I got to chat with a number of incoming scholars and their parents! Some of them came up to me and thanked me for sharing my experiences. Some said that the speech inspired them to explore Taiwan when they’re there, and made them look forward to all the new experiences that await them. I even got to answer some of their questions that weren’t addressed during the talk.
It felt great seeing all of the scholars. They were all very enthusiastic and excited about going to Taiwan and pursuing their degrees. They reminded me so much of myself when I was still preparing to embark on my scholarship journey. Some of of them were like me – they’ve never lived away from home nor travelled to a foreign country all by themselves. I could still remember the nervousness and excitement that I felt when I was getting ready to leave my home for the very first time. I could relate to all of them even if we came from different backgrounds; I think that’s why I enjoyed chatting with them and getting to know them.
I am so thankful for this opportunity. It was a huge honor speaking for this event. I am so glad to have been given the chance to pay it forward and share my learnings. Taiwan holds a very special place in my heart and the two years I spent there were among the best and most exciting years of my life. If I could help introduce Taiwan to more people and if I could help incoming scholars feel at home in this amazing country, I would do it in any way I can.