Dear Eefje,

Taiwan sounds amazing! Walking up and down a mountain sounds very familiar, because in the past three weeks since I arrived in the US, I’ve been doing the same. With all its hills, Western Washington University, in the American state of Washington, now feels like home. The lamps and photos in my room make everything much more homely, even though I share the room with someone else. Fortunately, my roommate and I get on really well – we both snore at night, so neither of us gets woken up by the other. I can now find my way easily around campus. Every morning, I walk there through an arboretum, with lots of hills to navigate. Having done it for a while, my legs have now got used to it (except one knee which I cut open on a rock).

I always thought I knew a lot about the US, but the picture you get from films and series is very different from reality. I’d expected some things, particularly the food. They put so much sugar in everything, which just happens to make me feel sick very quickly. At the Starbucks on campus, I tried to order a coffee with skimmed milk, but I got ‘sugar-free vanilla.’ It’s not all unhealthy, of course, but because of the high prices, you soon tend to reach for a pack of noodles and an apple for the vitamins. I live in an apartment just off campus, so I don’t have a meal plan which would allow me to have several meals in a dining hall – and snacking between classes soon becomes expensive.

The campus itself is just how I thought it would be: big and busy. Everything is lovely and green here – Washington is known as The Evergreen State – and you find the American flag everywhere. One of my favourite pastimes is watching people as I walk from one building to another. Students are particularly fascinating: they nearly all wear sportswear and even when it’s 10 degrees outside, the girls wear sandals. In the Netherlands, I’m sure people would look at you oddly if you wore your leggings on campus.

Last weekend, I was with friends in Seattle and a girl I met told me why they wear sandals. Often they have to work all afternoon and at weekends because they get so little money from the government. So when they finally get out of their work clothes, they want to air their feet.

Talking about Seattle: I made my first impulsive decision there. I met that girl in the queue waiting to get my first tattoo on Friday the 13th. I’ve wanted a tattoo for ages, but was always afraid to do it. Here, I just spontaneously decided to go ahead. My roommate told me about a deal where you can get a tattoo or piercing for $13, so we went with a group of friends and waited seven hours in the cold. It was worth it though: I now have a small tattoo on my ankle, a mountain landscape! Now I want another one.

Have you done anything in your time in Taiwan that you might not have done or dared to do in the Netherlands? Or have you got plans to do something?

Greetings from sunny Bellingham,