Project/activity ideas for expat
October 22, 2011 10:12 AM   Subscribe

I'm living in the capital city of a foreign country whose language I have only just begun to learn. I want some sort of project or activity that I can work on to pass the time and keep me (even superficially) engaged with my surroundings instead of spending all my free time in my room.

I welcome any suggestions anyone can offer. If any of these details are relevant, I'm a mid-twenties male in Taipei, Taiwan. Most of my free time is at night and on weekends.

Ideas I've had: blog of some kind (not food, not travel, not "crazy foreign weirdness"), photography (haven't really done this before; any ideas or resources for specific photography projects?), learning xiangqi to play with old men in the street (but this has a lot of solitary start-up time while I get to a plausible level). My main interests, which this project/activity need not be related to at all, are fiction, poetry, film, history, politics, sociology, and philosophy.

This is definitely not a requirement, but it would be nice if I could produce something of at least minimal practical or entertainment value to other people, as this gives the activity a clear purpose besides it just being something to do, and also makes it outward-facing in a way that's appealing to me in my currently somewhat lonely state. (Like, I've really enjoyed writing Wikipedia articles in the past in part because of their potential usefulness by people I imagine to be like myself, but that doesn't fulfill the current desideratum of helping keep me engaged with my surroundings.)

(Anonymous because I don't want my location linked to my account.)
posted by anonymous to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (12 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Good question! I'm in a very similar circumstance ... Can you volunteer to help translate things / help places fix their English?
posted by krilli at 10:21 AM on October 22, 2011

Have you looked into things sponsored by or advertised at your embassy?
posted by SMPA at 10:30 AM on October 22, 2011

What about putting together a blog or photo project showing/mapping/describing all of the x in the city? Maybe all of the bookstores, or locations from films, or public phones, or park benches? You could set yourself a goal of photographing at least one a day, and, like Wikipedia, the product could be of real use to others.
posted by sueinnyc at 10:45 AM on October 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

As someone who was in a similar situation before, an activity that allows you focus on the activity itself while also interacting with peoples from the local cultures (so my advice is contradictory to your preference of 'least minimal practical value') is excellent. In my experience, you will have a greater opportunity learning the language and interacting with the culture through the interactive activity (examples: card playing, bocce ball, or another sport)

Yes, there are people who are very welcoming, but not everyone enjoys meeting new people as a specific hobby. That said, xiangqi sounds like it would be very promising. Does Xianggi have a very high learning curve ? Perhaps I'm projecting, but if you act friendly and indicate in your limited language skills that you're interested in playing, they'll be welcoming [as long as they're not playing for money] and let you learn as you play or they'll teach you.

Your local embassy will also have activities scheduled although they are only attended by expats and govt workers.

Lastly, journaling is a great solitary activity. If you haven't started already, do it.

Sueinnyc reminded me... if you're looking for a solitary activity that can be useful for others and keep you engaged in your surrounding, try mapping your neighborhood on openstreetmap !
posted by fizzix at 10:49 AM on October 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

If I were doing this, I would be focusing on the city itself. I would invent my own daily scavenger hunt, with photos as the items to collect. For instance: go to a public park and look for birds; find and photograph an example of each of the different fast food chains; pick a Chinese character and find ten signs that include it; document the public art in a given district; find five places with views of the city from high up and photograph the skyline from each... and so on. Remember to look up and down (are the manhole covers interesting, for instance?) as well as straight ahead. On dark, rainy evenings you could spend the project time curating the resulting blog or reading up on whatever you've thought of for the next walk.

That would let you explore your new city with specific goals rather than just wandering aimlessly. (Mind you, I'd suggest it even if you'd been living there for years. It's so easy to slip into the habit of always seeing a city you live/work in from the same perspective, and before too long, that means you aren't really seeing it at all any more.)

I hope I haven't just described something you'd consider to be a travel blog. As to whether other people would find the result interesting... well, I guess that depends, but I should think that if you find subjects that interest you, they'll interest other people too.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 10:50 AM on October 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

Sorry if there is something really obvious I missed, but why would you not be focused very intently on using your rudimentary language skills to pick up Taiwanese women?
posted by Meatbomb at 11:06 AM on October 22, 2011

You have Meatbomb's suggestion, but I have a friend who rapdily increased her Mandarin skills in mainland China from rudimentary to very conversational by talking to people in stores and to street vendors. Also, old people. She found they often had nothing particular to do, had a lot of opinions and usually had not had a chance to interact with foreigners. Everyone wins!

You could learn about your particular interests from these people's perspectives and blog or photoblog on that, keeping track of new expressions and vocabulary (though it is worth keeping in mind any local sensitivities about talking about politics - when I did a project like this in Cuba, I talked with people about the Chinese and history of Chinese in the country, but didn't want to talk too in-depth about current politics).
posted by whatzit at 11:39 AM on October 22, 2011

How about something more sporty? There's dragonboat racing, rock-climbing, a kickboxing class at CKS Memorial, there's even surfing and a sailing club not too far from Taipei. And of course basketball. A group sport of sometime would definitely get you out of your apartment, into the city, and engaging with locals and other foreigners, along with all the usual benefits of exercise.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 12:58 PM on October 22, 2011

The ideas in this thread are great!

Also, maybe try Calligraphy (书法) if you feel arty. You could get a few brushes and an intro book and draw characters that you see during the day. It's a good way to "zone in" and it helps with language learning a little bit too.
posted by Winnemac at 4:53 PM on October 22, 2011

Hi! I found myself with the same feelings when I moved overseas. I moved to Vienna about two years ago. I started a single-topic tumblr of Viennese Doors (self-link, excuse me).
I initially started it to look at the city through one facet of architecture with mild hopes of it becoming a coffee table book one day. But I've really enjoyed the project itself. I see different parts of the city and learn about styles and history. But most importantly I keep seeing the city as something new. I think of this quote from True Stories:
"When I first come to a place, I notice all the little details. I notice the way the sky looks. The color of white paper. The way people walk. Doorknobs. Everything. Then I get used to the place and I don’t notice those things anymore."
I didn't want to "get used" to this place. Choosing one element to examine over and over again, counterintuitively keeps the place fresh. Enjoy your time there!
posted by montaigneisright at 3:05 AM on October 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

A photo a day! Any number of projects challenge you to get a different subject, and so on.

The blog idea would work - it could be a good place to write about life in Taiwan. My blog (in my profile) might provide some inspiration, as I'm in Korea :)
posted by chrisinseoul at 6:01 AM on October 23, 2011

landscape painting. (think outside the box on this one...avoid the 'field with house and tree' at all costs...look for weirdness) someone will always come along to talk to you. quite often, ahem, cute someones.
posted by sexyrobot at 1:19 PM on October 23, 2011

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