Take a look back at Tom’s exit interview as he prepared to make another leap abroad.
Interview Date: April 29, 2020
What’s your name?
My name is Thomas Kuklinski
What’s your major? Do you have any minors?
I majored in Chinese and Religion
What program did you go on? Why?
I went on a yearlong academic exchange at National Taiwan University in Taipei, Taiwan. I knew I wanted to go somewhere that would immerse me in a Mandarin-speaking environment, but I also wanted to take a lot of classes regarding local culture, and NTU allowed me to do just that. I took a bunch of classes regarding Taiwanese film, culture, and cross strait politics that I doubt are offered anywhere else. Besides, NTU’s academic culture is, like, unmatched. They have some of the best professors in the Sinosphere.
Did you have any experience abroad before this program?
Yeah, actually! I went on a trip in Western Europe during high school, but realized Europe wasn’t my thing. But then my freshman year, I went to an intensive language school at Zhejiang Normal University through the Confucius Institute at Temple, and then the following summer I lived in a Buddhist Monastery in China through the Woodenfish Foundation, and then worked on a research cluster with my professor in Singapore.
What’s your favorite memory from that program?
That’s a hard one to pin down, hmm… either, going to Taipei Pride just months before Taiwan became the first Asian country to legalize marriage equality, attending different research conferences with professors from NTU and Temple throughout the year.
What’s the most important thing you learned from this program, be it personal or academic growth?
So, despite being abroad a lot before this program, I was never really gone for that long. The most I’d ever left was for like 2 months. That, and I grew up an hour away from Temple, so I’ve never really been that cut off from my friends and family. But that year, I was on the other side of the world, more or less on my own. I got more comfortable with myself, learned how to form new relationships, and really proved to myself that I can thrive in a new environment.
What are you doing after graduation?
After graduation I was awarded a Fulbright Research Grant to do an independent research project at Zhejiang Normal University in Jinhua, China. With COVID-19, a lot of the Fulbright projects were delayed or cut short, mine included. But, even though I won’t be starting my project until March 2021, I have funding to stay for the full duration, so I’ll be there until January 2022! …and honestly, I’m not too bothered by the delay. I’m looking forward to having some time off.
How did your time studying abroad impact your post-grad plans?
So when I was studying abroad, there were a lot of times where I thought “I need to keep doing this. This all feels right.” Like, hosting a dinner party and hearing people speak 3-4 different languages around me (and being able to speak 3 of them!), or sitting in on a research presentation and examining traditions that I would have never seen back home, or just like taking a step back and seeing life from the other side of the globe. It was a really eye opening learning experience and it gave me the confidence to keep going, and I think that drive is what really pushed me over the top in applying for a Fulbright.
Any advice for current Temple students who want to go abroad?
Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. You’re gonna mess up a lot, be it getting on the wrong bus, making a mistake in a foreign language, or even filling out something wrong on your visa application. (All three I’ve done an embarrassing amount of times.) But like, these mistakes are what makes studying abroad worthwhile. The thing about your comfort zone is that it’s comfortable. You don’t make mistakes there, and consequently, there’s not as much to learn.
Where is Tom now?
Tom’s plans have changed a bit since graduation, and he is completing a graduate program in Taiwan. You can catch up with Tom and learn about how study abroad prepared him for his most recent success. Join the Alumni Chat on Friday, April 16, 2021 at 12pm ET.