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Changing perspectives and opportunities: the study experience in Taiwan

In 2010, on behalf of the Ministry of Education , the Taiwan Economic and Cultural Office in Vienna awarded me a Taiwan Scholarship allowing me to spend three years of intensive study in Taiwan at a university of my choice. I selected National Chengchi University in Taipei (NCCU). The following is a brief account of my personal and subjective impressions of my life and studies between 2010 and 2013.

Back in 2010, I had already graduated with an MA in Chinese Studies from the Department of East Asian Studies, at the University of Vienna and I had been working as the department’s secretary for almost a year. My goal was to enroll in the PhD program and pursue an academic career, but my Chinese language skills were fairly poor and I lacked a concrete disciplinary background that would eventually allow me to embark on my envisioned career. I reckoned that the only solution to overcome my deficiencies would be a longer stay in a Chinese-speaking country and an additional MA in a methodological discipline. Moreover, I was convinced that in order to stand out from the masses of PhD candidates, I had better enroll in an MA program taught in Chinese.

These considerations led me to apply for the Taiwan Scholarship which—at that time—comprised one year of intensive Chinese language courses, and two years of MA study. The package suited my ambitions very well.

I decided to apply to NCCU because it is one of the most important universities for political studies in Taiwan and has a long tradition in that discipline. All the professors in the department have personally had international experience of long-term studies abroad, and many hold PhDs from respectable American and European universities.

During my first year in Taipei, I studied at the Chinese Language Center at NCCU. With the help of diligent and dedicated teachers I quickly remedied my language deficiencies. Nevertheless, in spite of intensive preparation, when I started the MA in the second year of my stay, I still felt that I had jumped into deep waters: I was not entirely convinced that my language proficiency was adequate to allow me to finish all the class assignments.

My worries turned out to be ill-grounded. The deep waters became less daunting when I learned that I was not the only foreigner in my department; I had a German and a Korean as competitors! Another reassuring event happened at the first lecture: the professor very attentively asked my Korean colleague and me whether we had any problems with how quickly she spoke. During the following two years, I encountered the same mindfulness and sympathy from all my other professors, the administrative personnel, and my fellow students. Many people gave me a helping hand when I needed to solve diverse issues.

After two years of hard work, I reached my goal and was one of the few of my cohort to graduate from NCCU with an MA in Political Science and with respectable results. I believe that my diligence and honesty earned me the appreciation and respect of my professors and colleagues. Today, I’m a university teaching and research assistant, sitting in my office in my very familiar Austrian environment. But my perspectives have changed; I have brought home manifold reminiscences; and I have also learned to obtain goals by using different strategies. More importantly, Taiwan taught me to pay more tribute to my own culture although not at the expense of appreciation of other cultures.

Studying in Taiwan offers a wide range of advantages. It provides a very good and interesting academic environment with access to various important resources in regard to other (East) Asian countries. Taiwan has a thrillingly interesting and pluralistic society. The island possesses beautiful landscapes and many astonishing natural and cultural sights. The infrastructure and public transport is very well organized and this facilitates daily life and travel. Taiwan is also a hub for traveling to other East Asian and South East Asian countries. What makes living in Taiwan very appealing is the clean and orderly environment. Despite Taipei being a crowded and buzzing city, people try to give you personal space and respect your privacy. They meet you with curiosity but they’re concerned about making you feel comfortable.

Notwithstanding, life and studying is not always a honeymoon. It is important to use one’s own efforts, too. The scholarship covers a significant amount of costs so recipients do not constantly need to worry about their financial situation. It’s not enough to lead a luxurious life but it covers the most fundamental necessities, and if you make a few compromises it also allows you to discover more of the island than just the university campus and road-side stalls!

For students who are considering studying in Taiwan I recommend the following: Keep in mind that you are not the only one who is encountering cultural misapprehensions or language barriers: the same applies for the Taiwanese people who deal with you and your concerns. Mutual respect is fundamental to managing daily affairs both at your university and outside the campus. If you have a bad experience, remind yourself that you’ve also had bad experiences in your own country! And even if you might have had some initial difficulties overcoming cultural or language barriers, try to stay open. You’ll definitely make friends that will help you to better fathom Taiwan, its culture, and its people. Most importantly, stick to your plans and keep on going! You will not regret it!