National Taiwan University Exchange Report

Hi guys, for my first English article on this blog, I wanted to share with you the report that I had to write when I left the National Taiwan University after one semester spent there!

I arrived in Taipei at the end of August 2018 and had some free days before classes started for discovering the city and becoming more familiar with life in Taiwan; which I recommend to do if you want to have a smooth integration and a pleasant beginning of your stay.

In my opinion, it is important to take some time to understand how the daily life in Taiwan is, as many things can be very different from your home country. As an example, most of the Taiwanese people do not have kitchens and eat every day outside, buying their food in convenient stores, night markets or small restaurants, which is not common to do in Europe, for instance.

Coming earlier will also allow you to have the time to visit some of the main touristic places in Taiwan and you will be able to enjoy the feeling of being on holiday, as you will not have, yet, the pressure of classes, homework and exams.

Actually, you can enter into the NTU dorms starting from 1 September and classes usually start 10 days later. In fact, you need to be present around 3 September as you will have to officially register and take part in the conference that presents NTU. Other activities are also proposed as meeting international students or the tour of the campus, which I recommend as this was really helpful for me. There is also a Chinese level test organized if you want to take Chinese classes in the University.

About the accommodation, I recommend staying in the dorms. This is one of the cheapest and most convenient options, as it is really close to the campus. However, I must admit that I was not entirely satisfied by it. When I first checked in, my room was dirty and felt really empty, as we do not even have a mattress. We have to buy one in the temporary “Carrefour” shop present in front of the dorms, which I did not find worth the price for a 5-month stay like mine.

Also, it is not possible to have guests after 23:00 which I find being a constraining rule and there is no Wi-Fi in the rooms (I thus recommend buying an “unlimited” data SIM card and “share connection” from your smartphone to your laptop or tablet in order to have internet everywhere).

Moreover, my room was not heated and I sometimes felt really cold especially around November. Another point I would like to mention is the presence of cockroaches that I had to deal with, as my room was directly next to the balcony.

Other than that, I was satisfied with the room and the facilities proposed, especially the free gym option on the first floor where I liked to go early in the morning. The staff of the dorms was also really friendly and free events were regularly proposed for various occasions.

The neighborhood of the dorms is also really nice and convenient as there is a big 7/11 right next to it (where you can buy already-made food, print papers or just have a nice talk around a coffee with friends) and several cheap restaurants. I can recommend “Buddha Vegetarian Paradise” to you as the food there is delicious, as well as healthy, and you can either eat inside or take it away. There is also a metro station, named “Gongguan” (you can use your student card as a metro card), a night market which has the same name and a lot of different shops. When you go out, never forget your umbrella as it rains nearly every day and sometimes very strongly.

Most of the Taiwanese people speak fairly good English so do not have apprehensions regarding the language aspect. However, it can be useful to learn some Chinese basics as some politeness terms, “How much is it?” and numbers. But in most cases, you will be understood if you only use English.

In fact, I did not have such a cultural shock when I arrived in Taiwan as I quickly felt good and nearly at home. You will experience by yourself and will surely be impressed by the generosity and willingness of helping of the Taiwanese people! I can actually say that I had a shock when I got back to France as everything here is louder, dirtier and people are less friendly.

One thing that I maybe regret is to not have made that many deep connections with Taiwanese students. This can firstly be due to the fact that my courses were in English and therefore more exchange students than Taiwanese were present; but this is partly also due to the fact that Taiwanese people are sometimes not confident and not daring to talk too much in order to not say something wrong or that could be considered as ridiculous. I think that it is a question of education and I highly recommend you dare to start conversations with them when you have the occasion to.

If you want to, you can also take part in “language exchange” activities. For instance, I had the opportunity to give 15 hours of English classes to Taiwanese and Chinese students and it was fascinating to really discover more about different regions, cultures and way of thinking while discussing with them. I was considered the “teacher” but, in fact, I was the one who learnt a lot!

For doing this, you also get a certificate assessing the numbers of hours you have volunteered and at the end of each class, students write you a note about the hour spent with you and what they have learnt, which I found very touching and motivating. 

Of course, you will also learn a lot by discussing with the numerous exchange students as they generally all have an interesting background and traveled a lot. The two more important international “communities”, when I personally went there, just to let you know, were German and French students.

At NTU, you can freely choose the courses you desire to take, even if there are from different Colleges. From my part, I was considered as part of the Political Science Department and I took 2 Chinese courses and 3 courses within the Social Science College.

The registration for the courses has three main phases, including one starting in August, so do not worry if you do not have all the courses you asked for before arriving at NTU. It is very common and you will have for sure all the credits required in the other registration phases.

So here is a feedback about the courses I took:

General Chinese Course: If you go to Taiwan for learning Chinese, I can only suggest you to take this 3-credit course. It is 6 hours per week and you learn a lot. However, everything is in traditional characters, which was a bit disturbing for me as I only learnt with simplified and I knew that back to France, I will have to switch to simplified again. I can say that this is the biggest minus of this class, for me, also considering that most of the Chinese official tests, as the HSK, are in simplified characters. Moreover, there is a lot of work and a lot of effort is required but the teacher and the other students were really nice, so I can recommend it to you.

Enhancing Chinese Course: I only recommend this course if you really want to mainly focus on Chinese during your stay. It is a 1-credit class for 4 hours per week, which is clearly too demanding in terms of time and commitment. I would not take it again.

Please note that during the different Chinese classes you will be always called by the Chinese name NTU gave to you.

Introduction to European Politics: I did not learn a lot in this 2-credit course as my home University is specialized in European politics and that I had already learnt most of what was done. I also did not like that we were graded with vocabulary quizzes, and thus on learning by heart, which I do not find interesting. However, I enjoyed that we had to discuss some questions in a group at the end of each class, which made us reflect on different subjects and I also liked that we had a group presentation to do as well as take-home paper to write. I recommend this course only if you are already familiar with European politics, as you can easily have a very good grade, but if you are not, you could sometimes be lost and bored.

Public Administration: I enjoyed this 2-credit course as the teacher did her best to make it pleasant and the amount of work was reasonable. I recommend it.

Introduction to East-Asian studies: I did not enjoy this 2-credit course, as I found it uninteresting and unorganized. We had 2 different teachers and it was obvious that they did not discuss together to know what we had learnt with the other teacher. However, it is fairly easy to have a good grade as there is a midterm on what is our own opinion of East-Asia and a final work in which, by group of 10 students, we have to make a presentation and a report about a given topic.

All in all, I really enjoyed my stay in Taiwan and this semester spent at NTU. I feel nostalgic when I think about the moments lived there and all the amazing people I met. I can honestly, however, say that I regret to have spent too much time studying and not enough discovering the country, but this is just then a good reason to go back to Taiwan, which I will surely soon do!

You can also watch my video about my experience at NTU.

Thank you for reading!

Flaminia Infopreneuriat.