When I first arrived in Taiwan five years ago, there was no way I could have dreamed I would one day be studying alongside Taiwanese students at a university. At that stage I still felt that Chinese was a mystical foreign language and was impossible for a Westerner to ever be able to speak it with fluency. Now here I am studying in a Taiwanese university and speaking Chinese everyday. It’s not always easy studying in such a different environment, but it is definitely an amazing experience that will shape my future from now onwards.
After a few weeks of living in Taiwan, I moved to live in a small conservative town (Toufen, near Hsinchu). There were only four English speaking foreigners living in the town and no restaurants or stores where I could be understood; therefore, the logical step for me was to start learning Chinese. I never imagined I would one day be able to have a conversation or understand a lecture about philosophy in Chinese. I just wanted to be able to order dinner! I started by teaching myself bo po mo fo from an old text book my father had. After figuring that out, I started working on my pronunciation with help from Taiwanese friends. After six months I moved to Hsinchu, and I was able to enroll in a Chinese class at a language school; however, the class was only once a week, and my progress continued slowly. After a few months I returned home and stayed there for three months before I moved to Taichung. In Taichung I enrolled in the Language Center of Feng Chia University for their intensive Chinese courses. These classes taking place everyday are an excellent way to really make progress with Chinese. I began to improve very fast and soon could hold basic conversations and even write small paragraphs (with the help of a dictionary!) After two years in the language center, I heard about Feng Chia’s Foreign Students Program and enrolled. I was very pleased to hear I was accepted by the Department of Foreign Languages and Literature with a scholarship to help with tuition and fees. I felt a blend of mixed emotions ranging from excitement to nervousness about whether I could really do it. Would I understand the teachers? Would I need to write long papers in Chinese?
The first few weeks at Feng Chia were very confusing and a little stressful. Taiwanese universities work quite differently from Western ones, and I was surprised to hear I would have to do courses like Physical Education (P.E.) and Class activity once a week. Furthermore, I was required to pass the compulsory course of Chinese Literature in the first year as well as Civilization History which was taught completely in Chinese. It all turned out well though, as the university opened a special Mandarin Course for foreign students, where we studied poetry and culture. Civilization History went well, too, because I was allowed to write my final paper about the Ching Dynasty in English. The two courses I was most worried about turned out to be the most interesting ones by far. Now I am in second year and I am surprised I have made it this far. I have passed some courses and failed others; I have tried courses in other departments and had to drop them as my Chinese still needs a lot of work. I have come to appreciate the compulsory P.E. class in my second year. I speak, hear and learn Chinese every day in real life situations, and I get a first hand view of Taiwanese culture. I even find myself forgetting how to say things in English sometimes!
Feng Chia University has been wonderful in making foreign students feel comfortable and helping with various problems we encountered in our studies or personal lives. The International Student Association (I.S.A.) is always happy to hear our point of view, and they do whatever they can to make our study experience more valuable and more fun. Regular cultural trips are organized to places such as Sanyi or the Aboriginal Cultural Village. The I.S.A. also hosts many activities and even supplies us with our own coffee shop called the Global Focus, where we can hold meetings or go to study. The university generously awards various scholarships to foreign students and always seeks to bridge the gap between our lives back home and the experience of studying in a completely foreign environment. Our department office is also a great help for all the other problems I might have, such as course selection or completing assignments. As a result, the foreign student community continues to grow and expand, making Feng Chia University a truly international university, which is beneficial to all its students, foreign and Taiwanese alike.
After the trials and difficulties of the first few months, my studies at Feng Chia are becoming easier and more enjoyable as time passes. Although I have lived in Taiwan for a few years already, I’m always gaining new cultural perspectives and learning new things about Taiwan everyday. As my Chinese continues to improve, the study side becomes easier and smoother, and with all the help from our department and the I.S.A., I’m becoming more and more comfortable in student life. I can honestly say my study experience so far has been unforgettable. Everything I have learned and everything I still have to learn in my remaining time here will no doubt benefit and enrich my future for many years to come.