National Chung Cheng University
Since September 2018, I have studying at National Chung Cheng University, Taiwan (CCU). I remember when I first arrived, my first impression of Taiwan came from the people. I noticed they were extremely polite. I could hear them constantly saying “thank you” and “excuse me” to each other in Chinese and at first I found this to be a little daunting. But after some weeks, I started doing exactly the same thing! I think good manners are important and here in Taiwan most people are good role-models of this.
Also, I remember after I first arrived, the campus itself appeared to be very large. The weather was extremely hot at that time but lucky for me there is a fantastic fruit juice store nearby. On first impression, the buildings appeared to be a little odd looking, I soon discovered on the inside they are enormous. Once I found the building for my department, the Linguistics Institute things started to get a little easier and I started to settle in.
This time, I mainly took classes together with local students. I knew this way I would be presented with classes that were completely run in Chinese and my classmates could converse with me in Chinese too. So, I went about choosing subjects which I would normally be interested in if (say) I were studying them in English.
I had heard Taiwan academics are very hard working and show much concern towards their students, I made a point of meeting each academic to give them some background about my study goals. I noticed that each academic expressed their gratitude towards me for choosing their class, I had never encountered this type of gratitude before and I felt quite touched. When classes started I noticed there were not many other foreigners in my classes and I hoped my Taiwanese classmates could help me understand the class material. My classmates were all very friendly and offered to help me – this made me feel relieved, because up until that point I was a little worried about how I could understand the class material.
For the first few weeks I really struggled to understand the class content – and I mean, I really struggled. Perhaps I understood about 20%. In order to immerse myself deeper in the language and at the same time help me to better understand each class, I selected key words and phrases from each class, copied them onto a bit of notepaper and whenever I was out and about, I would make a point of speaking out these words and blending them into my day-to-day Chinese conversation. Some people, looked at me strangely, because some of the terms I was using were quite technical and are not used in daily conversation. However, the more I did this and also the more I made friends with local students and discussed the class content, the more confident I became with this technical style of Chinese.
The campus clubs at CCU are prolific! During one open day, I managed to join 3 different clubs – all these clubs were interesting and together with my studies kept me very busy. The CCU society which I participated in the most is the vegetarian club. I have been a vegetarian for 25 years and originally decided to adopt this lifestyle because some of my favourite musicians are also vegetarians. For example, Paul McCartney, Sting etc.., Also, I was pleased to find that within the CCU campus there is a vegetarian restaurant and when I first arrived I frequently ate there. However, my mother always reminded me that no matter where you go it is always better to eat home cooked food. When I heard that that the CCU vegetarian club provided home cooked food at their weekly gatherings I thought this would be a good chance to eat some fresh and healthy food.
When I first started helping to cook at the CCU vegetarian club, I was a little unsure about how they needed vegetables chopped and how they cook each dish. Anyway, after some time I became used to the different cooking methods and also different vegetables that are available.
One other thing that attracted me to the CCU vegetarian club is the discussions after dinner. The club organizers would invite the father of one of the members who is very well versed in ancient Chinese stories and traditional culture. Some of the stories he shared were very difficult to understand because he was citing examples from Ancient Chinese texts, however, after a while I started to understand the general meaning. Participating in the CCU vegetarian club also gave me a chance to meet students from other departments, who I would normally not have a chance to meet. In our Linguistics department, the workload during each semester was very (very) heavy and apart from going to classes and writing papers I didn’t really have much interaction with everyone.
During my final semester I decided to take extra classes from the CCU Language Centre. Our class teacher gave us certain homework activities that involved interviewing local students and asking them questions about their studies, future career prospects etc. For one particular assignment I needed to interview 10 local people. If I was not part of the CCU vegetarian club, I would not have been able to find 10 people to interview. I remember during one of the dinner gatherings I asked nearly every other participant to be an interviewee for my Chinese class survey! They were happy to participate and provided interesting answers.
My main motivation for choosing to study at CCU, was to continue my Chinese studies in-country. Since I started learning Chinese 6 years ago, I found Chinese requires much more effort than other languages such as French, Spanish etc., so I wanted to continue surrounding myself in a Chinese speaking environment. After my exchange in China, I knew my Chinese had improved, but I still had (and still do have) a long, long way to go. Also, I was keen to study the more complex traditional Chinese characters which Taiwan still uses. Even though these characters take longer to write and contain more strokes, I found them to be quite interesting.
When I first arrived at CCU I remember feeling quite overwhelmed with the many hours of homework that I needed to do each week. In my first semester I chose three subjects and of those three subjects required on average 20 hours per week just to complete the weekly homework tasks. Also, I managed to naturally budget well because I didn’t have much time for leisure activities. The classes that were held in Chinese were intense and for every hour of class, I needed to put in an extra one or two hours outside of class to digest the content and revise new words. Taiwan, is a great place to study Chinese. I would recommend to other students, to make the most of your time in Taiwan to learn Chinese. It is rare to have a chance to study traditional Chinese characters and Taiwan is the right place to do this.
One other issue that took me a few months to work out was transportation. Upon my arrival to CCU, at first I didn’t actually realize how isolated the campus is. I knew Minxiong is a small town and that CCU is located in Minxiong, however, what I didn’t realize is that CCU is located 6 kilometers from central Minxiong. At first I relied on public transport to travel from CCU to Minxiong and then further out to Jiayi city.
During my time at CCUI made a couple of trips to Taipei, days trips to Gaomei Wetlands and LuGang (Deer Harbour). Oh, and also Sun Moon Lake (very beautiful). I wanted to travel more, but I needed to prioritise time for study. Taiwan is very beautiful and because it is so small it is easy to get around.
During January 2020, my parents travelled from Australia to visit me. At first, I wasn’t sure if my parents would enjoy walking around CCU, so one day I told them we are going to spend the morning walking around CCU to enjoy the scenery. My parents particularly loved the different varieties of trees and colourful flowers. While we were walking around, my parents marvelled at the library building. At first they did not believe this was the library as they had never seen such a big library. My father commented that he had never seen so many books in his life and he felt the interior design of the library building is spectacular.
The highlights of my stay at CCU are all related to interesting classes I took as well as mixing with local people and seeing how they live. Overall, adjusting to life at CCU was quite easy. The building I was staying at had a great vibe every morning clean fresh air blows through the windows. Most of the other students who were living there were friendly and helpful.
My main advice for anyone who wants to come to CCU for study would be to really make the most of the time in terms of studying the Chinese language. I noticed some students are more intent on partying than studying and by the end of the semester some of them regretted not putting in extra effort to learn the Chinese language. Minxiong can be really a cheap place to party (if that is what you want to do) but there’s a lot more benefit to be gained from studying the language. It is a very enriching language – particularly once you start
conversing with local people, it makes it even more interesting. The other bit of advice I would give is try to find a local language partner as quickly as you can. Not only does this help to speed up your Chinese learning, but it also gives more insight into the way local people live. I was lucky to have a few different language partners, each of them taught me Chinese in different ways and showed me things about their culture.
Depending on the Covid-19 situation I will probably need to leave CCU at around the beginning of September. By that time, I would have formally graduated and will be ready to work as a Chinese teacher. But, to be honest I don’t really want to leave! My experiences at CCU have been excellent and I plan to return soon for further studies.