Student Experience | Living Abroad | Taiwan | Programs | Prospective Students | International Programs | CSU
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Taiwan: Student Experience

For students going to Taiwan, the year will be an exciting new experience; it will be as rewarding as it will be challenging. It will expand your horizons and enable you to see the dignity in people whose lives are quite different from your own. At some time during your year in Taiwan, you will inevitably view Taipei not as a city of intriguing far Eastern enchantment but as a hot, humid, and overcrowded metropolis. You will gain a greater understanding of Taipei as reality, and see the city, the country, and the people as a truly fascinating aspect of an international community.

Remember you will have to make many adjustments to your life style. The adjustments will be an individual affair and will be dependent upon your sense of humor and your ability to view all things with an open mind. The following report is to help you adjust to your new lifestyle. You will find both the program and society here different from what your past experience or intuition may tell you. The most important thing is for you to be open-minded and remember not only that you are a guest in Taiwan and that you will encounter ideas different from your own, but also that the academic program here will probably be different from any in which you have previously studied.

YOUR HOST UNIVERSITY (Top)

National Taiwan University (NTU) is the most prestigious institution of higher education in Taiwan and has about 32,000 students. It is centally located in downtown Taipei.

Most of us are here to learn Chinese and take classes in the ICLP, a very famous Chinese language program. Class sizes are very small, with sometimes only 2 or 3 students per class. Students who speak Mandarin Chinese fluently can register for classes in the regular university. There is an advisor here who can help you determine what classes to register for.

THE PHYSICAL CLIMATE (Top)

Because Taiwan lies off the east coast of China and on the Tropic of Cancer, it is surrounded by warm currents and has a subtropical monsoon climate. Taipei has high humidity all year around. While the weather is relatively pleasant in spring and autumn which each last about one month, the summer is exceptionally hot, with temperatures sometimes reaching l00° combined with 95% humidity. Taipei's winter is generally cold, although the temperature seldom falls below 45°. The rainy season usually occurs between December and February, Typhoons usually come late summer, early fall, and throughout the year there are rather extreme fluctuations in temperature-one day can be cold, the next hot. We were wearing shorts a couple days before Christmas and bundled up the next day. Students should be prepared for all types of weather. Buy an umbrella after you get to Taiwan, there are lots of umbrella vendors and they are inexpensive.

The capital of the Republic of China, Taipei, is located in the northwest corner of Taiwan. Because of economic and industrial development, Taipei's population has grown tenfold to 2,500,000 since l946. Taipei, to put it simply, is overcrowded. In some areas the population density reaches l0,000 per square mile.

Another consequence of the industrial boom is an unmanageable pollution problem reflected in Taipei's noise, water, and air. Be prepared to face choking exhaust fumes during rush hours and constant blowing of horns from all moving vehicles. On the other hand, Taipei has many attractions, including the largest collection of Chinese art in the world and the most varied Chinese cuisine in Asia. Because of the traditional Chinese standards of social and moral restraint, it generally has a very low rate of violent crimes. Nonetheless, you are advised to protect your belongings, especially in a crowd.

THE SOCIAL CLIMATE (Top)

In China, social conduct is regulated more by custom than by written law. For instance, there are no laws controlling the consumption of alcoholic beverages. It is important to bear in mind that although the majority of people in Taipei dress in Western clothes, they do not necessarily think in the Western manner. For example, the Chinese have a different sense of what is proper to discuss. If you are overweight, you will be told you are a fat person. The Chinese will also ask many seemingly personal questions, merely out of curiosity. Try not to take this as an insult; the speaker is not trying to hurt your feelings. Since this is their nature, if you feel uncomfortable answering a question politely sidestep it. There is a distinct difference in treatment between foreign looking students and asian looking students. The former receive much more attention.

Chinese culture is undergoing rapid changes and the younger generation is not as conservative as the older. Some of the more durable traditions are veneration of the elderly, subservience of women, and conformity to social norms. The more mystifying concept of "face" deserves an example. If a student doesn't know you then you are considered an "outsider" until you are introduced, so don't expect to receive a smile when you smile to strangers. This may be his way of avoiding embarrassment for both of you. Sometimes they just avoid you simply because they feel that their English is not good enough. Since criticism often brings loss of face, speak more of things you admire and if you must offer criticism, do it in a positive way. In Taiwan, American frankness can be interpreted as rude. While you may not be aware of your rudeness or cultural blunder, the Chinese will, and if they're affected by it you simply will not see them again.

The Chinese are group oriented. Whereas the West places emphasis on individualism, Chinese activities are often outgrowths of some group-family, professional, school, and community.

Be prepared for other contrasts as well. Many Chinese spit in the streets and tend not to wait in lines. In turn, Chinese are surprised at the loudness and brusqueness of foreigners, especially Americans.

Students of Chinese decent should be aware of their unique status in Taiwan. The assumption here is that if you look Chinese you should be able to speak Mandarin. The Chinese tend to look more critically at you than at your non-Chinese counterparts.

YOUR SOCIAL ROLE (Top)

Our students at the Center are part of a very small but noticeable group; however, all American students are always "on stage," and their actions are literally under constant observation. Staring, pointing, hysterical laughter, and other behavior from the Chinese are all everyday parts of being a foreigner. Even though some Chinese do not abide by established standards, Americans who fail to do so will be criticized by the Chinese. Try to fit in the best you can. Do nothing to show disrespect of Chinese ways, but do not feel that you must adopt them. The Chinese will understand. Fully adopting Chinese social standards may be too extreme a goal. We are Americans whether we like it or not, and living only nine months in our host country cannot undo what 20-plus years of conditioning has taught us.

The sooner you can ask for things politely in Chinese, the better off you will be. Always smile-the Chinese do-even while you are disagreeing. It's not your personal "rights" that matter; if each party goes away happy, the situation comes to a successful conclusion. Your conduct directly affects the relationship between the Center and the host university. Moreover, the Resident Director, as guarantor for your student status, is personally responsible to the Chinese government for your conduct.

On an individual level, American friends are a novelty to the Chinese. You will be invited to parties just because you are American and you speak English and they want to practice their English with you. Many Chinese students want to practice English because they plan to study in American universities. However, if your behavior is not consistent with their expectations or if you cause your Chinese friends to lose face, no one will say anything-you will just not be invited again. You will also receive many requests to be someone's language exchange partner.

Due to different social criteria, Americans may perceive the average Chinese as years behind them in maturity. In other ways, a Chinese of comparable age is years ahead of an American. The Chinese, on the other hand, see Americans as irresponsible and frivolous. This is all merely a reflection of cultural differences in social behavior and should be accepted as such.

HOW TO MEET THE LOCAL STUDENTS

Wherever I’ve lived, meeting people has always been a crucial part of adjusting.  I’m not the most social person around, so for me, this has always taken a good deal of effort.  I moved here, though, to learn about this culture that is so different from the one I grew up in, and the one my parents grew up in, so not meeting people was not an option.

I attended the program’s orientation, which took place in the theater in the basement of the IYC / Guoqing dorm, and I learned about Club Fair Day.  The speaker announced when and where it would be held, and I scribbled it down.  He also said something else that’s really very important: Don’t hang out with other foreigners/ English-speakers, if you can help it.  I can vouch for that – they’re all very nice people, and we all have things in common, as we’re all here of our own accord – but you won’t learn the language if you spend too much time with people who also speak English.  If you do, at least try to speak Mandarin together.

A few weeks later, I went to the circular building that is National Taiwan University’s gymnasium and entered the building where Club Fair Day was being held.  Inside it was teeming with people moving shoulder to shoulder.  I followed the parade and shuffled along in between stalls of student activity clubs, and saw some for theatre, guitar, choir, traditional Chinese music, tarot, puppet plays, nature hikes, boating, Chinese food, Chinese medicine, poetry, modern fiction, dance, coffee, art, and more. I think there were maybe 80 different clubs. I’m not a joiner, but I think even if you aren’t, there’s still a really good chance you’ll find something you like.  And I highly recommend it.  I joined the traditional Chinese music club.  The process is simple.  You write your name, phone and e-mail (and MSN if you have one, because everyone here but me seems to have one!), and they call you back a week or two later.  If you are not very confident in your speaking ability, this part is the scary part: someone calling, and you not knowing what they’re saying!  I initially meant to join two clubs, but couldn’t understand the caller for the second club.  So maybe you can try to get more information right then and there at the table, like exactly when and where their first club meeting will be, and how to get there. Depending on which club you join, there may or may not be club membership fees. I joined a music club and signed up to learn a big heavy instrument (the zither, called ??yáng qín), which they had to lend me in order for me to practice, so my fees were about 500 New Taiwan Dollars (about $15 U.S.D.).  I met some outgoing kids, and have ended up with a few really great friends, friends I have something in common with: a love for music.  Common ground makes all the rest easier to figure out.

I also try to hang out in public places. There are a few different places on campus where you can eat. The one I most recommend is the Student Center (xué sheng huó dòng zhong xin), because it’s right next to the library (that big building at the end of the palm trees that line the big road often seen in photos of the school), on the left.  It’s a popular local student hangout, and since so many kids want an opportunity to practice their English, I didn’t even approach anyone, but got approached anyway, and ended up becoming pretty great friends with another language student.

There is a message board on the first floor of the Language Learning Center.  Most of the notices are from local students wanting to meet you so they can practice their English, and you in turn can practice your Chinese.  My roommate at one point had about five or six different language exchange partners!  This semester I will be following her lead and doing the same.

I found a few online sources for local activities outside of the school.  Taipei Times’ (http://www.taipeitimes.com) Events & Entertainment page will give you links to many different venues, and Taiwan Fun’s (http://www.taiwanfun.com/) various tabs on the left will lead you to numerous listings of restaurants, stores, coffee shops, etc. that you can check out.  I recommend The Witch House (close to the school, in an alley across from one of the sports fields) for a place to hang out, drink coffee, eat cake, watch live music…  The Wall is another place to go for seeing live shows. I found out online about a band playing at the Witch House, looked them up on MySpace, commented on their music, and a month or so later when I went to their show, the guitarist remembered me and we chatted for a while.  Also, some of the other people in attendance struck up conversations with me.  The idea is, if you make yourself available, people (at least here in Taiwan) will often respond.

The other way to meet people is to just have lots of questions wherever you are: ask people on the street how to get somewhere, exchange a product, ask shopkeepers about things to do, recommendations they might have… I asked one about local Taiwanese food, and he pointed me to a really affordable one that’s pretty great.  Going to the same place over and over, while not very exciting, also makes you familiar to the clerks and eventually you develop a rapport with these people.  Just pay attention to everyone you meet, whatever role they might be playing.  One day, I walked past an elderly man on the street who was looking at me. I smiled and nodded as I walked, and he started a conversation with me, and in two minutes I learned about his past, his sister back in the Mainland…. It’s amazing what you’ll learn if you just try to be open to it all.

HOUSING (Top)

International and exchange students have priority over local student in reserving the campus dorms. Living in the campus dorms is the cheapest way to live in Taiwan. It was very convenient to go to school and other places. There were no cooking facilities in the dorms; thus, all meals were eaten out. Washers and dryers are available in the dorms. Most importantly, having the chance to meet and make friends with many international students who are mostly from both Asian and European countries. It's very interesting to learn about various cultures.

As National Taiwan University is located in downtown Taipei, living in the dorm is not only cheap, but is also very convenient for going places, especially to restaurants. On campus, there is a school cafeteria and many small fast food stores. Moreover, around the campus, there is an abundance of restaurants featuring many various cuisines, both Eastern and Western alike. Just as in California, I can eat as inexpensively or as expensively as I like.

The Guoqing International Dorms are pretty much what you expect from a freshman dorm at any normal CSU. There are two people to a room with desk, chair and ample closet space. Second floor and fourth floor (where most international students stay) are the only co-ed floors in the dorm. They are very serious about opposite sex trespassing onto any of the other floors, so respect the rules. the price of the dorms is very cheap compared to nearby housing outside the school, so I would definitely consider living here. It's a mere 5-minute walk to class and very convenient for making friends.

I had to indicate on my National Taiwan University application what kind of housing I wanted.  There are four options, and you rank them, and then depending on demand, you get either your first or second choice.  I got my first choice, which was Guoqing (IYC) Twin Room En suite.  It’s on the fourth floor of the dormitory.  This means two people in one bedroom, with a bathroom attached.  There are very few rooms on this floor. The two at the end have extras and cost a little more.  Mine cost $15,600 TWD for the semester ($472 USD) instead of just $15,000 TWD.  Mine also came with a living room (!); the guys at the other end of the hall have an office room.  Cross your fingers and hope for these perks; we didn’t ask for them, just got them by luck.  Either way, the fourth floor is roomier, gives you more privacy, and it’s quieter.  The second floor (2 or 3 people per room, shared bathroom facilities) sounded like a lot more fun all semester, and the students there seemed to make strong friendships with other students, but also probably got less sleep due to noise issues.  The other options are the Guoqing (IYC) Twin Room (no bathroom) and two similar options (I think) at the Prince House dorms.

Guoqing (IYC) Dorm is older and looks a little run-down, but it’s clean enough and the only insect problems we’ve had are mosquitoes and flies (the Prince House dorms don’t have this problem, from what I hear). The Prince House dorms are brand new and clean, but are a short walk from-campus.  The Prince House is not run by NTU but rather by a private owner, but all the students living there attend NTU.

You should know that the Guoqing (IYC) Dorm (and probably the Prince House Dorm, too) has no heater in the rooms; only air-conditioning.  This is just fine when you first get here and you’re melting away, but in December and January (and maybe February too, but I sure hope not!), it’s colder inside than it is outside!  You will need a heavy, thick, warm blanket or lots of little ones, and a space heater.  It’s possible that since the Prince House Dorm is newer, its windows might be better sealed and thus be warmer inside. Don’t bet on it, though.

Roommates:  Here on the fourth floor, all of the students from California were paired up with other exchange students from different states or countries.  Mine is from Germany.  On the second floor, I think more students got paired up with other American students.  

CUISINE (Top)

The exodus from the mainland in l949 brought to Taiwan representatives from every area of China, and with them came their culinary arts. Former mainlanders now produce locally all the condiments and ingredients necessary for the tremendous variety of Chinese dishes. The result is an abundance of restaurants from every region of China: Northern, Hunanese, Shanghai, Taiwanese, Cantonese, and Szechwanese. Connoisseurs agree that Taipei possesses the greatest variety of Chinese cuisine concentrated in one place in the world. But don't expect to find the best food near school.

As varied as the styles of cooking is the quality of the restaurants. They range from the elegant and expensive Grand Hotel to the roaming pushcart of questionable safety (please take caution in eating from these).

The tourist who visits Taipei does not have the time nor the cultural mobility to take advantage of its epicurean attractions. California students are much more fortunate, and the more adventuresome they are, the greater their reward will be. A word of warning, however-do not expect the Chinese food to taste or look like California Chinese food, because California Chinese food is usually Cantonese style prepared for American tastes. In Taiwan, don't be surprised to see squid, octopus, pigeon, chicken claws or even tongue on the menu. A trip to a local Chinatown may provide some insight as to what to expect.

Though you will accustom yourself to the local noodle stands (each with its own indescribable and cheap specialty) and occasionally splurge on Peking Duck, there will come a time when you will crave a hamburger, some french fries, or a pizza. Fortunately, there are enough Western restaurants now that you can also find these. Vegetarian food can be found in many restaurants if you learn the proper phrases. There are also vegetarian restaurants that specialize in combinations of vegetables and tofu.

The following are some suggestions on dining in the more native establishments of Taiwan.

  1. At first you must realize that your system is not accustomed to the new environment. Therefore, in the first few weeks, it is best to restrain your epicurean curiosity and be cautious about what and where you eat. Dysentery is no joke!
  2. Be careful buying iced or fruit drinks or sliced fruit from sidewalk vendors. Drink only canned or bottled drinks.
  3. Some restaurants provide disposable washcloths so that you may refresh yourself. You should avoid contact with your face, especially your eyes. Eyes here are sensitive and minor irritations can pop up. Make sure you bring plenty of eye drops, for many reasons your eyes will need it.
  4. The diet here is very oily. If you are not used to a lot of oil in your diet, be prepared to eat lightly until your system becomes accustomed to it. The rice diet is very healthy, but you will notice all the vegetables are sauteed in a good quantity of vegetable oil.
  5. Drinking water: Even the local Chinese do not drink water straight from the tap. Tap water must be boiled. Sterilization requires ten minutes at full boiling point. Water at NTU is safe to drink. In the dorms there is an ample supply of safe drinking water - both cooled and near boiling (good for instant noodles and tea!) There are also water filtration tanks on each floor of the Guoqing dorms. The water tastes a little different, but I have never gotten sick from drinking it.
  6. Be aware that the major flavor enhancer is monosodium glutamate. MSG and salt are heavily used.

Meals for program participants will vary depending on their housing arrangements. While there are eating establishments on campus, NTU does not offer a meal plan for students living in the dorms. But don't worry, there are lots of affordable places to eat near the campus, so you'll have lots of options if you do live in the dorms.

There are many kinds of fruits and vegetables in Taiwan, some cheap, some expensive. There is also plenty of good chicken, duck, fresh fish, and seafood. The Chinese love fresh food so you will find very little frozen or pre-prepared food.

ACADEMIC ENVIRONMENT (Top)

National Taiwan University is best known for its medicine, electrical engineering and law programs. It is a highly competitive school to get into, as it is the best in Taiwan. There are several differences between the educational systems in California and Taiwan. The basic function of college is the same - to foster learning. Unlike California students, Taiwanese students must pass a joint college entrance exam to determine the major they will study, as well as to which college they will enroll. Additionally, regardless of whether they are studying English or not, many (if not all) of their textbooks are written in English.

The Chinese sense of student/teacher relationship is one of implicit respect. Please keep this in mind. Also realize that you may find some professors' expectations are not as clearly stated as you are used to in the U.S. The position of a university professor is quite prestigious here, and no matter what your personal opinion is of an instructor, lack of respect will in time have its due consequences. At NTU, the teachers expect students to come to class completely prepared to fully discuss the previous day’s assigned work. They expect students to be familiar enough with the assignment that text books need not be opened to aid in class discussion. The text that aren’t fully Chinese characters use Hanyu Pinyin for Romanization.

Teachers might have different teaching styles that are difficult for you to follow. I had one instructor in particular who for some reason I couldn’t quite keep up with, at first. I made a point of telling her that I was having this difficulty, and asking for advice on how to work around it. As long as you’re polite and open about it, the professors take you seriously and help you as much as they can (and she didn’t seem to get offended by my problem). Also, the attendance policy is very strict here. You really need to plan on coming to class every single day (and the program is three hours a day, five days a week). This way, if you do get sick and don't feel well enough to sit up straight for three hours, the professors won’t look so critically at you for missing one day. Excuses aren’t taken well here.

Romanization is not emphasized, and the National Phonetic System has been substituted. While some of our textbooks included Romanization in addition to the characters and English translation, they were not consistent: some books used Wade-Giles and others used Pinyin. All of the language instructors are native speakers-most of them speak some English-and your progress will be facilitated by the presence of millions of Mandarin speakers in Taiwan. It will help if you make friends with natives or do language exchanges. Scholars all over the world agree that Taipei is the best place to learn Mandarin Chinese, the standard dialect of the language. Even so, beginning Chinese language students should not expect to achieve even conversational fluency in one year.

Be prepared to spend a minimum of five to six hours a day (including class time) on Chinese plus six hours on the weekends if you want to make genuine progress in learning the language. This is in addition to work for your other classes. DO NOT OVERDO IT OR YOU WILL NOT HAVE TIME FOR THE CULTURAL EXPERIENCE.

RELIGION

While Buddhism and Taoism are widespread, the most common religion is known as "The Popular Religion" or the folk religion, which incorporates elements of the two, as well as the doctrine of Confucius, which still forms the moral fiber of the Chinese people. His birthday, September 28, is a great traditional ceremony. Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim services can also be found in Taipei.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints: Meeting times are the best time to meet the people. The times may change but this year (2008-2009), they all meet at 11 am in a building in Taipei City, Da-an District, Jinhua St., Lane 183, No.24,1st floor. This is a number I found on a web site for the English Wards office (02)2393-3285~6.

VARIOUS SERVICES (Top)

Transportation - The Taipei bus system provides frequent service throughout the city. NTU students receive a student Easy Card. The NTU student I.D. card is also used as an Easy Card, the card you can recharge and swipe to ride buses and the MRT. The Taipei MRT is an extremely convenient way to get around the city. There is a red, green, yello, blue, and brown line; most of which lead out to different parts of the city. Buses and the MRT stop running nightly about 11:30. After that it's taxi's. Exchange rates may vary, but buses without student discount are about 15 NT which is about 50 cents. MRT rides all vary but are usually around or under a dollar. Taxi’s started at 70 NT and increase 5 NT according to distance and time. A taxi can easily be taken completely across town for 10 bucks US. After 11:00pm taxi’s cost an additional 20 NT. This will not show up on the meter but I confirmed it with my Taxi friend that this is a normal charge after 11:00 pm.

Transportation facilities within the island are good, including bus, airline, and train services. Railway service in Taiwan is extensive and inexpensive. Be aware that, although the systems are good, transportation is sometimes outdated and during peak hours and holidays all forms are unimaginably crowded. Be prepared to stand on both buses and trains and expect to be pushed and shoved while boarding. It is also not rare to have a bus close the door on you.

The school here holds a bike sale every semester. Bikes can be bought for around $400NT. I have to say it’s a very worthwhile purchase. They’ll provide information on this for you when you get here.

Cell Phones - Here’s what I did in 2008-09:  I asked the front desk clerk at the dorm where I could buy a cell phone.  He drew me a map and I went there.  I went to Far Eastone, on Heping Road (turn left onto it from Fuxing Rd). The phone cost $1650 New Taiwan Dollars (~$50 U.S.), and then I bought a phone card for $300 TWD ($9 U.S.).  You need your passport in order for them to sell you anything.  I think you also need a second form of I.D. I think I just showed them my California I.D.  (I forget.)  They call someone, verify that you’re who you are, and then sign a contract with you.  The phone cards work like minutes.  They go pretty quickly.  A friend of mine from SF studying in Jhongli, Taiwan, asked a Taiwanese friend to help him buy a phone plan, and so he pays $2000 TWD a month instead of having to buy a new recharge card every time his minutes are up.  It depends on how chatty you are, I guess. I use up a $300 TWD phone card every one or two weeks.

Also, some people who came here with IPhones commented that the phones don’t work here, because they’re locked or something.  I don’t know if they found a way around it or not.  My phone from the U.S. didn’t work here, and wasn’t compatible with the Taiwanese SIM cards, either.  You might want to bring your phone anyway, and just ask the salesperson to try out a SIM card in your phone – if all you have to buy is that and not a whole new phone, you’ll save a little money.

Postal Service - Postal services are good; there are often two mail deliveries Monday - Saturday. Chinese postmen are legendary for finding where letters should go. Airmail letters to the U.S. cost at least 58 and take five to ten days between countries. Aerograms are cheaper. Express airmail is also available in the city.

Mailing packages is facilitated by such postal services as selling appropriate size boxes, supplying free packing materials and machine binding of parcels. We have taken our Christmas goodies to the post office and packed, labeled, and bound them on the spot. I’m not certain on the weight but I sent home a rather large Christmas box for about 50 bucks. The same box was sent to me and it cost 100 dollars to send from the US. I may not have packed it nearly as heavy, but it seems rather reasonably priced.

All incoming parcels will be opened and inspected by customs (if contents are not clearly listed on the outside), so pack accordingly. Large, heavy, or valuable parcels may require payment of duty, particularly if the contents are "samples" of something. The political and economic controls are very much in effect here.

Students strongly recommend bringing your summer things with you and sending a box or boxes containing winter clothes, extra supplies, etc., and labeled "used personal clothing" or "personal supplies." The words "for personal use" are good ways to identify goods on the customs forms.

Packages sent via sea mail at the time of departure will arrive in plenty of time for the winter months. Sea mail takes approximately two to three months. Be aware that shipping rates are high in both the U.S. and Taiwan and that whatever you send will need to be sent back at the end of the year. Alternately, winter clothing can be bought in Taiwan. It may be more convenient to just buy any additional personal items over here. Some of your good clothes may be easily damaged by the harsh washer or dryer.

Laundry and Dry Cleaning - Washers and dryers are available in the dorms, each for NT$10 per load, use them (but it is not always easy to find an open machine). Service laundromats are available. The cost is US $4.00 per nine-pound load and includes washing, drying, and folding. Dry cleaning is available, although you should get a recommendation of where to go before you decide on a place. If you intend to wash things by hand, be prepared for things to take a 2-3 days to dry; the humidity prolongs the drying process and makes it impossible on rainy winter days.

For students living off campus and for those interested, there are laundromats all over the place. It’s about three dollars US to wash and two dollars to dry.

Health - Although their charges are reasonable and you are covered by minimal health insurance by the program, it is wise to have extra money on hand for emergencies. You are responsible for paying all medical expenses, and will be reimbursed for covered expenses at a later date. Taiwan is relatively free of many of the contagious diseases which are prevalent in other parts of Asia, such as malaria, typhus, and cholera, as well as other less contagious diseases. The change in diet, climate, and sanitary standards may give you a few cases of upset stomach, diarrhea, and/or constipation until your system adjusts to the new environment. You may feel more comfortable in the first weeks if you have a familiar American remedy (e.g., Kaopectate, Lomotil, Pepto Bismol, or Immodium). A visit, prior to your departure, to your family doctor or student health center for a large supply of any medicine which you are accustomed to taking (e.g., cold pills, allergy medications, etc.) is strongly encouraged. If you are bringing medicine with you, make sure it is all clearly labeled. Bring generic names of all your medications. Former students who are not accustomed to taking medication at home have found it helpful to have a supply of cold remedies with them for the unexpected, but inevitable cold. There is a store here called Watsons that carries a lot of different cold and flu meds. I bought myself day and night time cold pills, cough syrup, and cough drops.

As you may wish to travel beyond Taiwan, you should inquire about the inoculations advised for Asia: polio, cholera, typhoid, hepatitis A, measles, Japanese encephalitis, and hepatitis B. What you will need will depend upon where you plan to visit. Look into current health environments by consulting a variety of sources (doctors, health department, government offices) and choose according to your own needs.

There are stray dogs everywhere, most of them small. They all seem friendly, as if they used to be someone's pet. Because diseased animals are not given medical attention, DO NOT touch strange animals you may encounter. What appears to be a simple skin rash can entail many other problems. Cigarette smoking is considered a masculine pastime here, with the result that most men smoke heavily. If you are offended by or allergic to cigarette smoke, it would be wise to ask your doctor to prescribe a remedy.

Beauty/Barber Shops - Even the most frugal student should take advantage of the beauty and barber services offered in Taipei. The shops are plentiful, inexpensive and morale-building, plus some are quite good. A man can get a haircut, shampoo and scalp massage for about US $10.00. A woman can get a shampoo (you may prefer to bring your own shampoo), scalp massage, and haircut and blow dry for about US $15.00. Manicures and pedicures are US $5.00. Most shop employees speak no English, but you eventually learn to give specific directions in Chinese because both barbers and beauticians tend toward short haircuts. More reassuring, but more expensive, beauty and barber shops are available in the tourist hotels, department stores, and in the wealthier sections of the city.

Tipping - The one exception to the customary "no tipping" rule in Taiwan is in the elegant restaurants, where the standard is l0%. Some other restaurants add l0% to the bill automatically. On Chinese New Year, however, the custom is to tip everyone-especially children and servants. The only exceptions to the New Year generosity rule are taxi drivers and barbers, as they up their usual fees. Tipping is not expected of students, so you should let your personal preference be your guide in tipping matters.

Shopping - You will be surprised at the wide array of goods for sale in Taiwan. Almost anything you need can be purchased here while everything you want may not be readily available. Items that are difficult to find have been noted under the section entitled "In Preparation." Generally, prices are comparable, if not higher, to those in the U.S. Don't expect to find inexpensive electronics or photography equipment here. Clothing prices vary greatly. They can be much higher or extremely low depending on where you go and how you barter. My wife usually gets her shoes of all colors and sorts for about 13 dollars US. I get nice jeans and shirts for about the same prices Old Navy charges.

Night markets are common and a source of cheap goods. Bargaining is still practiced in most areas--even in some stores. It doesn't hurt to ask for a discount. If you don't speak Chinese, you can bargain on paper, as everyone understands English numbers. If speaking Chinese is a problem, You can also bring a small calculator to show them prices. Probably it is best to buy only necessities for the first few weeks until you settle in, are used to the new currency, and have decided on a comfortable budget. Women will find plenty of shopping bargains in the night market, so be prepared to add to your wardrobe.

FINANCES (Top)

Banking

  • Don't expect to transfer your US bank accounts to a Taipei branch (even if you hold an account with an international bank), or to transfer funds from a US account to an account here in Taipei.
  • Avoid banking transactions as much as possible. It may take from one - two hours each time you go to the bank depending on the location of the bank or the number of people in line.
  • Bring money with you in American Express or Bank of America travelers checks. If you have a Bank of America personal checking account you can cash you personal checks at their branches without service charge.
  • We recommend that you bring two credit cards-American Express, Visa, or MasterCard (not everyone takes American Express).
  • We carried Citybank cards and pulled out money at 7-11 atms every couple weeks. There is a 3 or 4 dollar charge.

If you wish to earn interest on your money here, the only option is through the post office.

The only reasons you will need to deal with a bank are (a) to exchange US$ to local NT$ currency, or (b) to take money out against your Visa or MasterCard accounts.

The following information should be useful:

  1. The most important word of advice to you is, DO NOT CHANGE ALL YOUR MONEY BEFORE COMING TO TAIWAN. Also, do not change all your money once you arrive, exchange rates may change. You will quickly learn that NT$ are virtually worthless outside of Taiwan. If you feel that you must bring currency (NT$) with you, do not bring more than a few dollars worth. We all agree that if you bring NT$l,000 with you (about US $36) plus US $3,000-5,000 in traveler's checks, the panic level will be at a minimum. Due to the initial deposits, use the higher range if you are planning to rent an apartment. Due to rate differences and charges the best advice is to wait until you get to the Chiang Kai Shek Airport to exchange your money. 1998-99 participants got the best exchange rate in the U.S. before departure.
  2. Bring some cash, it may come in handy. Bring American Express traveler's checks in large denominations (US $100), because many banks charge a per-check service fee when exchanging traveler's checks. If you do bring U.S. currency into Taiwan, be sure to ask the customs officer to give you a "certificate," in case you want to bring some of the money back out. For example, you may want to visit Hong Kong with your original U.S. currency; without a certificate, you can leave the country with only US $l,000 cash.

    Try to bring American Express Traveler's checks or traveler's checks from Bank of America. American Express travelers checks be cashed for free at American Express offices or Citibank.

    Traveler's checks must be converted to NT$ at a bank for use in Taiwan. We found it useful to save some traveler's checks for traveling outside of Taiwan. There is a 2% charge at American Express to purchase traveler's checks here.

  3. Financial aid checks (NDSL, GSL, SUG) eventually will arrive, but be prepared for delays. Without the Resident Director's co-signature, valid until March 31, any such checks will be put through local banks "for collection" and will take four to six weeks to process. With it, there have been a few problems cashing them at Bank of America.

    You may want to have your financial aid sent to a relative or close friend at home to deposit into your account and you can use your ATM card to withdraw money. Inform the Chancellor's office, in writing, that you wish for your financial aid checks to be sent to your relative or close friend instead of you. This way, the financial aid check will be in your account at about the same time as when you receive a receipt from IP that a check was sent to your relative or close friend.

    If you plan on receiving the checks yourself, there may be a delay in cashing your checks as well as bank charges.

  4. Be prepared to pay service charges for most transactions, especially when cashing American checks or International Money Orders.
  5. You must physically go to banks to conduct transactions. Neighborhood branches of banks do not have English-speaking personnel, whereas most main office banks do. Some banks do not exchange foreign currency.
  6. Most transactions in this society (rent, food, purchases, wages) are handled on a cash basis; some purchases can be negotiated. However, you will find credit cards are becoming more common in this part of the world, and a few, particularly American Express, can be helpful in a pinch or when traveling in other countries.

Obtaining Money While in Taiwan (Top)

Check cashing - Here are some ways to convert U.S. checks to NT$:

Local banks: Traveler's checks can be cashed at the official rate with a per-check fee.

The American Express Office: AmEx traveler's checks can be cashed here at the official rate with no service fees. Personal checks can be cashed if you have an American Express card (not Optima card).

Bank of America Branch: You may cash your Bank of America traveler's checks free of charge here. Bank of America also allows you to cash up to US $200 per day with your personal Bank of America checking.

If you want to use personal checks in Taiwan, make sure to bring a sufficient number of checks with you.

Other Means of Obtaining Money (Top)

ATM Cards: Wells Fargo - $2.00 service charge per transaction; Citibank - no fee if Citibank ATM machine; Bank of America.

Credit Cards: With a Visa or MasterCard, you can obtain a cash advance at some banks. Be aware of the fees involved in cash advances. Our experience this year is that you cannot get a cash advance with your American Express card at the office (2% charge).

Call your American Express customer representative if you want to use your AmEx card for cash advances. There may be an enrollment fee charge by American Express.

International Money Orders: These can be bought at banks in the U.S. for a small fee and cashed in Taipei at the same places as checks. They involve a time lag in the mail and there is a substantial fee for cashing in Taipei.

Wiring Money: Safe, fast, but expensive. You may be charged on both ends.

Our Best Advice About Money (Top)

  1. Bring as much money as possible with you in American Express traveler's checks or traveler's checks from Bank of America. You will be charged a service fee if you bring other forms of traveler's checks.

  2. You can only cash traveler's checks at AmEx. You can cash a personal check against your credit card if you have a regular (not Optima) card. Travelers checks are the easiest to deal with.

EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES (Top)

Social Life - It is not as difficult to become a part of the culture as it may seem at first. The most effective means is to be open, be the first to smile, the first to speak-try your Chinese!

The Chinese are eager to practice their English, and you soon will be deluged by requests for tutoring. Although this is an excellent way to get to know people, it can become extremely time-consuming. Offhand commitments will be taken seriously by the Chinese. While teaching English can be a steady source of income, it should not interfere with your academics. Pay ranges from US $12.00 an hour to US $25.00 an hour, but you should be warned that anything in excess of six hours a week will be too much. Join clubs, it's the best way to improve your Chinese, even better than the Chinese classes (for advanced students). If you join a club, stick with it--it may be hard to fit in at first but don't give up.

Taiwan socializing often centers around eating. People go in groups to restaurants and coffee houses. Although at first you will be treated as an honored guest, you should at least offer to pay your share. People in Taipei also go to movies (about US $9.00), parks, shopping, night markets, museums, discos, pubs, and spending time visiting friends, hiking and traveling to scenic spots around the island.

A word of advice: Female-male relationships in Taiwan are extremely conservative compared to U.S. standards. To avoid embarrassment to yourself and the Chinese, do not be aggressive. A majority of Taiwanese girls in their early 20's have never been kissed before. Dating is more difficult than one might expect. In addition, women should be aware that what would be a normal situation in the U.S. can have different implications in Taiwan, mostly due to a distorted view of American women from such popular television shows as "Beverly Hills 90210" and movies.

Women should be aware that Chinese men do not usually consider marriage until they are finished with their education and military obligation, and have secured reliable employment. An American girlfriend is not only a novelty but, to some men, a status symbol. It is difficult to "read" the Chinese man because he will not usually "make moves" on you with American speed, yet this is not an indication he is not interested in you.

Buses usually stop running at 11:00 p.m., and most restaurants close by 9:00 or 10:00 p.m., although street vendors are often open after midnight.

Culture - Cultural opportunities in Taipei include the world-famous National Palace Museum (which houses over half a million art treasures "spirited out" from the mainland), the National Historical Museum, CKS Memorial Hall, and temples. Chinese opera and Chinese puppet companies give frequent performances. Special lectures and events at the national university are excellent but require good comprehension of Chinese. Courses in Chinese arts such as flower arranging and cooking are available throughout the city and provide excellent paths to understanding the culture.

Sports - Some available activities are Kung Fu, Tai Chi Chuan, tennis, badminton, bowling, ice and roller skating, swimming, and golf. Soccer fields and basketball courts are located in the national universities. Tai Chi Chuan and Yoga classes, although not strictly considered sports, are available to early risers at the local parks, usually free of charge. Other variations of Kung Fu, e.g., fan and sword, can also be found at these parks. Aerobics classes are not uncommon, but are fairly expensive if taken at a gym or dance studio. Since Taiwan is surrounded by water, it has many natural beaches, but they are heavily polluted--It's better not to swim in them. Green Lake, located just outside the city, is a popular spot for boating and hiking. Swimming pools are not up to U.S. standards. Look before you leap.

Travel - Hiking in the central mountain range is very popular among Chinese students. Every year student groups sponsor trips, which Americans are welcome to join. Especially recommended are Alishan, which has beautiful mountain scenery, and the beach at Fulung, where inexpensive overnight cabins can be reserved.

Hostels (about US $15.00 a night) and hotels (about US $30.00) are easily found throughout the island. A trip to Tainan, the oldest city on the island, will be a rewarding experience for anyone interested in Chinese history. Past participants became so intrigued by Taipei that they recommend devoting time for exploring each section of the city. There are many beautiful areas in Taiwan, and travel around the island can be rewarding-when you have time. Do leave Taipei every chance you get.

During the longer holidays of semester break, Chinese New Year, and Easter vacation, you will probably want to travel to other parts of Asia. For these trips, it is best to consult a reliable travel agency, such as the China Travel Service or Hong Kong Student Travel Bureau (HKSTB), which can give you advice on current fares and inexpensive accommodations. Students should be aware that even though all of Southeast Asia is fairly close together, plane fares are not always inexpensive. For example, a round-trip student ticket from Taipei to Hong Kong is about US $250. Note that you may not purchase tickets outside of Taiwan for flights originating in Taiwan. Lonely Planet also lists some reliable agents with good prices.

IN PREPARATION (Top)

Academic - You should begin preparing for your year by reading books about Taiwan. The better your background, the more you can appreciate and discover during your stay.

Learn as much Chinese as possible. The more fluent your Chinese, the more you can learn in Taiwan. Start learning to write characters-even a few help to train your facility with the language, especially numbers. A good book for characters (but don't get involved with the teaching method for grammar and spelling as it's quite different from what you will be using here) is the Stanford University Press, Elementary Chinese, found in most school libraries. The large characters are easy to copy and are of good form.

Although the picture of Asia you will get in Taiwan will be fascinating, in some ways it will be a one-sided exposure. To increase your perspective on Taiwan, you should learn as much as possible about the history of China during and after World War II. This knowledge will serve you in your own perception of the political and social situation in Taiwan. Knowledge of Confucian teachings will also be helpful.

Financial Aid - Some students experience problems with financial aid, involving long delays in receiving money. It is best to stay in very close contact with your campus Financial Aid Office before leaving to minimize any problems and also to keep OIP informed of your financial situation. It doesn't require great wealth to participate in IP, but if you are depending on financial aid as a major source of money, you'd better make sure it's together. Have someone at home take care of things for you, i.e. have your check sent to them and have them deposit it for you.

BRING WITH YOU (Top)

Clothing
Former program participants who have lived in Asia report that, because Chinese physical proportions are smaller than those of average Americans, you will probably have difficulty finding clothes that fit, but this is rapidly changing and most people can be accommodated. Of course, Taiwan does a lively export business for the American ready-to-wear industry, but don't expect to find the same Taiwan-made products you see in U.S. stores because many products are made solely for export. Anything larger than size six shoes (women) will be virtually impossible to find here. You can have clothes custom-made here from only a sketch, but prices are going up, and the tales of a few years ago are no longer true.

The following list is very general and you should pack according to your own needs. Obviously, if you play guitar, bring it along; or, if you like to hike in the mountains, bring or send your backpack, etc. Many of the following items can be shipped or bought here.

Men: Bring lightweight shirts, slacks, jeans, tennis shoes, conservative shorts for summer. Bring or send yourself sweaters, slacks, a raincoat, and long underwear for winter (the latter can serve as pajamas, too). One sports coat and two good pairs of slacks or a suit will be adequate for most formal occasions. Do not forget a tie. Swimsuit, on the conservative side, is a good idea. Shoes get damaged in the rain so bring extra pairs. Many people wear Tevas or similar synthetic sandals in the warm, rainy weather. Shoes and socks get soaked otherwise.

Women: For summer, bring lightweight cotton dresses, slacks, jeans, skirts, walking shorts, summer nightgown or pajamas, light bathrobe, a conservative swimsuit, T-shirts, tank tops, nylons (local nylons are not made for "long-legged" Americans), dress shoes, sandals, and tennis shoes. Good shoes are very expensive. Sneakers are cheaper than in the U.S. You will be doing a lot of walking so bring comfortable summer shoes. For winter, bring wool pants, skirts, sweaters, a raincoat, wool socks, two changes of thermal underwear, and shoes. Also, women should be aware that many Chinese females are quite fashion-conscious. Bring along one or two good outfits for more formal wear, but make them casual enough so they can be worn for a variety of occasions. Avoid dry-clean only items.

Business/Professional clothing: You do not need any unless you plan to find an internship or other professional job (I am interning at a Securities firm and have to follow an office dress code). One or two outfits would be good enough to get you through any interviews and the first day of work. Then observe others and see what the particular organization's dress-code is like (I am Chinese so the suits here actually fit me better then what I can find in the States). Prices range. Bring shoes! They are expensive here. Also, bring things you can dress up for work or wear with jeans for a casual look, etc. Department stores, which are about the only places you can try clothes on, will gouge you ruthlessly.

Items such as shoes, socks, towels, and sheets should be brought or sent, as these items are of bad quality (and if good are very expensive). Wool sweaters, scarves, and gloves are good quality and inexpensive. However, you may not be able to find 100% wool or 100% cotton. Thick, heavy quilts, for under US $l5.00, will keep you warm. Down sleeping bags may be purchased for approximately US $75.00. Remember, if you have it sent here, you will also have to send it back.

Expensive watches and clothing (especially light-colored clothes) of great personal value which you are not willing to part with should be left at home. Humidity may damage plated watches or those with a leather wristband, while pollution and commercial laundries will take their toll on clothing.

Non-Clothing Items
If you need a particular brand, you may want to bring or send a year's supply of cosmetics and/or deodorant (very important). Many American "brand name" products are available here; however, expect to pay two or three times as much. You can find Chinese substitutes for U.S. products at inexpensive prices (of comparable quality).

Medicines and vitamins
Camera
Towels
Toiletries and cosmetics

Gifts (if you plan to stay with a Chinese family) California scenery books, nuts, t-shirts with your city/state or school name on it, etc.

Pictures of your family and friends, liquor for yourself (you can't buy Kahlua or tequila in Taiwan, for example, and prices of others are much higher than in the States).

CD/MP3 player and music (you can get one here a good price if you know how to bargain--always look around)

Sheets (flat, not fitted-sizes are different here)

A general rule for packing: if you can't decide whether or not to bring an item, leave it at home and bring more money instead.

For Students with Spouses:

If you’re planning on bringing your spouse who will not be studying at NTU or working, you may only be able to get a visitor visa for them. We found out here that after the NTU student gets his/her ARC card (Alien Residency Certificate), the spouse can apply for their own ARC card, which will allow them to stay the entire year without having to exit Taiwan.

I would check with the immigration office here once you arrive and double check on requirements as they may have changed. What they requested from my wife was a criminal record from America, our marriage certificate, and a health examination, which can be done here. The Marriage certificate and criminal record must be mailed to the Taiwan Embassy in California that over-sees the city that issued your marriage license and criminal record. They will translate and put a seal on the documents and send them back. We unfortunately were unable to get these things prepared in time, so we will have to go with Plan B, which is to leave Taiwan and re-enter. Make sure your spouse gets the multi-entry visitor’s visa and when you apply for your ARC card in Taiwan, apply for a multi-entry ARC card. We will be visiting Hong Kong for a couple days and then returning. My wife (with the marriage certificate translated and sealed [stamped] by the Taiwan Embassy) can extend her visa twice, adding 60 days each time, after which she has to leave the country and re-enter. She then again can extend her visa two times and continue this as long as we need to. This gives her 180 days in Taiwan, we leave the country and come back, and then she has another 180 days.

Whatever plan you wish to take is up to you, but I highly recommend getting your marriage certificate to the correct Taiwan Embassy to be translated by them and stamped with their seal. There is a lot to do the first couple months after arrival so make sure to look into how you are going to keep your spouse with you. Having to leave isn't so bad. We just got back from Hong Kong where we went to Disneyland together for the first time! It's quite a bit smaller but still lots of fun! My wife left Taiwan without any troubles and we both got back in without a problem (NTU student, bring your ARC card). She now has a stamp in her passport allowing her another 60 days and she can extend her visa now till the day we leave. Prices for flying to Hong Kong and hotels will vary but all together we paid about 16000 NT = 500 something US dollars. Just a little note: prices in Hong Kong for food and travel were a bit more than in Taipei. We were definitely happy to come home.

If your spouse isn’t in school and not working and also doesn’t speak the language, start helping them learn the basics of the language and plan out things they can do in a foreign country while you're at school and studying. My wife was bored to tears the first couple months. Then she got busy directing a Christmas program and doing all sorts of other things that people asked her for help with. We also had the opportunity to teach English as a service to a class of children from low-income, single-parent homes. That opportunity came through our church but was set up by Taipei City's Education Director. After the semester was over,we were invited to dinner by the Director of Education. He gave us a beautifully framed "Thank-You" award with two cows carrying this Taiwanese vegetable (in celebration of the year of the cow). A principal of a school, another director/ sort of leader, and two TV channel ladies were there, along with our church's public relations senior missionaries who set this up, and a couple other church leaders.

Although we were lucky to know a family here in Taiwan with a small place for us to stay in, we did do some apartment hunting and it looked like most cost around $600 US per month (2008-2009 prices). I also was told NTU will soon have married housing which we would have gone with if it was available. A lot of housing advertised in English is in the Tian Mu area over Taipei which is a ways away from school! It takes me about 45 minutes to an hour to get to class. One benefit of this is that it does set aside at least two hours of time alone for me to study!

Another great helper in our time in Taiwan has been our church. As soon as we got to Taiwan, we had instant contacts with other American families living here in Taiwan. They are very friendly and welcoming. Most of them work for the State Department over seas or different businesses that sent them overseas. They all are stationed in Taiwan for 3 or 4 years and then are moved. They know Taiwan well and know all about living as a family overseas. Some are also in Taiwan on a more permanent basis. They have some activities that we have gone to. It has been really nice for my wife to make some English-speaking friends. She goes to baby showers and other girly activities with them. They put on a Christmas musical/ play that my wife directed this year. Hundreds of people come. It's always in this sports park in Tian Mu. The narration is done in English and Chinese.

We started off eating out a lot, which cost a couple bucks each, which wasn't too bad. Eventually, we found a way to get to Costco where we could by some American ingredients at a good price,so now we eat at home! We also bought an air bed there, which totally beat the mat we had! We bought a large toaster oven at a store called Carefour so we could bake things (if you need to, you can make cakes in a rice cooker though). The oven was like 30 dollars US and the bed was like 40 dollars (it's really nice). Most of the apartments we looked at came furnished and I'm sure the married couple housing, if they have it, will be somewhat furnished also, so you shouldn't have to worry about this sort of stuff as we did!

Studying abroad is a great adventure! If you’re married and are debating whether to go or not, do it! It has been the most interesting and exciting thing we’ve done together! Though there are all sorts of challenges that may come with being married and studying abroad, these challenges bring great growth and rewards to a couple experiencing it together. My wife and I quit our jobs that we were quite comfortable in, sold half our furniture and one of our cars, moved all of our stuff into storage, and just left it all for an adventure in Taiwan and it's been wonderful! If you have any questions for me or my wife, just e-mail me at mwvatcher@hotmail.com

THE END (Top)

This has been our experience in Taiwan. Now it's time to start yours. Come with an open mind and the knowledge that Taiwan is rapidly changing. Good luck in the coming year and have a great time!

2007-08 Wang Family Scholarship Essays (.pdf)

2008-2009 Wang Family Scholarship Essays (.doc)