The three selected exemplars of bilateral higher education exchange, namely the exchange between National Pingtung University of Science and Technology and its counterparts in Thailand, the overseas internship program in Malaysia organized by Oriental Institute of Technology, and Tamkang University’s Asian Community Leadership Seminar, commonly extended their reach to the world from Taiwan.
Against this background, one may wonder how international students in Taiwan think of this land. We interviewed three international students respectively from Panama, Indonesia and Guatemala regarding their studying and life experiences in Taiwan.
Text/ Xin-Yi Chen Oct. 2017
Agatha Virgilia Nogo
An Indonesian female, exchange student, enrolled in the Department of International Business, Cheng Shiu University, 6 months in Taiwan
Andrea Carolina Parra Choy
A Panamanian female, graduated from the Department of Mechanical Engineering, National Taiwan University, 5 years in Taiwan
A Guatemalan male, a doctoral student in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, National Chiao Tung University, 9 years in Taiwan
Andrea, a girl of one-quarter Chinese descent, crossed the Pacific Ocean to Taiwan for higher education.
Just becoming a graduate from the Department of Mechanical Engineering, National Taiwan University in June 2017, Andrea, a vivacious girl, spent 5 years in Taiwan for studying, including one-year language courses and four-year bachelor’s degree program. It is a hard-earned degree. Quite a lot international students gave up halfway due to their frustration with the hurdle of language. In contrast, Andrea bit the bullet despite all the hardships. It might be too serious by claiming that she bit the bullet. Being a cheerful person, she ridiculed herself by saying that “since I’m a foreigner, it’s normal that I fail to understand what the professors taught in Mandarin. No sooner did I feel confused, than I would ask my Taiwanese classmates. They thought it a matter of course and were more than willing to help me in this regard.”
Andrea is of one-quarter Chinese descent. Five years ago, she had to decide between studying in the United States or Taiwan, and finally she chose the latter. “Since I’m familiar with English, I want to learn another language and culture and go somewhere far away from my home country.” The genetic signature of her Chinese grandfather is invisible from her appearance. For Andrea, Taiwan is a foreign territory worth exploring. Her reluctant parents eventually agreed to let her study abroad on the other end of the globe with their best wishes.
Born with an adventurous spirit and an open mind to novelties, Andrea embraces the Taiwanese culture and loves to try new things such as exotic food and travelling alone in Taiwan. Being asked about anything she is unaccustomed to or doesn’t like, Andrea replied by making an exaggerated expression with both hands holding her face: “No! I can’t think of anything in Taiwan that I don’t like!” Her Taiwanese and international classmates admire Andrea for her deeds and courage.
Coming to Taiwan instead of China, Agatha regretted not being here earlier.
Andrea speaks fluent Mandarin, which was why she occasionally served as the interpreter during the interview with Agatha Virgilia Nogo who has just been in Taiwan for 6 months. Comparing with Andrea’s outgoing personality, Agatha is relatively introverted and bashful. She came to Taiwan not so much by design as by accident. Having learned simplified Chinese characters in Beijing, Agatha was supposed to study in an academic institution in China as an exchange student. However, she did not make it because the institution in question abruptly stopped admission to international students. Encouraged by her teacher, she finally plucked up courage to study in Taiwan.
Why need she pluck up courage? “I was afraid that traditional Chinese characters are too difficult to learn. But now I regret not having learned them earlier because they are truly beautiful!” According to Agatha, not until she arrived in Taiwan did she find that Taiwan and China are worlds apart, and the friendliness and hospitality of Taiwanese people impressed her the most.
One day, Agatha was too late to catch up the bus back to the student dormitory. A motorcycle rider proposed to offer her a ride. She straddled the motorbike without hesitation and felt sincere gratitude. “It’s the last thing I would do in Indonesia!” Agatha and Andrea agreed that Taiwan is a nice place which gives them a strong sense of security.
An accident in southern Taiwan made Rony Sian reflect on his life.
Rony Sian also met with similar kindness. He has been in Taiwan for 9 years but never stepped out of the campus since being enrolled at National Chiao Tung University as an undergraduate and now a doctoral student. In the first few years, he was not intent on hanging out with his classmates or friends. The reason why he chose to study at National Chiao Tung University rather than National Taipei University of Technology was that he wanted to focus on his study in the relatively simple environment of Hsinchu. He started to ride a motorbike around Taiwan in a summer vacation. The trip was supposed to be a happy one, yet ended up with getting lost and falling off his motorbike near Cape Eluanbi in Pingtung. He not only had a breakdown but also got injured. Dragging his wounded leg, he limped along the road on the sultry summer day, with the hope of finding someone to rescue him. Running out of fresh water, he felt as thirsty as weak, thinking that he’s going to die. “I even made a video recording for my mom!” When cheerful Rony recalled this accident, he became suddenly quiet, choking with emotion and falling silent for a while. Luckily, someone found him injured before too long, from whom he received food and was accommodated temporarily in an activity center. In the company of a dog, the person found Rony’s motorbike the next day, and even repaired it. Rony was thus back on road again.
“Taiwanese people are genuinely friendly. This accident completely changed my thoughts about life and the universe. I’ve been reading Daodejing recently and found it perfectly compatible with my thoughts. Previously, I considered people as wholly separate individuals. After this accident, however, I began to believe that all human beings are connected regardless of races,” Rony claimed with a thoughtful look, which is not his usual naughty and humorous self.
Taiwanese students tend to shy away from expressing in public but are friendly and easy-going in private.
Andrea majored in mechanic engineering. English teaching materials were available, but the courses were taught in Mandarin. On top of that, there is a gap between the content taught in senior high schools in Panama and Taiwan, which was why she had a hard time catching up her Taiwanese classmates in terms of Calculus and Physics. Nevertheless, she always asked questions. “Every time when the professors said ‘does anyone have any questions,’ I was the only one who broke the silence in class. Yet my Taiwanese classmates always rushed to the professors and ask questions after class. What if 100 students ask the same question one by one? Would the professors answer it 100 times?” From her 5-year experience, Andrea thinks that Taiwanese students may be sensitive to losing face and ergo shy away from asking questions in public, for fear of others knowing that they don’t understand what the professors taught.
Having been in Taiwan for 9 years, Rony is very familiar with this habitual practice. According to his observation, Taiwanese students tend to be quiet in public and talkative in private. He once asked his Taiwanese classmates about this phenomenon, and only got the reply of “no reason.” However, Rony did not find the answer embarrassed. Rather, he believes that there is a mutual understanding between long-standing friends, so that sometimes they understand each other’s mind without the need to say anything at all.
Agatha is not surprised at all by Taiwanese students’ silence in class, because this situation is similar to that in Indonesia. “We are afraid of asking questions in class lest others find us slow-witted or teachers lose their patience,” Agatha explained. In Indonesia, teachers and students are two apparently separate blocs on campus. They do not treat each other as friends.
Nonetheless, Taiwanese and international students may wield mutual influence, since they’ve got along with each other for a long period of time. The three international students are movers and shakers in the eyes of their Taiwanese classmates, which not only motivated the latter but also let the class atmosphere charged with vigor. Some of their Taiwanese classmates even told them that they want to emulate their styles of practice and try to actively express their ideas or go on trips of their own.
In addition, all the three international students found that students in Taiwan are blessed by the comfortable and free atmosphere of their universities. They are amazed by the scene in which both students and professors wear short pants, tank tops and slippers whenever summer arrives. They were not accustomed to it at the beginning, but gradually learned to relish such kind of relaxation. “I found the custom great because we can focus on our study without caring too much about our appearances and the way people regard us,” Andrea said.
People who confine themselves to a restricted range of activities tend to view the world from a rigid perspective. Contrarily, the three international students chose to study in Taiwan and seized the opportunity to observe and experience exotic cultures from different angles. They also served as the mirrors that reflect Taiwanese students’ strength and weakness. These reciprocal interactions not only revolved around “humanity” but also enriched their life experiences, just like the rescue that Rony Sian received in Cape Eluanbi. It also echoes the view of Mei-Mei Song, an associate professor of futures studies at Tamkang University, who argued that Taiwanese and international students have learned to treat one another with a particular concern over “humanity,” which therefore blurred the boundaries among them. Their practice vividly demonstrated the greatest value of interpersonal interaction.
Chief Editor/ Chih-Wei Hung
Media Coordinator/ Chih-Wei Hung