It’s a mistake to think that the only Chinese language study-abroad programs are found in mainland China. Although study programs in Beijing, Shanghai, and Harbin are well known and effective, many students overlook a hidden gem while considering their options for study abroad: Taiwan, the Isla Formosa.
Food & Culture
The food here is substantially different than that in mainland China. In Taiwan, it is often consumed as individual dishes, instead of family-style with many dishes shared amongst a group of people. As a tropical island, Taiwan is full of delicious fresh fruit year round. A large portion of the population in Taiwan is Buddhist, so excellent vegetarian options abound throughout the entire island.
Outside of its fruits and vegetables, Taiwan is famous for its beef noodle soup, stinky tofu, bubble tea, and night market food. Students just arriving in Taiwan for the first time should absolutely try all of these dishes (especially the stinky tofu), though they can rest assured that Western alternatives like pizza or burgers are readily available in Taipei should they desire some familiar comfort food.
Mandarin Chinese is spoken in Taiwan. The primary difference between Mandarin in Taiwan and Mandarin on the mainland is that Taiwan uses traditional Chinese characters. Traditional characters, while more difficult to write and remember, have more meaning and tend to be more beautiful than simplified characters.
Things to Do
Any semester you choose to study abroad in Taiwan will coincide with a holiday of some sort, be it Chinese New Year in the winter, Dragon Boat Festival in the summer, or Mid-Autumn Festival in the fall. Studying Chinese in Taiwan is enhanced immensely by a trip throughout the island to absorb more of the language, hospitality, and culture of the local people.
Popular spots to travel while studying abroad in Taiwan include Wulai, for its famous sulfur hot springs; the Penghu Islands for their fresh seafood and snorkeling; and Kending for its surfing and massive night market.
Lesser known, though equally great spots to hit on your semester or year in Taiwan include: Jinmen Island, home to Taiwan’s famous Gaoliang liquor; Alishan, home to some of Taiwan’s best Oolong tea; Taidong for rock climbing; and Jiufen as the town which inspired the masterpiece of famous Anime filmmaker Miyazaki, Spirited Away.
Studying in Taiwan
Most people study abroad in Taiwan almost exclusively to learn the Chinese language and any student with an interest in Chinese literature or Chinese culture will eventually have to learn to read traditional characters, because that is what all the classical Chinese texts are written in. If you are serious about studying Chinese, you might as well get an early start and learn traditional characters from the beginning.
Chinese language classes in Taiwan are offered through university Mandarin Training Centers, courses separate from normal undergraduate and graduate coursework. These programs are developed especially for students wishing to advance their Chinese language skills. Mandarin Training Centers hold class for 15-18 hours per week, and almost all of them offer popular cultural classes around topics like calligraphy, tea appreciation, Tai Chi, and traditional Chinese music.
Accommodations for international students in Taiwan is often provided through the school where the study is taking place. On-campus dorm housing is basic, with one room shared between two to four roommates. While on-campus housing is cheaper than off-campus housing, students may be surprised at how affordable off-campus housing in Taiwan can be.
It is not always possible or advisable to try and secure off campus housing online before arriving in Taiwan. Apartments listed on English language sites are often overpriced, and can be a bit on the grungy side. Many students spend their first week in Taiwan getting settled by staying in a hotel or hostel for the first couple of weeks, and searching for housing with a local friend or classmate. This approach saves money and headaches, and provides an opportunity to practice language skills in the real world.
Taiwan’s Ministry of Education (MOE) offers scholarships for Chinese language study to international students from all over the world. The most common one is the Huayu Enrichment Scholarship. This provides a stipend of NTD $25,000 (approximately $850 in U.S. dollars) for two-month summer study abroad programs in Taiwan. The MOE also offers the Taiwan Scholarship for students seeking degrees at accredited universities in Taiwan. These scholarships award a stipend of NTD $30,000 per month (approximately $1,000 in U.S. dollars), for the duration of an undergraduate, graduate, or Ph.D. program up to five years. Students apply for scholarships in Taiwan through their local TECRO or TECO office.
Taiwan has something for everyone when it comes to study abroad, and although it can seem a little daunting to plan your semester in Taiwan at first, it is easy to study and live here for students from any type of background.