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As some of you know, I applied for one scholarship and two master’s degree programs earlier this spring. The scholarship is from Taiwan’s ministry of education and basically covers tuition fees and living expenses in Taiwan for two years. The master’s degree programs are both identical, at least on the surface, and are called 華語文教學研究所, which in English is usually called Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language. One is offered by 國立臺灣師範大學 (NTNU) in Taipei, the other by 文藻外語學院 (Wenzao) in Gaoxiong. Applying for this scholarship and these master’s programs was at times frustrating and took a lot of effort, time and money. By the end of March, I had submitted all three application.

Scholarship acquired, admissions granted

I have now received the results from all three selection processes and I’m happy to say that all of them were successful. In other words, I have acquired the scholarship and I have been admitted to both institutions.

This leaves me with a delicate choice, however, because I need to decide which choice is the best one. Go to NTNU in Taipei or Wenzao in Gaoxiong? In this post, I will discuss these options. I do this in equal parts because I want to tell you what’s going on (and thereby perhaps receiving some helpful input) and because I need this kind of structured writing to better understand the two options myself. Writing this, I have not yet decided what I want and I’m not likely to make the final decision for at least a week.

Therefore, any input you have to offer would be much appreciated.

Factors influencing my choice

Below, I will discuss some factors influencing my choice. These aren’t necessarily carefully ordered, but I’ve tried to keep important factors closer to the top. I need your help to come up with things I haven’t really thought about that might influence my choice. Are there other factors I should take into consideration? Do you find my discussion of these factors faulty or lacking in some area?

Quality of education

This is tricky, because quality can mean many things. NTNU is generally ranked higher than Wenzao, but that means little or nothing to me. First, every university has it’s strengths and weaknesses, and considering Wenzao is a language college, it would surprise me if their language teachers aren’t good. Saying that one university ranks higher than another says little about a particular program taught at that university. Second, the criteria natives use to assess education quality isn’t necessarily the same as the ones I would use. I consider the two options equal here.

NTNU: 5     Wenzao: 5


This is something I think is fairly important, mostly because I’m convinced that accommodation was a main factor making me dislike Linkou during my stay in northern Taiwan in 2009/2010. This time, I want to live somewhere which is larger than 10 square metres. It would be awesome to share an apartment with other people, but I don’t know how difficult this will be to arrange. I don’t want to live in the university dormitory, at least not more than temporarily. Taipei is the inferior choice here, considering that apartments are harder to find and much more expensive. Finding accommodation close to Wenzao is very easy. If you know anyone who might be able to help me find room mates or somewhere to live in either city, please let me know!

NTNU: 2     Wenzao: 4

Class composition

The two institutions offer educations which are quite similar, but they are wildly different when it comes to enrolled students. At NTNU, half of the students are foreigners, at Wenzao, there are only four foreign students spread over three departments (thus, I might be the only international student). Classes at NTNU are also significantly bigger than at Wenzao. However, I’m not entirely sure if it’s good or bad with many international students. Sure, the immersion environment and the opportunities to interact with natives will suffer slightly, but on the other hand, the education might be more suited to the needs of non-native speakers. On the other hand, a smaller institution might be more flexible.

NTNU: 3     Wenzao: 5

Facilities and transportation

Making my choice based only on matters related to education would be stupid. If I want to learn a lot of Chinese during my stay, I need to be happy and lead a satisfactory life in general. Thus, there are some practical factors which greatly influence the choice. For instance, Taipei is much more convenient for someone who refuses to go by scooter. NTNU is also a bigger university, which includes better facilities (library, computers, sports, restaurants). The same goes for Taipei in general, which is obviously a bigger and more modern city than Gaoxiong and is therefore more likely to satisfy my needs in general.

NTNU: 5     Wenzao: 2

Social networks

This is a factor which is quite important, not only because social connections matter to me, but also because it will facilitate everything else. If I know lots of people close to where I live, I will have an easier time readjusting to life in Taiwan. Taipei is bigger and I know more people in the north. Furthermore, Taipei offers vastly superior public transport, so it’s much easier to go to other places from there. This might be a significant problem in Gaoxiong.

NTNU: 5     Wenzao: 2

Climate and atmosphere

Here, I refer both to actual climate (rainfall, temperature, etc.) and social atmosphere. The fact is that I like southern Taiwan much more than I do northern Taiwan. I have lived one year in each area and based on personal experience, I’ve liked life in the south much better. Furthermore, the weather is a lot better, even though the summers are hot. The bad weather in the north might be slightly alleviated if I find proper accommodation, because being locked in a 10-square-metre box when it rains for weeks is not my idea of a good life, and living in a bigger place should make the winters endurable.

NTNU: 2     Wenzao: 4

Money and price levels

I put this last because even though it is a factor, it’s not the most important one. I have received a scholarship, which means that I should be able to afford to live wherever I want to live (within reasonable limits, of course). Taipei is more expensive in every regard, so even if the tuition fees are more or less the same, Wenzao is definitely to prefer if money is to be considered. Still, this time I will not be stupid enough to skimp on accommodation, food or living standard in general. I treat this as the least important factor; I mostly bring it up because I know people are going to ask if I don’t

NTNU: 1   Wenzao: 5

Further discussion

Having written this introduction, I think that I now understand the options more clearly than I did before.

The question of accommodation

I think that since some major factors are equal or close to equal, the one that will be the most determining is accommodation. If I were guaranteed to find suitable accommodation in Taipei, I think that’s where I would choose to go right now. The problem is that there is no such guarantee. Naturally, this means that I will do my best to find accommodation, starting now. If I can find somebody who wants to live with me, it would be much easier. If you know anyone who can help, please let me know!

Future development

I think my goal for writing this post has been fulfilled. I feel that I understand the choice better than I did a couple of hours ago. I also hope that you understand the situation more clearly (and that you now know about it if you didn’t already). The next step will be to ponder this for a while, ask other people for their opinions (yes, that includes you, please leave a comment). Having done this, I will write a second post detailing how things have developed. As soon as I decide what to do, I will of course also post something about that. Stay tuned!

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Recently, I’ve made two important decisions and I now feel ready to share them with you. The reason I haven’t said anything publicly before is that I wanted to be sure myself and I wanted to be able to explain myself, which is what I intend to do here. Neither decision was easy, but I hope you can understand my thinking.


The really short version

These are the two decision: first, I’m not going to complete my university studies in Taiwan, instead I’m going back to Sweden to complete my degree this autumn. Second, I’m moving back to Gaoxiong to study at Wenzao next semester.

The short version

For various reasons, I’ve decided that I don’t have either the time or the money to stay in Taiwan for a bachelor’s degree. As a result of this, after weighing the different alternatives carefully, I think that going back to Wenzao is a better alternative than staying in Linkou for what might be my last semester in Taiwan. Linkou has many things I like: my classmates, whom I will miss sorely; good teachers and high-standard education. However, staying in Linkou also comes with some problems, such as the remoteness and isolation of the place itself, the generally depressing state of the campus and the fact that studying for a bachelor’s degree in a Taiwanese university suit neither my personality nor my learning style.

On the other hand, going back to Gaoxiong and Wenzao offers some serious benefits, apart from escaping the problems mentioned above. It would allow me a freer learning environment where I can control what I do to a much higher extent. The class I will be attending will have very few students (three, at the moment), which means more direct interaction with the teacher. I think the level of the courses might be equal at both institutions. Moving to Gaoxiong will also mean that I’ll live with Taiwanese friends, which is a bit of a wild card, but which I hope will turn out to be very good. On the negative side, it’s more expensive than staying in Taipei and it also mean additional trouble to move yet again. These, however, are practical matters that I can handle.

Comparing these two alternatives and trying to find as much pertinent information as possible, I’ve come the conclusion that moving to Gaoxiong is better than staying in Linkou. I’m terribly sad to leave my class mates (you’re all awesome, and some of you write really beautiful characters, too), but I know you will continue to be awesome without me.

The not so short version

This decision is in reality two, one about the role of Chinese in my future career and one about how to best learn the language here in Taiwan. The first question is by far the most important one, and the second can in a sense be said to be a result of the first. Career choices are long-term and stretch far into an unforeseeable future, but before I take you there, let me start by talking a little bit about the past.

The iceberg

Since I was about eighteen or so, I’ve known that teaching is a career that would suit my personality and ability fairly well. I first started studying psychology at university, but then changed programmes and began studying to become a language teacher instead. Down this road I’ve walked ever since, because not even a three-year foray into the realm of Chinese should be regarded as a different path altogether, just a more indirect way of reaching the same goal. But is it really that easy? What if this road turned out to be so interesting and important that it became a goal in itself? What if “Chinese” turned out to be more important than “teach” in the phrase “I want to teach Chinese”?

That’s the question I’ve been pondering for a couple of weeks now. What do I really want? Has this Chinese detour become the real road? Am I prepared to stay here for three and a half years and earn my degree, and only then contemplate returning to Sweden to try to make a living on my then hopefully adequate language skills? In short, have I, perhaps unconsciously, changed course in my life, away from teaching and towards pure language?

The answer to that question is “no”. It’s not an obvious or self-evident “no” by any means; behind that single word lies a long and sometimes angst-ridden thought process. However, the answer is a certain as it’s ever likely to become (it might grow less certain in the future, but let’s worry about the present for now). I want to be a teacher and to be that in Sweden, I need to graduate from the teachers’ programme.

In practical terms, this means that I will go home to Sweden this summer, and I will stay there for the foreseeable future. After graduating, if I feel that Taiwan is pulling me back, well, then I might have to change course again (for instance, I might consider studying for a master’s degree here), but that’s not the issue right now. If I’m truly so interested in Chinese that I’m willing to base my career on it, I’m sure I’ll know that after having been back to Sweden for a couple of years. I’m still young, the sky is the limit, as they say. In any case, I’m not prepared to sacrifice the relative certainty that being a teacher offers, for something which might well be more interesting, but also a lot less secure.

What I’ve just described is the true conundrum here, the question I couldn’t get my head around until very recently. The reason for this was that the larger question was mostly under the surface, and the tip of the iceberg was actually something altogether different: The question whether I wanted to move back south to Gaoxiong or stay in Linkou. This smaller question hid something much bigger that needed to be taken care of first. Since I’ve done that now, let’s look at the tip of the iceberg, which simply is an extension of the above argument.

The tip of the iceberg

Since the link between these two questions wasn’t obvious for me, I think I’d better explain it to make clear what took some serious thinking for me to figure out for myself.

If I stay in Linkou, it means (disregarding everything but the big picture) that I have the possibility to continue studying in Taiwan and earn my university degree here. However, staying in Linkou doesn’t necessarily entail that I will stay in Taiwan longer than one year, but it does include the option of doing so if I want to. By contrast, moving back to Gaoxiong and studying at Wenzao for another semester, precludes the option of graduating from a Taiwanese university. I cannot stay in this country forever, hopping between different cities and language centres. If I stay here for an extended period of time, I need some real proof of all the effort I’ve invested in learning Chinese. A degree is the only unambiguous and useful proof of that.

So, having decided that I’m not staying in Taiwan longer than this semester, the second choice (the tip of the iceberg) becomes easier to understand: either I spend another semester in Linkou, or I study at Wenzao next semester and then go back home. Even though it’s smaller, this choice was a lot harder to make, and I would be lying if I said that I’m one hundred percent sure I’m doing the right thing. Rationally speaking, I know moving is a good idea, but since I’m human and not a machine, it’s a lot more complicated than that. Let’s examine the two options and what they have to offer.

About staying in Linkou

The most important reason to stay in Linkou is, without any doubt whatsoever, my classmates and other friends here. I know that whatever happens next semester, I’d have a great time while in class, and I will learn a lot at the same time. In addition to this, the education offered in Linkou is fairly predictable (even though we will change teachers, I still no roughly what to expect). I know that the education is of high quality. Furthermore, staying in the north is a lot cheaper, recognising the fact that I have a scholarship there and the tuition fee is lower.

There are some arguments for not staying in Linkou as well. Generally speaking, I’m not too happy with studying for a bachelor’s degree at a Taiwanese university, because it feels very much like being back in junior high (attitude, courses, environment, teaching style; here is one example). I realise that this is what it’s like here, but I’m afraid that doesn’t make it any better. Furthermore, I think the campus itself is depressing in many ways (dirty, dilapidated, distant) and Linkou itself feels a bit like the end of the world (and we live at the very end of Linkou!). Last, but not least, the schedule is quite tightly packed, meaning lots of class time and much homework. I feel like I haven’t got time to study Chinese, which sounds self-contradictory, but is nonetheless true. I learn better if I have more control over what I’m studying, but as it is now, there is hardly any time for that. Also note that going anywhere else than Linkou takes at least an hour, which naturally makes it even more difficult to expand my horizons, either geographically or socially speaking.

About going back to Wenzao

There are some arguments in favour of moving back south. Firstly, it would mean returning to an institution I have very fond memories of; I didn’t leave Gaoxiong last time because I was unhappy with my life there. I know the college can provide me with courses more suitable to my personality and learning style. Secondly, if I move back south, it would mean living with two Taiwanese students (one of my friends from last year and her current room mate). It’s of course difficult to say how important this is and what kind of impact it will have on my studies and my life, but I would be surprised if it didn’t trump living alone in Linkou.

Added to that, I’m a social person, I need people around be to be happy. The only reason I live alone now is that I don’t want to live in the dormitory, (see the comments about the campus above). Living with my friends in Gaoxiong might make me happier at the same time as enabling me to understand Taiwan and the Chinese language on a deeper level. Furthermore, I do of course already have other friends in the south, and they do also play a big part in all this. I would not move into social terra incognita, like I’ve done my previous three moves in Taiwan.

I’m aware that my girlfriend hasn’t been mentioned here, and that’s no accident. Our relationship hasn’t been working very well since I came back to Taiwan last year, and it didn’t work at all towards the end of last year. Moving might or might not improve this, but I want to make it very clear that she is not the reason why I’m moving.

Naturally, there are also drawbacks with moving again, otherwise I wouldn’t need to write such a long post about what I’m going to do. Please read the first part of that sentence again, the keywords are “moving again”. I have moved six times in two years, do I really want to make it seven times in two and a half? Sure, in the ancient past, I said that I wanted to be more like a snail with its house on its back, but I feel more like I have no home at all rather than always carrying it with me. Leaving Linkou would mean more uncertainty, even though it would be significantly less unknown than any of my previous moves in Taiwan. I know roughly what I will get if I move.

Another negative factor is money: going back south costs more money than staying in Linkou; my rough calculations tell me about NT$40.000, which is a bit less than 10,000 Swedish crowns. That’s not an astronomical sum, especially not when compared with living in Sweden, but it is still a factor. On the other hand, my decision to stay in Taiwan one semester and not more, means that I’m prepared to spend some extra money to optimise the time I have left here. In addition, I won’t go home this winter vacation, and will thus save approximately NT$30.000. I’m not a rich man, but I think I know when to spend money and when to be thrifty.

Final decision

Rationally speaking, I think there are some factors above that cancel each other out, and the social aspect might be one of them. I’m sure I’d be very happy staying in Linkou with my current classmates and friends (I feel a sting of sadness just by thinking about leaving you!), but on the other hand, I know that I can be happy in Gaoxiong as well. It doesn’t feel like that now, because Linkou is where I live now and thus very close, but I really think that both choices should be equally good, socially speaking.

So, what it eventually boils down to is paying more money to get a better learning environment. I’m convinced that I would learn more Chinese and be more satisfied with my studying if I went back to Gaoxiong; this is beyond any doubt. On the other hand, as explained above, it would also be more expensive. Is it worth paying that sum of money to get these extra benefits? Yes, of course it is.

Oh, if only humans were fully rational! Then I wouldn’t have had to spend weeks making up my mind. Alas, I cannot base something like this simply on cold logic, so I thought that if I went to Wenzao to talk to them about this, perhaps I would be able to feel what would be the right thing to do. More importantly, I needed to go to my friend’s place to see if the apartment looked okay, that it was a place I felt comfortable living and that the location wasn’t too off (hard to beat Linkou in that regard, though). I hoped that after doing these things, I would feel what was the right thing to do.

And I do. I feel that moving south again is the right choice. There are too many advantages with moving back. Perhaps moving in with Taiwanese friends is reason enough, because it would be something new, something I haven’t done before, but apart from this, I think the overall study situation will improve. I also know that there are many things in the north I fundamentally dislike, although I’ve grown used to them and come to accept them; moving would alleviate these problems, if not remove them entirely, and allow me to focus on what I like most here, studying Chinese.

I’m truly, honestly sad about leaving my classmates and my other friends in Linkou, but that’s a sacrifice I have to live with. They will no doubt move on without me and even though I think my cube puzzles will be missed in A班, I think my leaving won’t really hurt the wonderful atmosphere in that group. I’m very fond of you all and I hope I’m welcome to visit you whenever there is time.

Personally, I’m on the road yet again, and I need to find again that warm feeling I’ve had recently in class, I need to settle down in a new environment and I need to move on. I hope that those involved can understand my decision and I hope I can keep in touch with those who matter most to me in the north. Thanks for everything and see you soon?





















留在林口當然也有些壞處(否則我不需要考慮是否回高雄的這個難題)。一般來說,我發現我不太喜歡在臺灣的學校念這樣的課程,因為感覺是我回去了瑞典的國中(環境,態度,課程,教法都令我想到好幾年之前念的國中)。我當然明白臺灣與瑞典的制度不一樣,但是我好像無法習慣這樣的教學方式。另外,林口的校園是一個令人憂鬱的地方(偏僻、肮脏、破爛的)。如果校園位於林口醫院那邊附近,那就可能沒有任何問題, 但是校園却是在林口最沒有人煙、最不便利的地方。最後,我有一種沒有時間真的學中文的感覺,因為有那麼多課程、作業,而且如果想要去別的地方,也需要花很多時間在坐公車(結果學習時間更少)。如果我只能再留在臺灣一個學期,我不要只加強閱讀與聽力,我想要有時間自己選擇要加強學習的方向。









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