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National Taiwan Normal University

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One month is quite an arbitrary period of time to expound on, but almost five weeks should be enough to have settled in and to have gained some sort of general impression of what’s going on and what my future studies here will be like. I arrived in Taiwan on September 11th, and the semester started a few days later. In this post, I’ll try to express my feelings, impressions and thought about what’s happened since then and also what I think about the future.

The start of this semester was shaky, to say the least (I was honestly pondering if it was worth it or if I’d better just go home again, but decided to stay and give it a chance). Since I’ve already written a fair amount about that, I’ll move on. If you’re interested to read more about my arrival, kindly check the Taiwan category for September 2009.

A month has now passed and no bureaucratic problems remain, all registrations, selections of courses, filling in of forms, etcetera, have been taken care of. I have somewhere to live, I know my schedule and I’m familiar with my classes. There might be new things popping up later, but I’m quite sure what I’m experiencing now is what everyday life will be like for a while.

Starting with the university itself, I’ll first refer to the post I wrote after one week, in which I outline more general information. Superficially, nothing much has changed since then, although I have cancelled the Chinese Festivals class and the English, although the latter is substituted by two hours of teaching English instead, which suits be fine. The courses are fairly hard to keep apart, since they all cover roughly the same texts and in a similar manner. The name of the course seems to bear no resemblance whatsoever with the actual content (we might do more conversation in our reading class than in the conversation class, and more reading in the integrated class than in the reading class, and so on).

Overall, I think the education as such is okay. It’s not brilliant in any way, it’s not as good as I hoped it would be, but it is enough to keep me satisfied, at least for now. The two main problems are lack of opportunity to actually speak Chinese, and the amount of time spent on things which has nothing to do with Chinese (such as endless meetings to give out information everybody should already have or that should be obvious, often asking people to stay even though the information doesn’t even pertain to their respective situations). The first problem I can probably alleviate on my own, and the second can be endured, I suppose.

More importantly, my situation outside school has improved. I have settled in in my new apartment, I have things to do and i have reestablished contact with some people from last year. I still feel a little bit under-stimulated, but I’m sure that will take care of itself gradually. I and Vanessa seem to be on the way to figure out how, when and where to meet, which is a great relief (although I shouldn’t say that until it’s actually been proved to work in reality and not only in theory). Maintaining a good relationship with her is probably the single most important factor to my well-being here now that the problems with the university and the apartment seem to be settled.

I could dwell more on details, but I don’t see that it would benefit anyone very much. Things will of course appear in the future, in which case I’ll write more about them. As usual, if there is anything you think I ought to write more about, just say so and I’ll consider it. I have a number of reasons to write about my life here and one of them is to keep interested people up to date.

To put it briefly, I have settled in properly and I know I can manage life here as it is now, so barring big changes, I’m sure I can be happy here. Exactly how much I like my life here and how worthwhile I think studying at NTNU is will of course change over time, but I’m satisified at least for now.

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Back on track

As you might have noticed, the server has been offline for a few days, which was due to the fact that Hannes (and Caroline), who is kind enough to host my site, moved house. Now, everything seem to be working again, but since the new server has a new IP, it might take a short while before all IP redirecting propagates properly.

I’m also back on track in another regard. I spent the previous weekend in the south of Taiwan, where I lived last semester. I stayed at a friends place for two days and was able to meet up not only with my friends, but also with Vanessa. The time leading up to that meeting was a bit insecure, because we hadn’t met for a very long time. However, after meeting her on Saturday night as well as on Sunday morning just before going home, I don’t have even the slightest feeling of insecurity. I’m sure we’ll be able to make this work, even if we live on different sides of the island.

While the site was down, I’ve also read a couple of books, thought about lots of other things and settled in a bit more in my new home. Posts regardin these topics will be published in due course, so keep your eyes peeled and stay tuned!

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Admittedly, I haven’t had a very good start here, but rather than ceaselessly going on about what kind of problems I have (even if they diminish both in gravity and number), today I’m going to focus on something genuinely positive: the bright side of campus. The title implies that, as with most other things, there is a darker side too, but I’ll leave that for now. All campuses I’ve been to in Taiwan so far have been beautiful, but I think parts of the this one stands a good chance in the overall competition. Enjoy!


This is the view from the road, at least the last 500 metres or so.


Entering campus and…


…meeting this guy.


Onwards.


This nice pond lies just outside our classrooms.


The advantage of not being in the city is lots of space.


Same pond as above, just another angle.


Another lake. Wrong side of campus for me, but nice for a lunch walk.


Same place, just a little further down.


The courtyard. Classrooms are in all directions, the buliding in the middle being the one I frequent the most.

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Today, I was supposed to have Chinese Characters, Integrated Chinese and Training in Conversation, but since I have been otherwise engaged, I only managed to attend the last hour of the last lesson. Instead of going to class, I attempted the skein of bureaucracy which has, at times, seemed so intimidating as to lead me to pondering going home instead of trying to untangle it. I managed to clear most things regarding the school last week, meaning that I know where I’m supposed to be at what time. Three big items remained on my list though: applying for an Alien Residence Certificate (ARC), registering at the main campus and complete my scholarship application.

I woke up around seven this morning, immediately heading to the university to catch the first bus into the city. With some luck, it would be possible to return after only three hours and thus only miss my first class. The business at the main campus went surprisingly well, and I was able to register without much problem. I still needed the ARC, though, both to be able to legally remain in Taiwan and to apply for the scholarship.

I first spent some time finding the right underground station and then navigating my way to the immigration office, which turned out to be the incorrect one after about fourty minutes waiting. The other one was located in a much more inconvenient part of Taipei and it took me another hour to find my way there. After some more waiting, I finally handed over my papers, visa, passport, student id, etcetera, etcetera. Had I missed something? Would they ask me about authenticated grades, which I only had in Swedish? Would they ask why I only have grade transcripts and no diploma (Sweden’s just like that, but no other country seems to be)? Would there be any unforeseen problem? This moment would determine if I had worried over nothing or if I really was in trouble.

Fortunately, the answer to all questions, except the last one, was no. They asked me for my apartment contract, something I hadn’t even imagined they would need. I didn’t have it with me, but there seemed to be a possibility working around it by signing some sort of document really promising that I lived where I said I lived (as if the application form wasn’t the same thing?). Still, everything else was fine and I left the second immigration office around noon.

Only one problem remained. It will take another two weeks before I can go back and fetch the physical ARC, which is usually not a problem, but might have been because they need the information on the card for the scholarship application (I have been granted the scholarship, I just need to complete the application). However, since I have my old ARC from last year and they don’t change numbers or anything, it seems like I have survived this test as well. Worst case scenario would have been if they truly needed the new, physical card, in which case it would have dragged another two weeks, putting the date well after the deadline, stripping me of my financial support. It would have been $10 000NT less a month (around 2 200 Swedish crowns), something I could have survived, but which would have had consequences for my future plans here.

As of this afternoon, it seems like all problems have been solved and that the skein has indeed been unravelled. I have promised myself to buy a 4x4x4 cube as soon as things have settled down a bit (I’ve found a store closeby with lots of puzzles), but since I don’t want my studying to suffer, I’ll delay the purchase until Friday, when I plan going south to meet Vanessa and some friends. The fog is beginning to clear.

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Today it’s Saturday, which means that I have managed one week in the classrooms of National Taiwan Normal University (see official website). Since I haven’t really said anything in general about what I’m studying, I’m going to do that, and also give a short summary of the different courses I’m taking.

First, some overall comments. I’m studying at National Taiwan Normal University, which is by many considered to be one of Taiwan’s top university. However, I’m not at the main campus in Taipei City, but in a small town called Linkou, about 45 minutes from the main train station. It’s bigger than the town surrounding the university I studied at in Xinzhu, but still not very big. I live around 25 minutes walk from the actual classrooms.

The program is called Chinese Language and Culture for International Students and is roughly what it sounds like. In the first year, the majority of courses are focused on language, even though culture of course seeps into everything we do. Still, we only have one course with anything close to culture in its title. However, the titles aren’t that reliable, because on the surface, we seem to have a number of different courses, which in reality are very close to each other (and are meant to be so, it’s just some bureaucratic manoeuvre because the university system can’t cope with courses with too many credits). Still, even courses that are meant to be different seem indistinguishable to me at the moment. For instance, the listening class was more about conversation than the actual conversation class, which in turn seemed to be much more about reading. Perhaps it crystallises after a while, but until then it’s just simpler to separate the subjects according to teacher and textbook rather than to the name of the course.

Some quick counting will summarise the following list as a total of 22 hours of class every week, although four hours (English and PE) are not related to Chinese itself (even though the physical education is of course taught in Chinese). Considering that I’ll have to study a lot to keep up, I think this schedule is okay, but might prove to stressful later on.

Chinese Characters (2 hours/week, Chen Li-fen)

This is the first out of three of the elective course I take and focuses on the basics of Chinese characters, including many things I already know, but might be a good idea to brush up. I don’t expect this class to be very hard, but I still think I can learn a lot.

Integrated Chinese (6 hours/week, Chen Li-fen)

This seems to be the core of this semester’s Chinese courses. It seems to have a fairly straightforward approach with quite difficult textbooks, a lot of homework and so on. It will be tough to keep up, but it’ll be very good at least for reading, writing and listening.

Training in conversation (2 hours/week, Du Zhao-mei)

This seems very similar to Integrated Chinese and I can’t yet say what the main difference is. There might be a difference in terms of assessment, but the course material and structure seem very similar.

Training in Reading and Writing (4 hours/week, Li, Yu-juan)

Yet another class, seemingly again with the same approach as the other, but with the difference that this class actually seems to be called what it is. The level is still very high and will need a lot of studying.

Chinese Pronunciation (2 hours/week, Chen, Huai-Shuan)

This class seems to be genuinely interesting. It focuses on correct pronunciation, but not only to make our pronunciation correct, but also to teach us how to make other people’s pronunciation correct, which should be very useful for a future teacher. The drawback is that we are a lot of students (all groups together), so I don’t know how much time there’ll be for individual correction. This course is the second of the three elective courses.

English (2 hours/week, Huang Shin-ying)

Since what I’m currently studying is an ordinary Taiwanese university course, there are some mandatory courses which everybody has to take, such as English. However, the school has been nice enough to make a special deal with some people to let native speakers be responsible for a chatting room, or something like that, a couple of hours every week. I’m not a native speaker, but it seems like I can be included anyway.

Traditional Chinese Festivals (2 hours/week, Li, Yu-juan)

This is the last of the elective courses and focuses on, as the name implies, on Chinese festivals. The level seems to be average (high, but a lot lower than the ordinary courses). I don’t know how much pressure will come from this, but I’d rather have too much to do this semester than too little.

Physical Education (2 hours/week, Hsu, Wen-ching)

This feels very much like being back to high school, but since I liked the PE in high school, that’s quite okay. I don’t think it will be entertaining all the time, but I’m still the sort of person who can enjoy this (whereas many of my classmates are just sighing when they see this on the schedule). The teacher seems reasonable, too, focusing on sweating a lot rather than jumping far.

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If you happen to be running an international education in any given country, or indeed any education at all, I have some advice about how to conduct the first week in order to make sure that the level of anxiety your new students are suffering is as high as possible.

First, separate the students into three groups, based on their skill in a certain area (I’ll use Chinese as an example). Then tell the students in the A class (the best one), that they are a lot better than the A students last year, that they are the pride of the school and that they get most time of all students in classrooms with air conditioning (or something else which makes the learning environment endurable). So far, I think this is fairly common practice in many countries, although some Scandinavian countries might be a bit hesitant about the decision to split the class in this way. Now over to the important bit.

Second, after a couple of days in the first week, when everybody is still nervous and don’t really know what’s up or down (or anything at all), tell the students in the A class that they are too many and that you need to “eliminate” three students (in Chinese, I recommend using 淘汰, which is used, among other things, for Darwinian elimination or elimination through competition). If you want to, you can also add some sort of pseudo-explanation and say that there are two A classes this semester and that changing class is not really that bad (even though simply by saying so, you are actually enhancing the importance of a change). After some more testing, you then select a few students and discuss with them what they think (this is a nice touch, but can be removed if you want to enhance the anxiety further).

Third, now that a few students have switched classes, you wait a day or two and then repeat this procedure again. Tell everybody that you need to remove another two students, and then do some additional testing and discussing with some students until you have the desired number in each class. Neat, or what? As you can see, this procedure can be reiterated as many times as you like, you don’t even have to remove students every time.

There are some additional things to take into consideration if you plan to go through with this kind of scheme. Be aware that it’s not very nice to the teacher who has to tell the students different things all the time (they definitely don’t know about how the decisions are made, shoot the messenger is common practice, I think). Also, don’t expect people to ask many questions after you do this, because most of them will still have the feeling that every time they go to class, they are being tested, and perhaps they will be the ones who are eliminated in the next round. This will also make sure that all students think that they are about half as good (or half as much worth) as they truly are.

By way of ending this post, I’d also like to propose a way of making some money by selling the broadcasting rights to some TV channel and run a show like Big Brother. This isn’t something I have personal experience of, so please note that it’s just pure speculation.

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