The University Experience
I had my appartment, I had met the family, I had stocked up with enough mooncakes to get me through the next three typhoons, and now the time had arrived for me to get down to work.
“You are late.”
“Your group started class two weeks ago.”
“But how is that possible when the semester hasn’t even started yet?”
“That’s for the normal groups, but you are supposed to join the intensive class, because according to your scholarship in seven months from now you must sit the Level 3 Chinese competency test. But we sent you an e-mail, didn’t you receive it?”
“I guess I didn’t realise what’s going on. Have I missed much?”
I had missed two chapters, the instrution of PinYin and some basic vocab, but thankfully my friend in Strasbourg had taught me that the year before. So I could focus on meeting my teacher and classmates. If I say it like it’s a big thing that requires effort, that’s because for me it is and it does. I am not very sociable and the worst situation anyone can put me in is a room full of people all of whom I have to meet. But I guess I did well. After some time. Acouple of months maybe. Or trimesters. One or two people at a time I can do. More, weeeell…
National Cheng Kung University is one of the top Universities in Taiwan. Their Chinese Language Center did live up to my expectations. Good schedule, fairly nice facilities, satisfying extracurricular activities and the most important: Super-helpful staff. From day one, the office staff helped me immensely with all the mafan (麻煩 – irritating/troublesome – I know I’m cheating, I didn’t learn that until much later) procedures, like opening a bank account, applying for my arc etc – they even offered to go with me to the bank. And when it comes to talking about the teachers, I have no words that can describe how polite, friendly, patient, funny and hardworking they are. I studied for three trimesters and on every trimester we had a different teacher. Plus the two I met during my one-on-one classes, that’s five. Each of them was special in their own way and I’m glad I met them all. They made the strenuous and often tedious job of learnng Chinese much MUCH more bearable.
CLASSES were never boring. We studied grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation, and the various games the teachers came up with made the learning process both fun and effective. Elective classes included pronunciation, grammar, daily vocabulary, tai chi, Chinese calligraphy etc. There was an excursion twice every trimester. Those were the best. Well organized and interesting, they took us to all the famous sights of Tainan and further (the visit to the Taiwanese Indigenous Cultures Park was my personal favorite). Last but not least, every trimester the Language Center held a performance: a theater play, a singing competition, a poetry reading competition (all of it in Chinese, yes) plus several other activities if there was Chinese celebration coming up (making dumplings, writing Chinese couplets, participating in the city’s dragonboat competition etc.).
HOWEVER! Not everything was dreamy. Far from. Remember the scholarship part I mentioned above? A typical trimester for the normal group went like this: Two hours of class every day, plus at least five hours of elective classes every week, for eleven weeks. Between trimesters there was a two-week break, plus any holidays the Chinese calendar recognizes (Nope. Christmas ain’t in it. Neither is Easter.) Three hours of class every day for 13 weeks with a one-week break in between trimesters. Electives were optional since our obligatory three-hour class covered the fifteen hours of mandatory class per week the scholarship demanded. Any electives were for us charged extra. Another difference was that while a normal group had to finish approximately one book chapter each week, we had to finish two and a half, sometimes three. To sum up, by May we had begun book 4. That’s just plain crazy. Challenging yes, but crazy. I didn’t mind the workload, that was what I was there for, but in order to go through the predetermined coursework there wasn’t enough time for us to familiarize ourselves with the vocabulary we learned.
Of course that wasn’t up to the Unversity or the staff. They did all they could to make things easier for us. And I know for a fact that the normal groups work wonderfully and there were no disappointed students. So the bottomline is: studying in Cheng Kung Da Xue was an amazing experience, but if I were to do it again, I wouldn’t go with the aid of the scholarship. But, for those who do need it, I still recommend the experience. Just prepare yourselves for some hard work.
For more info on the scholarships visit the Taiwanese Ministry of Education Website. My scholarship was Huayu Enrichment Scholarship, while my classmate’s who were pursuing a degree were under a different sholarship which required from them to obtain a Chinese language diploma of lower level than mine. So make sure you do your homework before you make any decisions.
P.S. I have to admit: it is immensly gratifying to notice the progress you have every week, when after week one, when you can’t even get food with all the damned doodles they have for words, you gradually make out more and more of what goes on around you. And in the end, when I arrived at the airport of Athens and found myself between a group of Greeks and a group of Chinese tourists, I could understand them both. I felt tired but proud.