Last updated on July 4th, 2020
Today, I’m excited to continue my 2014 story of being an exchange student in Taiwan, easily one of the best experiences I have ever had in life (read Traveling Is Living). There are many different aspects of this year that stick out to me, and I would like to go through each of them; these include the student experience (which is where we’ll spend most of our time today), the laid-back lifestyle & freedom to explore, the public transportation, the healthcare system, the food, and last but certainly not least, the people (read 4 Ways How to Study Abroad: Why This Is Absolutely Important).
The Student Experience
Chung (correct pinyin is technically Zhong, but this is how they spell it) Yuan Christian University (CYCU) is where I spent my exchange student program. I could not be happier with my decision to return to the same university I spent 3 weeks at the year prior. I spent a couple of months rooming with 2 Taiwanese students at Hsin Shih dormitory, and they were really kind & hospitable; I was shown around many of the local spots I did not already know about in Zhong Yuan, which is the local area where CYCU is located inside the city of Zhongli. After a couple of months, space opened up in the dorm room I was waiting on, so I moved on over to what would be my home until returning back to America the following January; my roommates here, SN (Kyrgyzstan) & Dolgion (Mongolia), were people I already knew from the previous year, but they, along with several others in the surrounding dorms, instantly became some of my best friends in the whole world.
As a student, I didn’t know what to really expect in any of my classes, so I just wanted to approach it with an open mind as I knew the styles would contrast with some of what I had been used to in America. While there are discussion-based classes and presentations in the US, exams are typically the focal point as they want to hammer home concepts, know you understand the process, and prepare you for more formal exams, such as the CPA, CMA, etc. I found the classes I took at CYCU to be much more leaning towards discussion and presentations (focusing on the soft skills necessary for life), which I surprisingly really enjoyed as it got me out of my shell more so than at any other time in the classroom.
I discussed the great Dr. Jimmy Lee in Part 1 of this article, and he remains one of my favorite professors of all-time; the life lessons he taught will always hold great meaning to me. However, most of my professors at CYCU were outstanding, including but not limited to Dr. Gary Chin (I knew him from the previous year), Dr. Chandler Chu (one of the absolute nicest people I have ever met), Dr. Francis Diaz (also happy to be able to call him my friend), and Dr. Stan Lin (also a really nice guy; I actually met my friend Michael, the only other American who went to CYCU during my tenure, in this class).
I remember my first day in Dr. Chin’s class; we had the usual introductions, but once we started our daily discussion for the class regarding world topics (including the very sensitive Taiwan-China relations), a microphone was handed to me. This caught me off-guard, but I surprisingly handled being put on the spot very well, and we had some great banter back-and-forth between a lot of individuals in class.
I had a lot of great professors in the US, but outside of the great Dr. Kenny Jih, I did not really have a personal relationship with any of them outside of the classroom as they generally liked to keep boundaries; it’s just kind of the way it is at American universities, with some exceptions. One thing I loved about classes in Taiwan was how you could really form strong bonds with your professors and have lifelong contacts. For example, Dr. Jih invited my wife & I over for dinner one night back before I moved away from Tennessee.
While living in Taiwan, Dr. Chin invited me and a classmate over to make green onion pancakes & have a nice, quiet dinner. Dr. Diaz (or as I call him outside of the classroom, Francis) would often join our ever-growing circle for BBQs, drinks, and just to hang out with the rest of the guys. Dr. Chu not only offered to have his father help me with my Chinese as he knew I was trying to learn (which I regret not making the time to do that; my schedule was pretty full, but it would have been another good experience), but he also had a nice, long Skype interview with me back when I was doing a research paper on Taiwan-China Relations. The point is not only are all of the people listed above great professors, but they are simply great human beings who see the individuals in their classrooms as more than students, and I appreciate that.
Now that I’ve given you an idea of what student life was like for me in Taiwan, I’d like to briefly discuss how laid-back the lifestyle felt. Taiwan is not only one of the safest countries in the world, but there is so much to do, and you can go at your own pace. Whether it’s hiking through mountains with impeccable scenery, strolling through the drool-inducing night markets, or taking day trips to one of the major cities (i.e. Taipei, Taichung, Kaohsiung, Tainan), Taiwan affords you the ability to be spontaneous.
No matter what you decide to do, I guarantee you will not feel bored; the moments you experience will be cherished forevermore. Some of my best days in Taiwan were completely unplanned; I remember taking countless day trips on a whim to Taipei via bus or train, which were both super convenient, and just having the best time finding new places and meeting new people.
Speaking of convenience, Taiwan has one of the absolute best and most affordable public transportation systems in the entire world. In Taipei, they have a super convenient subway system called the MRT; think of New York City’s system and what the complete opposite of that would be. The MRT stations are kept spotless; the dirty & smelly subway stations you can find in the few places in the US that have them are nowhere to be found in Taiwan.
Throughout Taiwan, there are cheap bus & train options, which are widely available. The most luxurious way of traveling in Taiwan is via the High-Speed Rail (HSR), which drastically cuts down the time between destinations. The US seriously needs to catch up to Asia when it comes to public transportation.
Moving on to healthcare, I feel like a broken record, but the US needs to send some advisors to Taiwan to take some lessons. When it comes to affordability, it is much cheaper for me to be seen with 0 health insurance in Taiwan than it is for me in America, whether I get sick or not. Outside of the high monthly premiums, I still have to pay an arm-and-a-leg for a simple visit.
With Taiwan’s health insurance, the cost for visits is so minuscule, you will be shocked. In terms of availability, I have always been able to get seen easily and usually fairly quickly; sometimes, there is a bit of a wait on busier days, however. For quality, the doctors are very intelligent and do a great job, from my experience.
The one knock I have is their demeanor towards antibiotics as it is really difficult to get something strong enough to kill hard-to-vanquish bacteria. They are right, however, in that too many antibiotics are bad for your immune system, but there still needs to be more of a balance there I feel.
Despite that one issue, their healthcare system reigns supreme over the vast majority of others in the world today.
Next, I can’t talk about Taiwan without mentioning the food, and there sure is a lot of it in this foodies’ destination. I will have plenty of future blog posts dedicated to Taiwanese food in the future, but the quality, selection, and value of food in Taiwan is incredibly great. Whether you’re in the mood for dumplings, soup dumplings, pork buns, beef noodle soup, hot pot, BBQ (not southern BBQ), Taiwanese fried chicken, or a host of other delicious treats, I can promise you this: you will not be disappointed or go hungry!
We have reached our last topic for the day, the people, and I can’t begin this section without mentioning the greatest person I met during my 2014 exchange program, a young woman by the name of Mora. We would eventually marry a couple of years later in Taiwan; she has been living with me in America for almost three years now. We have had so many adventures throughout the years, and I wouldn’t have wanted to spend those with anybody else. Cheers, b!
My circle grew larger as the weeks and months flew by, and we were as diverse of a group of people as you could possibly have; I loved every moment of my time with all of them, and I consider them brothers to this very day.
Besides SN & Dolgion, our group includes people such as Askar (Kyrgyzstan), Chuyen (Vietnam), LJ (Kazakhstan), Stelo (or as I like to call him, Stelio Kontos – the Philippines), Guccie (the Philippines), Francis (the Philippines), Penn (Vietnam), Naveen (India), Chad (Taiwan), Antoine (France), Seany (Taiwan), Siva (India), Heythem (Tunisia), Andre (Indonesia), Maickel (Indonesia), and so many more both in and out (Wayne, Bryant, David, Wilson, Dwight (Taiwan)) of this particular group (apologies if I didn’t mention you; feel free to comment or message me on social media & tell me I’m a disgrace lol).
I could have never imagined meeting so many genuine people from a variety of different backgrounds and actually become inseparable. Regardless of where life takes us, I know I can always count on them for anything.
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