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Scott Wilbur - B.A. in Regional & Comparative Studies with Concentration in World, Georgetown University; a Master’s student of Political Science, National Taiwan University; 2007 MOE Huayu Enhancement Scholarship and 2008 Taiwan Scholarship recipient

I first came to Taiwan to study Chinese last summer. I chose Taiwan in part because the Chinese here is written with traditional characters, which contain the complete strokes of the original Chinese pictographs. Simplified characters, while less complicated to read and write, often lack certain strokes that tell the true essence of the characters’ meaning.

I also chose Taiwan because of its friendly people, modern society, and healthy environment. The Taiwanese people are very kind to foreigners, and will eagerly strike up conversations, give directions, and offer traditional Taiwanese foods and tea to those who are trying to learn their language. Clean, efficient, and inexpensive public transportation in the form of buses, subways, trains, and a new bullet train make commuting around the island very easy, and the variety of shopping options means that one can always find what he is looking for. Finally, Taiwan has fresh seasonal produce as well as pristine natural scenery. As I was studying Chinese and finding out more about Taiwan, I began to sense the importance of cross-strait relations for both Asia and the world. 2008 has also been an election year here, and in the run-up to the legislative and presidential elections I had a firsthand look at democracy on Taiwan. These two factors made me want to learn more about Taiwan’s political scene, so this March I applied to National Taiwan University and the Taiwan Scholarship.

In my first semester at NTU, I am taking courses on cross-strait relations, Taiwan’s political history, and the methodology of mainland China studies. Every week I am reading books, writing papers, and giving oral reports in Chinese. The classes are seminars and have around fifteen to twenty students each. My classmates are from Taiwan, America, England, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Korea, Japan, and China.
The Taiwan Scholarship has made it possible for me study cross-strait relations and Taiwanese democracy in this academically-challenging and international setting. NTU also has libraries with excellent research resources and supports a wide array of campus activities and clubs. So I am getting enjoyment along with my education!

Two years from now, once I have obtained my master’s degree, I will be able to work anywhere Chinese is spoken. Because Taiwanese and Chinese businesses have offices around the world, this means that I will be able to work wherever I want! But I may end up staying here. Taiwan is a wonderful place, and it never stops growing on me.

Stephan A. van der Mersch –B.A. in Diplomacy and World Affairs, Occidental College; an MBA student of National Chengchi University; 2006 Taiwan Scholarship Recipient

Imagine jungle mountains wreathed in mist, and stepping off your motorcycle to soak in a wild hot spring nestled within them. Imagine jumping out of the hot spring to chase away the macaques who want your lunch. Imagine standing on a mountain so high the jungle is lost under clouds. Imagine those clouds stretching over the Pacific into an endless suspended sea as the rising sun lights them up red and gold and every shade between. Imagine the powerful Pacific winds under those clouds holding up your body as you lean over an ocean cliff-face, the setting sun lighting those same clouds, now from below, purple and pink.

Imagine inhaling the incense smoke as you approach a Daoist temple that is centuries old. Imagine slipping off your sandals as you step into a brand new Buddhist temple. Imagine hearing seated monks chanting below golden statues standing five stories tall. Imagine a healing vegetarian meal at the monastery canteen. Imagine joining your old neighbors in the street on a hot summer evening to watch the puppet shows or old Hong Kong kung fu movies put on by the temple next door for one of the gods’ birthdays. Imagine an emergency visit to the temple of Confucius when you didn’t prepare enough for your next Chinese quiz.

Imagine a thousand fruits you’ve never eaten before, and another thousand vegetables, each cooked a thousand different ways. Imagine tofu dried, liquid, fried, jelled, fermented (rotten), boiled... Imagine rock-grilled Hakka mountain boar with scallions. Imagine bitter melon with salty duck egg yolks. Imagine papaya milk. Or mango milk. Or avocado milk. Or all three mixed together. Imagine picking up that (or milk tea with gooey, sweet tapioca balls at the bottom) at a street stand without even getting off your motorcycle. Imagine mango shaved ice cooling you to your soul on a blistering hot day. Imagine fried squid balls (no, not the donut holes you were expecting) at a lively night market, followed by salt-grilled shrimp, followed by a hot filling bowl of seafood rice porridge. Imagine becoming an expert in the nuances of rice porridge because it really is that good (at least the Taiwanese rendition).

Imagine your delight as you find yourself suddenly understanding the string of Chinese words coming out of a television news announcer’s mouth. Imagine the delight of a Taiwanese family when they run into the first foreigner they’ve met with whom they can speak. Or your barber’s delight. Or the papaya milk lady’s delight. They’re basically all delighted to meet a foreigner. Imagine writing beautiful characters from left to right, right to left or top to bottom. Imagine the crazy grid of strokes of a Chinese newspaper coalescing into meaning. Imagine being able to dissect the age-old visual etymology and wisdom embedded in traditional Chinese characters, whether they be on an instant message from your friend or faded outlines long ago carved into a windworn rock.

Imagine feasting on 14-course wedding banquets under a tent taking up the whole street (make sure not get full by the third course) and somehow getting convinced to take your turn on the mobile karaoke wagon. Imagine some of the best clubs in Asia filled with endearingly friendly, unpretentious people. Imagine sharing a big hotpot meal with your Taiwanese friends. Imagine the crazy KTV (Karaoke + TV) night that follows that. Imagine running away from really, really big fireworks that you are shooting off over the rice paddies with your friends on the Chinese New Year (to scare off the Nian monster, of course). Imagine receiving red envelopes from your friends’ parents and grandparents that night. Imagine your embarrassment when you discover how much money they stuffed in there, and also the love and warmth you feel from having found a family that takes you as one of their own.

That is some of what I remember when I think of the two years I spent in Taiwan—friends and memories who will dance in my heart until it stops beating.

Stephanie Lynn Karlik - B.A. in International Studies and Spanish, Pepperdine University; Master in International Business from National Taiwan University; 2005 Taiwan Scholarship Recipient

Studying in Taiwan for three years was truly the experience of a lifetime for me. I chose Taiwan because of my desire to solidify my Mandarin while living in a comfortable yet challenging environment. Pursuing Chinese studies in Taiwan has a number of advantages. First of all, the teaching quality in Taiwan is extremely high. Most teachers have many years of experience in teaching Chinese to foreigners and can accommodate for both simplified and traditional characters. Additionally, most students are quite serious about their studies and there is a strong academic quality within the classroom. But perhaps most importantly, in Taiwan there are endless opportunities to practice Chinese amongst the local community through language exchange arrangements and everyday interactions.

In terms of pursuing degree studies, Taiwanese universities are among the best in the world. Taking classes alongside Taiwanese students allowed me to gain unique perspectives while having substantive conversations in Chinese related to my field of study. Over the past few years, many American students have gained interest in participating in study abroad programs through American universities that allow them to study in Asia and work on their language abilities. By directly studying at National Taiwan University, I was able to reap all the benefits of a “study abroad” program while bypassing the American university process.

In terms of Taiwanese society and questions of lifestyle, I have found that Taiwanese are some of the friendliest, most hospitable and welcoming hosts in the world. In the three years that I lived there, I met a diverse group of individuals with whom I hope to maintain life-long friendships. It was these friends that showed me all that Taiwan has to offer in terms of sightseeing, culture and cuisine.

Taiwan has a special way of harmoniously blending the old with the new. Even for those living in the internationalized and modern Taipei, traditional aspects of Taiwanese life still prevail. Quaint alleys, Chinese medicine shops, picturesque tea houses and ancient temples still very much make up the landscape of Taiwan. At the same time, for those who love nature, the majestic mountains, pristine waters, natural hot springs and breathtaking sunsets to be found all over the island offer a nice retreat from student life. For hobbyists, Taiwanese have a wide range of interests and a number of sub-cultures exist beneath the surface of mainstream Taiwanese society. Having studied kung fu, calligraphy and salsa dancing before, I quickly sought out activities in those arenas and was also greatly interested in the up- and -coming contemporary art scene.

Another positive aspect of living in Taiwan is its food culture. Being passionate about cuisine myself, it is refreshing to be immersed in a society in which food and everything related to it are of the utmost importance. Taiwanese friends of mine used to joke that Taiwanese people would walk/drive/fly to any length for good food. This was definitely the case amongst the people I came across. Bustling night markets, makeshift roadside stands, inconspicuous food huts and ubiquitous boba tea shops offer some of the world’s freshest and most exotic fare to the world’s most discerning palates.

Given all of the experiences I had in Taiwan, whether it was related to Chinese studies, graduate studies, society, culture or cuisine, I have absolutely no regrets about my decision to study there. It was these experiences, the good and the bad, that helped shape me into a more international individual with greater perspective on the world. After returning back to the States, I have found that this works to my advantage in many ways. People are generally curious to know more about Taiwan and East Asia. By sharing my experiences, I am able to act as somewhat of a liaison between the cultures, a role I gladly accept.