National Cheng Chi University Exchange Report. Lorenzo Cecutti

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1 National Cheng Chi University Exchange Report Lorenzo Cecutti

2 Part 1 - Monthly Journal Log September With excitement and trepidation I finally arrived in Taiwan, Taoyuan airport which is about 1 hour bus drive from the main city Taipei. My super friendly buddies picked me up at the airport so even if I had never had a chance to visit Taiwan before I did not need to worry about arranging the transport from the airport. Adapting to the ihouse (the residence reserved mostly for exchange and international students) was not at all a big deal. The rooms are very clean and a lot more spacious than those usually found in the HKUST with private toilet and cleaning service every two weeks. Some of my friends rented outside which sometimes can turn out to be a cheaper but not very hassle free arrangement. Some of them preferred that option because they managed to find apartments closer to the city center as they enjoyed going out at night with friends. Very few decided to stay in the local student residents probably because they were not up to the standards of many. However on the positive side they are really cheap and I personally might have decided to stay there where I given a chance to come back to NCCU, because I would have liked to interact more with the local students, however I had to admit it was quite easy to make friends around the university as everyone is very eager to practice English and eventually some even help me out with my Chinese! All I needed to buy was readily available in a Welcome shop nearby my residence and to be absolutely honest people in Taiwan are extremely friendly and available to help even if I managed to get myself lost, which happened a couple of times. Apart from these essential things I spent the first month of my stay in NCCU finalizing my course selection and enrolling in the Chinese course. This is a procedure slightly different from what we are used to in HKUST, but it is not hard to get used to and your buddies will be very happy to explain it to you, overall it s a randomized selection process that takes away the pressure and stress of clicking the enroll button at the right time and instead focuses on selecting as many courses are you want and then hopefully getting automatically enrolled into some of them. The last weeks of September, and actually a big part of my life in NCCU was spent with the social clubs. These are very similar to clubs in HKUST except that are slightly more inclusive even with the international and exchange community in the school. I decided to join the skateboard club as I played skateboard 8 years before and I did not touched it since, so I thought It would be fun to try it out again, as it turned out it was quite a blast and a good chance to make many friends. The way you can sign up to many clubs and societies is by attending the society and clubs fair around the second last week of September. You will definitely know when this is happening because the whole school will be filled with boots and stages for mini performances; just like HKUST.

3 October During October I joined several organized trips around Taiwan. Actually my main objective during this exchange was to 1) learn and practice more my Chinese and as well learn about the culture in Taiwan and 2) explore the beautiful sceneries and take a break from HK s fast paced and stressful environment. Therefore I really enjoyed one of my trips in the county of Miaoli, exactly in the north west of the island and a very special place with a strong Hakka minority. This type of mini / weekend trips are organized by the student societies in NCCU. There are mainly two of these societies and I suggest joining both of their trips as they make it really convenient and fun to visit places that otherwise you would have little chance to visit. Miaoli county was very beautiful and it reminded me a lot of the place where I come from, a small countryside town with lots of natural wonders just waiting around the corner. It is not frequently visited by tourist and therefore it feels very pristine. A place definitely worth visiting if you also look forward relaxation in your exchange. Towards the end of this month also my parents came to visit me in Taiwan, it was a really good trip for them who had previously visited also Hong Kong. This was a good time for them to visit both because the temperature was mild (not too hot and not too cold) and because academically it is still the honeymoon period there. We mostly explored Taipei and from the visit with them I realized that the city itself has many places that are worth visiting. One superficially may think that it is really easy to see the whole of Taipei in a couple of days, but I think to really appreciate this city it actually takes a few tours. From the almost all similar looking streets to the night market differences and special foods, I think there is really no other place like Taipei city in the world. One special Night market that I really loved was right next to the university at GongGuan,

4 there they had many good street foods and the absolute local favorite bubble tea, if you get a chance you should really try it, but be mindful; the queue there can take quite a long time. November During November a few things happened, and they all involved my skateboard club. During this period we had a chance to skate nearby the shopping area of the Taipei 101 for Halloween. Indeed a great number of youngsters meet there and dress up. Mostly were all scares but a few curios also came around and since around the corner some of the most cool clubs in Taipei were also throwing Halloween parties it is quite a place to see because this happened at the beginning of November my parents had a chance to see it too. The second, less happy, thing that involved my club was that one member injured himself while skating. This is an important point actually because I got to see the hospital nearby our university called WanFang hospital. Actually the ambulance came really quickly, and the service was really good, according to my friend. It wasn t something very serious, but the hospital staff still paid quite a lot of attention and they were very efficient. The whole episode was a good reminder to not forget to be safe even on exchange, it is important to take calculated risks and the skate club learned that the hard way unfortunately. Most of the rest of November was a busy period because of midterms and projects. Most of my exchange friends actually took the time in this month to travel around Taiwan since the weather is still good. I personally decided to devote myself more to my first objective and find more local friends to engage in language exchange. Although most of the Taiwanese students you will come across while on exchange in NCCU are extremely friendly and eager to meet with foreigners it does not seem to be the case when it comes to speaking mandarin with these. It is actually easy to understand because many treasure the possibility to speak English and unless you are quite

5 proficient at mandarin then it is more of a nuisance to talk to you (foreigner). However I still found a couple of really friendly locals with who I toured night markets and had coffee breaks to speak and improve my Chinese. December Although it is really cliché to state this, December arrived too soon. And for every other exchange student this was also the case. Personally I had to leave early to spend Christmas with my parents and girlfriend, however the semester lasts much more than the 24 th or 25 th of December, indeed classes mostly end around mid-january. Overall during this period I had a chance to visit another beautiful area of Taiwan which is Hualien county. It is one of the most beautiful spots of this island, and while many of my friends visited it earlier than I did, I personally waited to go with one of the student societies organizing this trip. Indeed I also suggest either renting a car or going with a tour group because one of the best spots in Hualien, which is the Taroko natural park, can be visited mostly only by car or bus. Taiwan is full with local minorities and almost every county has some, but Hualien has one of the biggest of all, the Amis. Once you get to know more about these minorities you realize that they are very similar in cultural habits to American Indians more than Han Chinese. Yet they manage to live quite well together in harmony. There are different social issues of course to be faced when talking about the relationship between minorities and the Han population in Taiwan, but if you are more interested in exploring those there is actually a course offered by the university and you can take it as well, Introduction to Taiwanese History and Culture, I enjoyed it a lot and I think you would too. Part 2 General Exchange Information 1) Visa Procedures Depending of course on the passport origin and type the visa procedures are different. Being a European Union citizen I was entitled to a 90 days visa free stay as long as I show evidence of

6 having bought a fly outwards ticket at the border. Technically I could have came back once to HK while staying in Taiwan and I would have not even needed a visa. However since I wanted to visit mostly only Taiwan during my stay there I bought a single entry visa at the embassy in HK. The procedure take one working day and the visa cost for me was 400 HKD. Once in Taiwan I had to renew it anyway after 90 days from my entry and for that I went to the Immigration Office in Ximending. However more information will be given to you by the school when the time comes. 2) Orientation Activities - International Services & Activities Orientation begins earlier and it is generally compulsory to addend. I suggest actually to attend it because there you can also sign up for the trips and events with two of the local societies that organize trips and activities for the exchange and international students. 3) Money Withdrawal As long as you have a Credit Union bank account in Hong Kong (like Hang Seng bank) you can easily withdraw money with your ATM card also in Taiwan for a small fee (for me it was around 15 HKD). I was quite worried about this point and asked how easy it would be to instead open a bank account in Taiwan, but honestly it is not really easy being an exchange student. 4) Accommodations There are three choices of accommodation unless you have relatives in Taipei city. The first and my suggested one is to apply for the ihouse. This is the usual option for exchange students but you better ask the school to keep you informed if you are interested in this option because places tend to get taken relatively quickly. In there you can either rent a double or single room according to your preference. I rented the double and shared my room with another exchange student, we were both shocked (in a good way) to know that room service includes room cleaning every two weeks. Another option is to instead live in the local student dormitories. This is usually a 4 people room and although some of my friends who wanted to get in touch with more locals they chose this option what really happens is that international students tend to be grouped together in rooms or entire floors. On the good side it is a really cheap alternative. The third option is to rent outside. I honestly do not have much experience with this, but usually people will organize exchange facebook groups and ask around for roommates. If this is your piece of cake then just stay tuned one or two month before your exchange begins. 5) Courses Registration Course registration goes through an online system like for HKUST, but the similarities stop there. Indeed while in HKUST the course allocation is based on seniority and who has a faster trigger finger (I swear sometimes I got waitlisted for courses just because I clicked a millisecond later than others) meaning that students in their 3 rd year choose courses before 2 nd years and so on,

7 in NCCU everyone chooses the courses they would like to be enrolled in and then they are randomly assigned the courses. This goes on for 2 periods and if it is not enough you can still manually enroll or drop classes by talking to the professors. It is really easy and for exchange students even more so. 6) Teaching & Assessment Methods To be fully honest I did not enjoy classes in Taipei as much as I do in HKUST. I think it could be due to the fact that I did not pay as much effort or attention given that I was focused on other things, but generally everyone has the impression that in the classes reserved for exchange students the professors are not as motivated. This is probably because students themselves are not as motivated as well so if you look for an exchange semester that is more academically stimulating I suggest joining the classes in which also local students can join. The only drawback of that is that those classes (at least for the fall semester) end in late January. 7) Cost/Expenses Cost of living in Taiwan is less expensive than Hong Kong. I will breakdown all costs here: ihouse accommodation for 5 months (approx NTD = HKD) Daily food expenses for one day (approx. 200 to 400 NTD = 50 to 100 HKD) Extras for one month (including transportation) (approx NTD = 1000 HKD) Therefore everything included (except flight ticket) is about 6000 HKD per month. Some of my friends also went clubbing and there fares vary depending on frequency and quantity of alcoholic beverages consumed. However my roommate usually spent 8000 NTD (2000 HKD) more on extras just for clubbing for month. 8) Social Clubs & Networking Opportunities I personally found this part the most exciting about my exchange experience. I joined the skateboard club and there made lots of friends. Some of these eventually became language buddies with me teaching me mandarin and practicing English conversation. I highly suggest getting involved with the clubs since they are very inclusive of international and exchange students. 9) Health & Safety I had the unfortunate experience of taking a friend to the hospital with the ambulance in Taipei. However unfortunate I have to admit that the ambulance arrived within less than 3 minutes from calling, which is honestly really quick timing. Also everyone was very professional and helped my friend immediately and efficiently.

8 For the insurance details you won t have to worry as your exchange coordinators in NCCU will help you in case you find yourself at the hospital. One note of caution is however important, think about the possible worst outcome of every decision or situation you put yourself in and then decide if it s worth maybe wasting your exchange experience (or more) over. 10) Transportation NCCU is relatively further away from the center and to get to the closest MRT (metro) station you will need to take a 5 minutes bus. Said so it is really similar to HKUST in the sense that it will take you around 45 minutes to get to the city center, for most of us this is a pretty short time. An alternative way to get around Taipei which I personally loved is to bike around. Taipei municipality offers around 3000 bikes for people with the metro card to borrow for a small fee, and within 30 minutes even for free. Once in Taiwan ask your buddies to help you set up your metro card to be able to borrow the bikes. 11) Climate Generally the weather in Taiwan is rainy and this is particularly the case around NCCU so definitely bring an umbrella. Typhoons are a problem as much as they are in Hong Kong and the typhoon season is the same as here. 12) Communication There is a telephone shop nearby NCCU and the ihouse that sells also sim cards that don t need any contract but for about 200 or 300 NTD per month allow you to have about 2 gigabytes of internet traffic too. Part 3 Items to bring Umbrella Camera / cellphone Adaptors Notepad and pen

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