September 7, 2017, marked the day I first began my journey on my Fulbright grant in Taiwan. First and foremost, I wish to give thanks to all the Fulbright Taiwan staff and those who supported me throughout my first year here. The amount of effort and consideration you all put into the program created a safe and sound experience in my new host country. This unique opportunity granted me the opportunity to pursue my master’s degree and the chance to continue my studies in Mandarin Chinese. I cannot express how gratifying it has been living in Taiwan and learning from its residents and about their culture. With that said, I welcome everyone to read my journal and hope to inspire those who also wish to travel and open the world to future participants coming to Taiwan.
My Experience as a Master Student at NCKU
My first year at National Cheng Kung University: Institute of Creative Industries Design has been an enjoyable experience. At first, I was overwhelmed by this unfamiliar environment and the challenges that came with it. I had to absorb a unique educational environment, deal with new professors, and I also had to tackle group and personal projects with my classmates on a regular basis.
Professors, Groupwork, and Selfies
Back in my American university, professors always arrived at class before the course began. However, professors in Taiwan at my institution come into their class minutes after the initial time scheduled. On the syllabus, class starts at 9 am, but usually my professors—as well as my classmates—arrive 30 minutes later, a culture shock I have now grown accustomed to. Regardless, I continue to be punctual when attending all of my courses as well as group meetings, catching my classmates off guard every time.
During my first and second semester, my classmates and I had plenty of pictures taken of us by faculty and teachers’ assistants. Our professors love to engage with us outside of class by using social media. After each course, we receive updates and information about homework and reviews of the previous lesson. On Facebook, we receive notifications of pictures taken of us in class and the activities we performed. The most photos taken are when guest speakers visit and at the end of a semester. In short, my professors never fail to round everyone up for a group picture.
Working on group projects at ICID was a challenging but delightful experience. Whenever a group assignment took place, my group and I would pick a time and a place to meet up to work on the project. Since my days as an undergraduate student, this method of working together has been familiar to me. However, at ICID, the new way of working in groups is by working independently together through Facebook. At first, I was not sure that we could effectively complete any project communicating via Facebook. Also, with the number of cafes Tainan has, I assumed meeting in a location with a more focused atmosphere would be more efficient than working individually at home. However, I realized the hours taken up from class and meeting time with professors does make meeting up face to face together almost impossible. As the semester continued, my groupmates and I eventually met up to talk about projects while also working through it on Facebook as well.
Researching Virtual Reality
My institute at NCKU offers a range of distinctive design, marketing, and research courses. The professors give many creative liberties to the students, giving us a chance to design or research issues of interest. For example, my team and I investigated the topic of Virtual Reality to help elderly citizens in our Interactive Design class. My team and I designed a prototype for the elderly with physical therapy using Virtual Reality technology. It is rare to work with a group of talented and passionate individuals who show interest in the same subject.
Researching topics with my teammates while also partaking in my regular course load added a lot more depth and experience during my first year at ICID. I never foresaw the opportunity to collaborate on exciting topics. To say this was the highlight compared to the rest of my experience in Taiwan so far would be an understatement. During the winter semester, our professor had helped us to enter our research proposal to the "The US-Hong Kong International Aging conference at CUHK." By the end of our winter vacation, we were excited to hear our project was accepted, and we were heading to Hong Kong in May.
Our professor helped us with the resources and aid needed to develop the project further. From then on, we were able to use a virtual reality lab to develop the game idea. The lab space was helpful for us to bring in more participants later in our process. Although we looked forward every day to work on our mini project, the sudden expansion of said project gave us a lot to work outside of our regular course load. We found ourselves leaving our classroom early, heading straight to the lab, and working on the project. Regardless, our blood, sweat, and tears throughout it all was worth the extra time. Overall, I was pleased to have the opportunity to study my topic of interest. However, at the same time, working with my regular coursework, along with the extra load from the personal project, proved to be chaotic and challenging.
Breaking through Self-Expectations and Loneliness
I was shocked to learn that I was going to be the first MA student attending NCKU representing Fulbright. Knowing this, I put myself under a lot of mental pressure. In the beginning, I worried that my classmates would only talk to me to practice English, with no desire to become friends. I also wondered how my classmates would feel being around a person with darker skin.
Outside of my academic life as well, I believed it would be hard for me to make friends in Tainan because I was a foreigner. Last but not least, I felt the pressure of being the “first” Fulbright student representative of my American institution. Overall, my worried mind created an unrealistic impression of how things would be for me. Therefore, I became uncomfortable and scared when I first arrived in Tainan. However, I slowly started to come out of my comfort zone and began warming up to the residents and my environment.
Friends in Taipei
This year, I was NCKU’s first Fulbright student grantee. Naturally, being their “first” student representative from the Fulbright foundation was slightly intimidating for me. However, the school and Fulbright were patient with me and helped me through any problems I faced within my school environment. The heroes and heroines in my story were Dr. Vocke, Ms. Charlie, and all my master’s colleagues living in Taipei. When I felt stressed out and wanted to give up, knowing they were always a phone call and email away relieved my stress and assured me that I was able to continue to make it through.
Nationality and Friendship
Before coming to Taiwan, I was concerned about the future of my social life. I worried most of my Taiwanese classmates just wanted to practice their English with me instead of wanting to forge a bond with me. After a few months living in Tainan, as well as getting to know everyone, my worries decreased. I was grateful to learn that my classmates were interested in getting to know my personality and not just my nationality. My friend and teammate, Irene, told me she was nervous about speaking English with me, just as much as I was nervous speaking Chinese with her. With that, we became good friends, and we helped each other improve our language skills.
I was also concerned that my colleagues would not want to associate with me because of my skin color. Fortunately, this worst-case scenario did not occur, although I do receive uncomfortably long stares from children and their parents every now and then. Overall, the people here at NCKU were happy to accept me in every corner of the community.
What I Learned in Thailand: A Cure for Loneliness
Outside of my class, I tried my best in approaching my loneliness courageously. Before coming to Taiwan, I was nervous about not being able to make friends in Tainan. I soon came to view this as a challenge I could overcome. I have reminded myself of my time spent in Thailand during my junior year of college. That year, I was the only student at my school who attended the abroad program in Thailand. Thus, I applied what I learned in Thailand, which was socializing with people who have similar interests and then branching out from my comfort zone.
First, I met many new friends at the church near my school. My friends, Debbie and Joanna, were the first strangers who welcomed me into their hearts, dorm, and church life. They truly enjoyed my company every time I come by to read the Bible and sing hymns in Chinese and English alongside them. Afterward, we would go to the church cafeteria, and eat lunch and or dinner together. Occasionally, they also invited me to go on minor excursions. Spending time with them since coming to Taiwan has helped me overcome some of the loneliness I experienced.