In September 2018, I came to Taiwan as a Fulbright master’s student to complete my master’s degree in International Studies at National Chengchi University (NCCU). Before coming to Taiwan, I had earned my bachelor’s degree studying International Studies, Chinese studies, and Mandarin at West Virginia University. Therefore, due to my educational background and an exchange semester studying Mandarin in Qingdao, China, I felt that moving to Taiwan to pursue a master’s degree was the next logical step. However, despite my preconceived notions and prior educational experiences abroad, my time in Taiwan exceeded all of my expectations.
Before diving into my education experiences in Taiwan, there are several other benefits to note that I discovered after I had moved to Taipei. Taipei is a bustling city filled with people from all around the world. Before coming to Taiwan, I was quite nervous given that I knew no one there. However, after spending just a few days in the city, I was able to see how warm and welcoming the Taiwanese people are. They are always willing to lend a helping hand or spark a conversation with a random stranger. Prior to meeting anyone from Fulbright or my program at NCCU, I felt comfortable to explore the city with such warm, helpful people. Because of this reason, it was quite easy to make friends during my first year. Secondly, one of my first eye-opening experiences in Taipei was the Mass Rapid Transit, or MRT. With limited to no forms of public transportation in rural America, being able to take advantage of Taipei’s public transportation system was a tremendous advantage. In Taipei, not only is public transportation conveniently accessible all around the city, but it is also extremely reliable.
Growing up on a farm in rural West Virginia may have allowed for fresh, delicious food at the snap of a finger, however, sampling different cuisines was limited. Therefore, one of my favorite parts of living in Taipei was the variety of quick and readily-available food. Even though switching to a completely different diet is never easy, Taiwanese food was very easy to become accustomed to. From delicious xiaolongbao to Taiwan’s famous beef noodle soup, there is something for anyone to try. Also, as previously stated, living in a major metropolitan city provides an ample amount of alternative dining options, with some of my favorite including Turkish, Indian, and many vegan and vegetarian options. Also, there are so many incredible cafes in Taipei. The wide variety of teas, smoothies, coffees, and other drinks is yet another thing that I already miss since returning home to the United States. The options in Taiwan are plentiful, and being from a rural area in the U.S., it was a great change of pace.
Lastly, another benefit of Taipei’s public transportation system is traveling. Once I had settled into my classes and life in a new country, I was able to explore more of what Taipei had to offer. I discovered that Taipei has exceptional hiking trails that stretch all over the county and range from beginner to expert level. One of the most important trails to hike is Elephant Mountain in Xinyi district. It’s a right of passage for anyone living in Taipei, and allows for incredible views of Taipei 101 during sunset. The city also has wonderful museums, such as the National Palace Museum, where one can find an extensive collection of Chinese artifacts. Other premier locations to travel to in Taipei include Beitou Hot Springs, Tamsui, and Fulong Beach. The beauty of Taipei is that one minute you can be in the city center strolling through some of Taipei’s famous night markets, and another minute you can be secluded in nature. To me, this is what makes Taipei such a wonderful city in which to live or visit.
Fortunately, traveling to other parts of Taiwan is also easily accessible. During my first semester, I was able to attend a school-led trip to the east coast in Hualien County. During this trip, I was able to visit Hualien Dongdamen Night Market, Qixingtan Beach, and the most famous attraction in Hualien, Taroko National Park. During my spring semester, I was able to travel to the south of Taiwan with one of my Taiwanese friends to stay with her and her family for the Tomb Sweeping holiday. During this time, I was able to explore Chiayi County with a local. I was able to try some Chiayi’s famous chicken rice, as well as explore some of the best sights that Chiayi has to offer. Fortunately, Kaohsiung, another major city in Taiwan, is just a short train ride away from Chiayi. Some famous sights to see include the Tiger and Dragon Pagodas, Fo Guang Shan Temple and Buddha Memorial Center, and Liuhe Night Market.
Regardless of the eye-opening trips I had taken during my first year in Taiwan, my favorite experience was during my parents visit. During the Lunar New Year holiday break, my parents were able to travel to Taiwan and spend a week with me in Taipei. Even though it was busy and hectic, this trip was especially meaningful to me. Of all the times that I have been abroad, this was the first time I was able to experience it with my parents.I think for most children being able to have an international trip with one’s parents is significant. Therefore, showing my parents the beauty of Taiwan was incredibly special. During their time in Taiwan, we were able to see some of the most iconic places in Taipei. We were able to visit the Taipei Zoo, ride the Maokong Gondola, the National Palace Museum, Chiang-Kai Shek Memorial Hall, Elephant Mountain, and some night markets in Shilin, Ximen, and Raohe. We were also able to travel outside of the city to places like Yehliu National Park, Shifen Waterfall, attend the Pingxi Lantern Festival, and take the High Speed Rail down to Taichung to spend the day exploring Sun Moon Lake.
Notwithstanding, my educational experience in Taiwan also allowed me to explore more of myself from an academic perspective. In addition to having had the opportunity to explore many parts of Taiwan and learn more about the culture, I have also had the great opportunity to further learn more about the academic culture in Taiwan. During my time at NCCU, I have worked with many wonderful professors and peers who have helped me grow and open my eyes to new opportunities. To me, one of the most crucial facets of my master’s program in Taiwan was that it allowed me to interact with people from all over the world and gain new perspectives on not only the material we were learning, but also many other aspects of life. Our program has people from almost every continent, and while we all came from different cultures and backgrounds, we always worked together to make sure that everyone felt at home.
In addition to the benefits of participating in an international program, the program also allowed me to specialize in whichever area of emphasis I chose. For example, during my bachelor’s, I focused primarily on issues of national security, however, the flexibility of my program allowed me to deviate into topics which focused more on environmental and economic development. I was also able to utilize courses from other departments and improve my skills in quantitative analysis. Unfortunately, while all of the courses in this program are taught in English, I was able to utilize the university’s free part-time Mandarin courses and one-on-one tutoring. Lastly, another considerable asset with my program was the emphasis put on preparing for one’s master’s thesis. The program provides first-year students the opportunity to utilize their research methods course to work on writing a mock thesis proposal. Because of this course, my fellow classmates and I were able to motivate ourselves to narrow down our topics, approach possible thesis advisors, and prepare for writing our actual thesis proposal.
My first year in Taiwan was an incredible experience that I will take with me into my second and final year. I have been able to make friends from all over the world, and experience both academic and personal growth. Being able to attain a degree abroad has not only given me a better understanding of different education systems around the world, but it also has allowed me to have the wonderful opportunity to exchange thoughts and opinions with my classmates and view things less from a US-centric perspective. Overall, the first year of my Fulbright grant was one of the best experiences of my life. I am thankful that by obtaining this grant I was able to gain a better understanding of Taiwan and the impact it can have on the world. The time I spent, the people I encountered, and the adventures I undertook will help guide me as I look onward towards my future endeavors.
Comments: This reflection sounds solid to me. Love the addition of pictures to go with the piece. I made minor edits for concision and a couple of suggestions for clarity. This reflection could also use a title. After reaching out for that and her updated bio, it should be ready to publish.
Bio: As a 2018-2020 Fulbright Scholar in Taiwan, Morgan Stemler received her MA in International Studies at National Chengchi University. During her studies, her research focused on politics and the environment, with her master’s thesis focusing on how authoritarian regime types perform in the environmental sector. She holds a bachelor’s degree in International Studies and Chinese Studies from West Virginia University.
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