The broad goal of the Taiwan-USA scholarship is to create friendships between American and Taiwanese students. However, our weekly routine involves both rigorous Chinese study at National Cheng Kung University and oftentimes weekend excursions to destinations such as Taipei, a Buddhist Monastery, or host family.
As you can see from last week’s schedule, we’re kept pretty busy. I’m in the fourth level of Mandarin, 丁班, which meets daily from 10-12. In addition to our standard class, on Monday mornings we have two hours of conversation class, while Tuesday through Thursday we have one-on-one 一對一 tutoring.
My typical day starts by waking up on the extremely thin scholarship-provided “mattress”. Despite initial restless days, I have actually gotten used to the wooden bed! On days when we have vocabulary quizzes (roughly 3 per week), I wake up extra early to enjoy mango as a preliminary breakfast while I finish cramming.
Continuing my morning ritual, I wait for the elevator from the 10th floor to visit Mr. Dan Bing Man, who waits for us next to the dormitory on the way to campus. He’s practically a celebrity among us 外國人, and known for making the best 蛋餅 egg pancakes in town.
One-on-one 一對一 tutoring is perhaps my favorite part of the TUSA experience. Over the course of one-hour I get drilled relentlessly on my writing, tones, and pronunciation. It can be brutal at times, but my pronunciation is definitely improving. Immediately following my 一對一 tutoring is my main Chinese class. Our current lesson is all about 女強人, or feminists, but I managed to capture my teacher, Liu 老師, casually teaching us how to count to one-trillion.
My class is pretty close to one-another; we make it a point to eat together nearly every day. Our usual route takes us south through the NCKU campus. On any given day we see several of the (unofficial) NCKU dogs, which are taken care of by the students.
One thing I think is pretty awesome about the campus here is that the vast majority of bicycles are left unlocked. Culturally speaking, there seems to be a nice sense of trust – which serves a stark contrast to my campus back home where even U-locks can’t keep the thieves away.
After a ten minute walk we arrive to 育樂街, or as we call it, food street. Inexpensive restaurants line the street – the average meal is about 60 NT (a little under $2 USD).
My meal for the day was a delicious chicken teriyaki rice bowl for 55 NT, or $1.75 USD.
On most weekdays following lunch, I attend cultural classes. The subjects vary widely from Western vs Eastern philosophy to Chinese opera. I signed up for nearly every available class and do not regret it. One of my favorites was our Chinese brush painting class, taught by Dr. Zhang, who did some work for the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
A large portion of the TUSA experience is also our 語言交換 language exchange partners. My partner’s English name is Nolan, and he is a pretty cool guy. We meet up several times weekly, oftentimes riding around on his scooter to some of Tainan’s tastiest restaurants and dessert shops. One of the most interesting desserts so far was 杏仁豆腐, or apricot flavored tofu. It comes on top of a pile of shaved ice, and we chose to have it with red bean, green bean, and a type of barley with a sort of ‘saucy milk’ on top. Perfect in the Taiwanese summer heat.
Detailing an entire day on the TUSA program is nearly impossible; these are just some of the items commonly on my daily schedule. It’s definitely an amazing program that is introducing me to like-minded people and helping my Mandarin improve daily. Without a doubt I am very fortunate to have received this amazing opportunity, and am making a point to enjoy every day in NCKU’s beautiful campus.