Monday, July 25, 2011

Taiwan: Summer Fellows 2011-Taipei

My current studies in Taipei marks my first ever study abroad experience. I hope that some of the discoveries I have made during this summer program can help guide students (especially undergraduates) who are keen on studying abroad in Taipei. In my four blog posts, I plan to cover different aspects of my experience; in this post I will introduce the International Chinese Language Program (ICLP) at National Taiwan University, which I am currently attending.

ICLP’s main philosophy is to focus on improving the student’s speaking abilities. During class sessions, instructors refrain from lecturing and instead organize student –led discussions.It is an approach that makes much sense. In language courses at American universities, class sizes tend to be large and professors inevitably focus on reading and writing scores to weigh grades. However, as I have discovered, being able to write and being able to speak are almost two entirely different skills. The Chinese courses at GW armed me with a wide variety of vocabulary. However, in my first week in Taiwan, I found myself having difficulty formulating even a single sentence (such as, “Where is the closest bank?”)

Small class sizes go hand-in-hand with ICLP’s approach. There are three classes in a day, and one of them is a personal, “one-on-one” class. The remaining two “group” classes never have more than four students. I have great relationships with all of my instructors, who understand my strengths as well as my weaknesses. My speaking and listening skills have improved dramatically thus far, despite it only being 4 weeks into the program. I have gotten so much more confident that I can now find the courage to chat with cab drivers.

ICLP students are a mix of undergraduate and graduate students. Most study in the U.S., but are from various institutions across the country. Although prior to my departure I was frequently warned about the “American bubble”—where American study abroad students only befriend each other at the expense of interacting with local students---to me, it has been a rewarding experience befriending my classmates. I have found many like-minded people who are studying subjects related to East Asia, as I am. Many of my graduate student friends have given me valuable future advice.

If I were to address a drawback, it would be that ICLP does not enforce its students to speak Chinese outside of the facilities. There is a language pledge that every student signs, but the pledge is only in effect within the two floors where ICLP is located. Once outside of class (even at lunch time), ICLP students often only speak English. Although I could imagine the additional stresses of a broader language pledge, a part of me is left wondering if I am wasting valuable time to be exposed to a Chinese environment.

Kazu Koyama

BA The George Washington University 2012

International Affairs Major, Regional Concentration: Asia

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