Sunday, June 29, 2014

Maggie in Taiwan

Hello Asia on E Street Blog readers, 

My name is Maggie Wedeman and this summer I am attending the International Chinese Language Program (ICLP) at National Taiwan University on a Sigur Center language fellowship. As a brief introduction, I am a rising junior in the Elliott School and I am double majoring in international affairs (security and Asia concentrations) and Chinese language. During my childhood, my parents’ work often took our family to China and I have lived in China (Taipei, Nanjing, and Kunming) for about three years cumulatively. Having been exposed to China at a young age, I suppose you could say I caught the 'China bug' and I have been making all efforts to study China and the Chinese language since beginning college at GW. Last summer I attended the CET intensive Chinese Language program in Kunming, Yunnan and the quick and vast improvement in my language skill I saw there encouraged me to attend a similar program this summer: ICLP. 

I have now been in Taipei for just over two weeks and in this blog post I would like to share my general impressions of Taipei the city and the ICLP program. 

Having last lived in Taipei as an eight year old in 2002, it has been very interesting to return and experience the city as a twenty-year-old full time student. There are some aspects of the city that have not changed, others were just starting to emerge when I lived here, and some parts of the city are completely new.
This is the ally I lived on in 2002 - nothing has changed, it even still smells the same 
One aspect of Taipei, and Taiwan in general, is that is incredibly forested and green; all surrounding hills and mountains are covered in plants and mosses. Just from looking out my window, you can tell you are in a tropical climate because of how vibrant the plant life is. As a California whose state seems to be in perpetual drought, I find this greenery quite refreshing. However, there is no wonder the forestry is so lush as every day is incredibly hot and humid and the afternoons would not be complete with a quick tropical rain. Before classes began, I had the opportunity to go hike up Yangming Mountain (阳明山)and experience the greenery up close. A very friendly old man offered to lead us on a 40 minute hike to an open green field. It was beautiful to see cool, crystal clear streams flow down the mountainside. I hope that later in my stay, and studies permitting I have the chance to go on other hikes in the surrounding mountains.

A stream on Yangming Shan
When I was living here in 2002, Taipei 101 was just being built and was going to be the tallest tower in the world. In fact, one spring day during my stay a strong earthquake on the island caused construction cranes to fall from the top of their building point. Since then, of course the building was completed and other buildings have taken its title as tallest building in the world. However, in Taipei, Taipei 101 still is by the far the tallest building, there are many more modern buildings and highways than before. The city is shinier and seemingly less polluted.

One aspect of Taipei that has really evolved since I last lived here is the expansive public transport system, and more specifically the bikeshare program. Taipei knows how to do public transportation and understands how to incentivize its use for citizens. Taipei’s bike share program is second to none. Unlike Capital Bikeshare where you must buy a week, month, or yearlong membership, U Bike (the Taipei bikeshare company) is accessible and free as long as you have a registered easycard (like a smart trip). The first 30 minutes are free and after that it is 10 NT for every 30 min (about 30 cents US). The ease of public transport here makes exploring the city easy and convenient, which I really have appreciated.

One difference I have found with Mainland China is that here when you attempt to use Chinese to communicate with locals, they are more likely to respond in English. I suppose this is a result of having better English education in grade schools, however, as a language learner, this is somewhat frustrating. When I venture out into the city I want to practice my spoken Chinese with people and perhaps even pick up on colloquialisms that I would not be taught in a formal classroom setting. One reason I love studying Chinese in China is that, in my past experience, locals are often extremely happy that you have come to their country and are making attempts to learn their language. When locals are in awe of my (very broken) Chinese and respond in kind, it feels like I have made some progress and I am encouraged to study more. This has not exactly been the case in Taipei. However, while the larger prevalence of English speakers in Taipei has been a little discouraging, it’s not an insurmountable challenge. 

On the note of learning Chinese, here is some general information on the ICLP language program that I am attending. From what I gather, ICLP is the most rigorous, intensive language program in Taipei. There are many other programs that offer solid training, but ICLP is for students who have come to Taiwan to learn Chinese as their primary goal (as there is little time in the day to do anything but study Chinese). Each student has three classes a day, two large classes (with 4 people) and a one-on-one class for individual instruction. Each class expects you to prepare extensively the night before, and cumulatively can require up to six hours of homework/preparation. In addition, ICLP emphasizes speaking and while on the premises of the program, there is a language pledge to only speak Chinese. Last, once you have completed either year two or three of Chinese, you are able to pick whether to study traditional or simplified characters. To me, this was one of the most appealing aspects of this program. However, despite my fourth year placement one of my textbooks is still in traditional characters (rendering me somewhat illiterate). Regardless, the teachers have been quite accommodating in helping me struggle through the traditional characters.

To be completely honest, so far the ICLP experience has been quite stressful. Even having completed a similar intensive program on the Mainland, I am finding it hard to adjust to the ICLP teaching method. However, the ICLP students are top notch and are for the most part incredibly dedicated (not to mention they come from all walks of life). In my opinion, having classmates and teachers who are just as dedicated to Chinese language study as you are is vital to improvement, as you work together and push each other to advance. In weeks to come I hope to learn how to more effectively/efficiently prepare and retain all the new vocabulary and grammar structures I am learning, so as to ease stress and enjoy the language I love to study. While it is currently hard to see my improvement, I know that by the end of my summer I will have made great strides in my ability to speak, read, and write Chinese. 

More later! 

Maggie Wedeman 

No comments:

Post a Comment