Monday, July 10, 2017

Learning Mandarin Chinese in Tainan, Taiwan

There is no better way to learn a language than through total immersion; sitting in an American classroom for a few hours every week only gets you so far. Therefore, given that I hope to develop professional fluency in Mandarin Chinese, I am quite thankful to have received the Sigur Center Grant for Chinese Language Study in Taiwan.

At present, I am studying Chinese at National Cheng Kung University in Tainan, Taiwan through the American Councils Taiwan Intensive Summer Language Program. Though I have only been in Taiwan for just over two weeks, my Chinese has already improved markedly!

A farm in Taijiang National Park (the outskirts of Tainan).

The best part of my program is the individualized tutoring. Not only do we meet with a professor for a one-on-one session every morning Monday through Friday, each student also has a language partner. Our language partners are local students who have agreed show us around the city and help us practice our Chinese. This individualized tutoring allows me to tailor my language study experience to my specific areas of interest -- policy issues related to China, especially US-China threat perception in the South China Sea. 

Additionally, I am thoroughly enjoying the cultural aspect of my language study experience. I lived in China for three years while growing up, and so culture shock has not been much of an issue here in Taiwan. Rather, the cultural immersion is a welcome return. In particular, it has been quite interesting to discover how cultural differences between the mainland and Taiwan lead to slight variations in their respective versions of Mandarin Chinese.

A temple in Tainan.

Because Taiwan is relatively small, travelling around the island is fairly fast, cheap, and easy. I've already visited Kaohsiung, and I have plans to visit Taichung and Taipei. Moreover, because I took a class about Daoism last semester, I have seized every opportunity to go see local Taiwanese temples -- I have already visited five!

Flying a kite in Kaohsiung.

I look forward to what these next six weeks have in store.

Zachary Haver is a Sigur Center 2017 Asian Language Fellow. A rising sophomore studying at George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Zachary is majoring in International Affairs with a concentration in Asia and minoring in Mandarin Chinese.

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