Friday, August 11, 2017

Thoughts on National Taiwan University's International Chinese Language Program

My time in Taiwan has drawn to a close. I want to take a moment to review my time studying at National Taiwan University. While the International Chinese Language Program is widely renowned, I do have a few critiques. I would like to preface my review by saying just that, it is my personal review. It does not represent the experiences of all students in the program, but I have talked to many students in the program who shared my views.

ICLP advertises an immersive environment to study Mandarin Chinese. The program also offers students individualized study plans with small class sizes (2-4 students), with an additional one-on-one class tailored to your specific interests and difficulties you face in learning Chinese. Unfortunately, from my own experiences and those of other students, ICLP’s benefits seem to end there.

The following are a few of my frustrations and disappointments with my study abroad experience at ICLP.

  • ·        The program is advertised as an intense immersion program. In reality, teachers struggle to enforce this. This was disappointing for me. My classmates would often use English in class, with little to no comment from our teachers. This does not seem that problematic, but this undermined the benefits of an immersion program which is designed to expand students’ vocabulary and improve their communication skills at a faster rate.

  • ·        When students first arrive at ICLP, they are told that attendance is also critical. Students are only allowed to miss five classes throughout the summer. If a student misses more than 5 classes, they will not receive their certificate of completion at the end of the program. Extreme absence could result in dismissal from the program all together. Timeliness is also critical. Students who come to class over ten minutes late are expected to seek approval from the head office before entering the classroom. Neither attendance or timeliness are enforced, which I found to disrupt class schedules and interaction between teachers and students in general. I was in a morning class with one other student, and an afternoon class with only two other students. My classmate from my morning class was also in my afternoon class. This student missed nearly 4 or 5 classes a week! I spent many of my mornings alone with my professor. When the student would decide to attend class, they would arrive 10 or 15 minutes late. They would barge into the class, disrupting the lesson. On days the student skipped class, my teachers would either cancel the planned lesson or spend the first 15 minutes of class staring at the clock or making small talk with me. I can’t imagine how much more I could have learned had the ICLP teachers and administrators enforced their original expectations, or held students to higher standards of accountability.

  • ·        Let’s talk about the cost of attendance. ICLP is by far the most expensive Chinese language program in Taiwan, if not in all of Asia. For me, as for many students, the cost is not worth it. There are many other programs that offer great learning environments for a third, fourth, or even fifth of the cost. Even your books are not included in the program’s tuition! Many ICLP students had no additional funds to travel around Taiwan, or even explore Taipei. This was very disappointing. Considering the high cost of attending ICLP, many students wrongly assumed the program would provide opportunities for cultural excursions at no additional cost. Nope. Every additional outing was an extra cost for students. Although I had hoped to explore more of Taiwan this summer, I could not afford ICLP’s planned trips. Luckily, I had the opportunity to travel extensively around Taiwan when I studied in Tainan. But for students travelling to Taiwan for the first time hoping to explore the island, ICLP is not for you.

  • ·        My final frustration with ICLP involves the structure of classes. Chinese is notorious for being one of the most difficult languages to learn. With that in mind, you would assume teachers would prefer to guide students’ learning. This is not how it played out for my classes. I was asked to turn in assignments prior to finishing, or even beginning a lesson. I did not have a problem doing the work, but this schedule forced me to teach myself a language I have struggled to master for years. A result of this method is students failing to learn how to appropriately use specific grammar structures or vocabulary. Doing homework before learning a lesson reinforces misconceptions and disrupted my learning process. Also, I felt like I paid a great deal of money to teach myself all summer. Very disappointing.
I made great friends at ICLP and my Chinese improved over the summer, but overall, I felt the program did not live up to its reputation. All I can say is you do not always get what you pay for.

Katelyn DeNap

George Washington University - Elliott School of International Affairs
M.A. Security Policy Studies
Organization of Asian Studies – Vice President
Sigur Center 2017 Asian Language Fellow

National Taiwan University - International Chinese Language Program, Taiwan

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