Does A Degree from Taiwan Really Worth It?
After coming to Taiwan with high expectations and studying for four years, students from across the strait find themselves asking each other, "Is it worth it?
Does A Degree from Taiwan Really Worth It?By Sherry Lee, Chi-Mei Tsai
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 570 )
Do you regret coming here?" These are their answers.
Mao Yiwen, NTU Journalism Master's Student from Shanghai:
Taiwanese are anxious
After graduating from Jinan University in Guangzhou, I had planned to attend graduate school at City University of Hong Kong. However, when the Graduate Institute of Journalism at National Taiwan University began accepting students from China, I thought I'd give it a try.
NTU was the only school I wanted to attend in Taiwan. Out of 60 students in my university class, three of us ended up studying in the broadcast journalism field in Taiwan.
Chinese tourists come to Taiwan and see how friendly the Taiwanese people are, how orderly the Taipei metro system is, and when they encounter problems, people are happy to offer their help. But this is Taiwan on the surface; Chinese have a hard time understanding the pent-up anxiety in Taiwanese minds beneath that exterior.
During last year's Sunflower student movement, I made a lot of reports from the scene as a member of NTU's news forum. That is when I discovered the anxiety in Taiwanese people's minds. Whether regarding Taiwan's international status, trepidation about outside forces, their staunch dedication to democracy, or tensions among different ethnic groups, Taiwanese are a very uptight people.
Recently, in covering the subject of disadvantaged groups, I have visited lower- and middle-income households, indigenous people, and recent immigrants – areas that the average Taiwanese person is not familiar with or does not ordinarily see. Perhaps because I'm a stranger in a strange land, I am more intent on observing how these disadvantaged groups fit into society.
Lin Mingchao, Ming Chuan University Journalism Department, from Ningbo, Zhejiang Province:
I've learned to queue up, but…
Serendipity brought me to study in Taiwan.
Information about the program was sparse at that time. I hurriedly paid my fee before speaking directly with respected family members. Many of them know little about Taiwan, so their initial response was something like, "Could it be an organized scam?"
I've always had a good impression of Taiwan. As a literature and history buff, I'm especially fond of Lin Yutang's writing, and I am familiar with some of Taiwan's contemporary era authors from the early twentieth century on. As a result, I had certain fanciful notions about Taiwan.
Before, when I read about history I always focused on the big historical picture and events. After coming to Taiwan, I gradually started to understand more everyday things, like the procession of the Matsu sea goddess in Taiwan, which is an unusual experience for people from China.
Taipei struck me as a highly developed city, with high rises everywhere. However, I subsequently discovered that there are not as many of those buildings in Taipei as my hometown of Ningbo. I go back home to Ningbo every six months, and it changes a lot all the time.
Over the past three or more years I have learned to say "thanks," and queue up in lines. As a matter of fact, when I go back there I have a hard time competing in lines. Plus, my accent has changed as well, and some people even take me for a Taiwanese.
Zeng Yuting, Shih Hsin University Greater Chinese Student Union head, from Guangzhou, Fujien Province:
Just live the life you like
The Greater Chinese Student Union at Shih Hsin University has a lot of students from Hong Kong and Macau. A lot of them are somewhat alienated from mainland students or have a chip on their shoulder about mainlanders – giving off a derisive air especially when they hear the telltale harsher standard Mandarin accent.
Since I speak Cantonese, I thought if I were head of the Greater Chinese Student Union, I would be able to communicate freely with them, as well as bridge the distance between overseas Chinese students from Malaysia, Hong Kong and Macau, and those from the mainland proper.
Taiwanese campuses are populated nearly exclusively by ethnic Chinese, and are not "international" the way I'd imagined – as they are in Hong Kong, with people of all ethnicities studying together. To me that's what international means.
If I were to compare students from Taiwan and across the strait I would say that Taiwanese students know how to dress, while Chinese students bear down and study hard. But mainland students are better equipped competitively, whilst Taiwanese students have fairly pedestrian ideals.
For instance, a Taiwanese student might say they want to own a café and live the "cultured youth" lifestyle. Meanwhile, their Chinese counterparts without exception want to make a lot of money, and from a young age will voice big aspirations such as 'When I grow up I want to be a scientist.'
However, my dream is also to be a café proprietress. I guess that's the sort of influence Taiwan's lifestyle has had on me – causing me to come around to feeling that it's best to just live the life you want to live.
Cai Boyi, Tamkang University Senior from Lanzuo, Gansu Province:
Taiwan is still an isolated island
My generation was heavily influenced by Taiwanese popular culture from a young age. We liked Jay Chou in elementary school, and started listening to May Day in junior high. So somewhere within our character is the idealistic spirit, as well as the sense of humor, instilled by May Day.
I was born in Lanzhou, in Gansu province, and moved in a very large triangular pattern around to Guangzhou and Zhejiang province, so I'm used to change. Since coming to live in Taiwan, while I never took such a fanciful view, a lot of my compatriots have had their dreams shattered here.
Even though Chinese is spoken on both sides of the strait and we share a language in common, the gaps in ways of thinking and values between the two sides are actually quite huge. My Taiwanese classmates are mostly concerned about what to eat, where to go to have a good time, and what makes them laugh.
I wrote a piece called "The Isolated Island and the Towering Wall" about this. We have no choice when it comes to China's towering wall, as it has been erected by the state machine. Yet one can still think of ways to get around or over that wall. But for Taiwan and its state as an isolated island, you can chose for yourself if you want to be isolated from information.
Over the three years that I've been here in Taiwan, more and more students are paying more attention what is going on in society, yet I still often feel that Taiwan is still very much an island in isolation.
Translated from the Chinese by David Toman