The Tainan 語伴 Experience

Now that the we have officially left Tainan and the majority of us are enjoying our last week in Taipei, I’ve had the chance to look back on our 6 week programme at NCKU. It’s so crazy to think that we’ve completed the programme when it seems like only yesterday that we were arriving in this beautiful country not knowing what to expect.

One of the most rewarding and enjoyable parts of the trip for me was the language buddy programme. All of us 15 Auckland students were paired up with a 語伴 (language buddy), a student from NCKU who we met up with a minimum of 2 times a week. The purpose of this being to practice our Mandarin speaking skills in more relaxed, everyday environment and to experience different parts of the city. My buddy was Victoria, a 3rd year student studying Political Science and Foreign Languages which happens to be very similar to my degree so that was fortunate!

Me and my 語伴 Victoria at our farewell dinner on our last night in Tainan

Before coming on the trip I was under the impression that the meetings with our language buddies would be more class orientated so I was really happy when I found out that it was basically just like meeting up with a friend a couple times a week. I’m so grateful to Victoria for organising the majority of activities that we did together, they were a great break from studying and classes while also getting to practice my language skills and learn more about the beautiful city of Tainan.

We quickly found out that we had a lot in common, including both loving to go out for food so many of our meetings were grabbing dinner. My two favourites were a local restaurant that specialised in the most delicious 餃子 (dumplings) and 大東, one of Tainan’s 3 main night markets. The night market was particularly special because Victoria was able to show me not only her favourite traditional dishes but also the best stalls to get them from.

Don’t worry, despite Tainans unlimited delicious food, our meetings weren’t all about that! Victoria showed me around the university campus, took me to the main art museums and temples all while giving me insights into the city and attractions that I would have never known if I had been exploring by myself, including how to get discounted entry fees!

I think my favourite thing that we did together was our weekly pottery class. Victoria mentioned to me early on how she was part of a pottery club who got together every week and asked if I wanted to come along. I had never done pottery in my life and I thought while I’m here learning new skills why not add another! So while I was in Tainan, every Monday night we’d meet up at the NCKU student activity centre and go to pottery class. It was so much fun and a much more complicated process than you’d think! I decided to make a pot and first you mould the clay, the next week carve it, next week burn it and then after that you can finally paint it. I’m so grateful because it gave me even more of an insight into what being a full time student at NCKU would be like, I got to talk to many different students and can now take home something that I made!

I think all of the Aucklanders would agree that the 語伴 programme helped to make our trip as incredible as it was. After talking to everyone it seems we all got along so well with our buddies and had heaps of great experiences. Even when we weren’t with them, one of the most commonly heard phrases when we didn’t know where to get dinner, or which bus to catch was “I’ll ask my 語伴!”. I think that alone goes to show how happy they were to help us out and make us feel as welcome as possible in a place that none of us had ever been to before.

It’s so nice to know that if I ever come back to Taiwan in the future (fingers crossed) I have a friend I can come and visit, or hopefully Victoria will come to New Zealand someday and I’ll have the chance to be just as much help as she was for me. A big thank you to the NCKU Chinese Language Centre and the team at 360 International for putting the buddy programme together, and for all of the students that volunteered!

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