We have safely made it back to New Zealand, landing in Auckland just before the International Airport was completely flooded; so very grateful for that! Being back at home has been great, getting to catch up with friends and family and tell them all about the incredible time I had in Taiwan. All of the conversations I’ve had talking about my trip has also made writing this blog post easier as I now am an expert in giving an overview of how it was!
When our classes started, I quickly realised that our time studying Mandarin at NCKU in Tainan was not going to be a summer holiday. I had classes and homework due every day and presentations to write and present every week. One of the initial challenges for me was having our classes fully in Mandarin. If our teacher heard any of us students speaking English, she would say, “說中文！ 說中文！” (Speak Mandarin! Speak Mandarin!). Because of this, I was very tired after classes from having to listen, think and speak in a foreign language for multiple hours… However, I quickly realised that if I always spoke English when I was struggling, I wouldn’t have had as many opportunities to practice and improve my Mandarin. It also guaranteed that I never got distracted in class; otherwise, I would have no idea what was going on!
I really enjoyed the topics that my class covered. They were all based on aspects of living in Tainan, including wedding traditions, the process of moving house, the benefits of kung fu and how their rubbish is collected! While these may sound like quite random topics to be learning in a language class, they all provided me with vocabulary that I could use in everyday life while staying in Tainan. There is no greater satisfaction than being able to use new vocabulary or grammar structures that we learnt in class when speaking to locals.
In all of my previous experiences studying Mandarin, the majority of the writing I had to do was typing on my laptop. However, all of our homework and classwork were handwritten. Handwriting traditional characters definitely took some getting used to and took considerably longer; however, I realised that it was a lot easier to remember the characters that way. It also gave me an excuse to buy lots of nice pens from my favourite stationary store…
The cultural classes that we took part in were definitely a highlight of the trip. I had never really learnt a lot about Taiwan, Tainan specifically, before our trip. Now I can confidently say that I can make a traditional Taiwanese wedding cake, conduct proper tea etiquette, and I have my own stamp engraved by me. The emphasis placed on learning about the Indigenous cultures of Tainan also interested me a lot. During the primary school trip, we got an insight into the Dewen tribe when a local gave us a walking tour around their village and from interacting with the students and staff at the school.
Of course, during the trip, there were stressful moments when the workload was a lot, or I was frantically trying to memorise my presentation the night before. However, these were only small parts of a trip full of much more amazing moments. When learning a language, in my opinion, there really is nothing better than full immersion in a country where it is spoken. This is why living and studying in Tainan presented two benefits. During class, I learnt a lot of vocabulary and grammar structures and was able to improve my writing skills and formal Mandarin. However, out of class, I picked up informal phrases and learnt a lot about how locals converse with each other.
If ever given opportunities like this, take them. There will always be doubts about whether it’s the best option, but you’ll never know unless you try! I loved my experience in Tainan and hope that in the near future, I can go back to explore the rest of their country and continue to improve my Mandarin. A huge thank you to everybody who helped make this experience possible!