Taiwan, A Country of Warmth

Yuheng L., Bachelor of Business (Dean’s Honours)
Fu Jen Catholic University, Taiwan (Semester 2, 2017)

I have always imagined Taiwan to be a warm little country which is often neglected by the international society. Due to political reasons, Taiwan is isolated internationally. It is not part of the UN and has only 20 countries of diplomatic relations (FYI: China has 175). However, Taiwan is not an underdeveloped country of any sort. Taipei has a well-built metro system and there is a High-Speed Rail throughout the west coast of Taiwan. By car, it takes 4 hours to get from Taipei to Kaohsiung but it only takes an hour and a half on the HSR. It is very convenient to travel around Taiwan where many people travel around the island as a challenge (mostly on a bicycle) every year. For me personally, one of the places I loved the most was Tainan (South Taiwan). It is an amazing city with great food and a lot of historical sites, mostly from the era when they were ruled under the Japanese Empire. It has a lot of cultural characteristics unique from other cities.

Taiwan also has a comparatively low cost of living. Dining out can be very cheap (it can be very expensive too, if you choose to do so), where a meal could be around AUD $3-4. Their wages, however, is much lower than Australian standards. Their minimum legal hourly wage is roughly $6, which makes things much cheaper than Australia. I lived in the campus dormitory for the entire semester and it only cost me around AUD $380.

It was not long until I faced difficulties. Immediately on the day after my arrival, a lady shop owner began speaking Taiwanese Hokkien to me. Luckily, I was with my exchange buddy (whom FJU has arranged before my arrival) at that time and he was able to communicate with the owner on my behalf. I am very grateful for my exchange buddies and my dorm roommates who helped me out a lot upon my arrival. I immediately felt the warmth and helpfulness of the Taiwanese people on my first couple of days. Listening to my roommates’ stories was very interesting as they all came from different backgrounds, one being in the army for 5 years after high school, another being a Bruneian of Taiwanese descent. Having chats and laughter, with the occasional disagreement, every night was definitely a memorable experience – something that I won’t experience at home.

One of the things that I really enjoyed is joining the basketball team of my faculty. There are yearly tournaments between faculties and between departments. Our team trained regularly and apart from having fun, I believe it is a great way to develop relationships. It shows that the university culture there is quite different too. Sports and other club activities are a vital part of their university life, where people gather together. I could see evidence of a more collectivistic society based on their university culture. Apart from that, the close relationship between classmates is something special. It feels exactly like high school where classes are held in small classrooms rather than large lecture halls. The teachers know every student, therefore, as soon as she saw my unfamiliar face I was immediately asked to introduce myself. They welcomed me and invited me to have lunch together on the first day of class. I felt like I could blend in to their culture instantly with their friendliness.

There is no way I could talk about Taiwan without mentioning food. There is so much food around campus to the point I could even get hot food at midnight. The entire campus is approximately the size of the Kelvin Grove campus, however, there are 5 different blocks of canteens! Plus, with the number of restaurants outside of campus, there is absolutely no need to worry about what you need to bring for lunch.

Taiwan is a country with a lot of warmth. There is a common saying of ‘The Most Beautiful Scenery in Taiwan is its People.”, and I recognized that it is true throughout my journey. I have made great friends during these past few months and I surely miss the moments I had with them. If you are looking at going to the Asia-Pacific region, or if you would love to pick up the Chinese language, I would surely recommend Taiwan as an exchange destination.

What One Can Do Tomorrow, One Can Do Today

Harry B., Bachelor of Business / Bachelor of Laws (Honors)
Berlin School of Economics and Law, Germany (Semester 2, 2016)

The task of conveying my experience on exchange feels somewhat futile, for what made the experience unforgettable – the people met, language learnt, and culture lived – cannot, without losing something of its charm, be neatly distilled into a blog post. Can my friends, my parents, really understand just what it was that I underwent, why it was that I relished my time overseas; the experience and memories being so subjectively and personally my own. Perhaps this scepticism is shared by the exchange faculty, who advised in the writing of this post I focus on the university, facilities, costs, campus life and general tips – in short, just the most useful and easily digestible snippets of information addressed to the palate of the reader who is preparing, or contemplating, their own experience, not so much yours. So it is this I have attempted in the following few paragraphs.

The Berlin School of Economics and Law, where I studied, is in German classified a Hochschule – something of a university, but on a smaller scale, with smaller class and campus sizes. My lectures rarely had more than 30 people, my tutorials even less. This is vastly different to QUT and, I discovered, quite to my liking. For it was because of this the students became better friends, and the learning experience more intimate. Downsides do exist, but are not sufficient, surely, to hamper things: the library was to my mind under resourced, having neither enough places to study, nor computers to use. But I am guessing those reading this, if they’re on exchange, will not frequent the library all that often. My chief gripe, which is to the detriment of us internationals, is the absence of a well organised and supported club for exchange students. Although some effort was being made to remedy this towards the end of my stay, this was of no help to me, whose efforts to meet people would have been greatly assisted by an organisation, like QUT Exchange Buddies Club here, which organised bar nights and activities. Again, given the city in which you live, Berlin, is not short of entertainment, you may not find this gripe as deleterious as did I. But certainly one has a far better time gallivanting around with friends, than without, and it is through clubs run for the benefit of exchange students you meet such comrades.

I resided in private accommodation, which was quite expensive. Places in Berlin are becoming dearer and harder to find, so ensure you secure a place to live –using, say, AirBnb or or the fantastic WG-gesucht.com – well, well, in advance. Alternatively, one could through the university apply for a room in a student dorm, run by the organisation Studentenwerk. Though in general further out from the city centre, they are very affordable and populated with students. You will find, I am told, that the commute is not prohibitively long (especially biking to the train station) – at least not so long as to negate the other, sizable benefits of staying there.

Berlin, apart from the sometimes high cost of private accommodation, is affordable. We live in an expensive country, so I suppose wheresoever we go we will be pleasantly surprised, but everything – public transport, food and groceries, alcohol, entertainment, health insurance – is markedly less expensive than Brisbane.

As to the culture of the place, I have been on a previous exchange to Germany, that time to Mannheim, and must say, the feel of Berlin is itself unique; it has no counterpart, I do not think, across country or even Europe. Frankly, I can imagine few places where a student exchange would be more fitting. There is plenty to do and see – which you probably did not require my assurance of. I recommend learning the language: there is an intensive class offered in the month preceding the commencement of classes. It helps to know a few words. Culture shock, to be honest, is not the problem it may have been in other Germany cities and towns. Berlin is extremely cosmopolitan, an unbelievable melting pot, and it is not uncommon to hear many different languages spoken in cafes and trains. To be sure, there are many locals earnestly going about their business, whose sensibilities you ought not to disregard. But on the whole, people tend to coexist in acceptance of and harmony with everyone else.

Tips:

  • Should you have the money, get German health insurance (80 Euro per month) – this will save you some hassle.
  • Ration your money, spent wisely and be resourceful.
  • Without being reckless, take risks: you are, for a short period, incognito.
  • Meet people and make friends as quickly as possible, organise outings.
  • Improve your cooking, stay healthy, eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, and take vitamin pills.
  • Above all: do not waste what little time you have. You will be on your long haul hour flight back to banal Brisbane before you know it, so hit the ground running, be prepared and make no excuses for yourself. What one can do tomorrow, one can do today.

Learning Japanese language and culture in Tokyo

Joshua C., ​Bachelor of Business / Bachelor of Games and Interactive Environments
Meiji University Winter Japanese Language Program (February 2019)

Hi there! My name is Joshua Crowley and I am in my 4th year at QUT Studying a Bachelor of Games and Interactive Environments (Design) / Bachelor of Business (Marketing). I decided to undertake a short-term program to make my summer break a little more exciting than usual, and boy was it an adventure!

I decided to have my short-term program in Japan and to participate in the Meiji University Japanese Winter Language Program. I have always been an avid consumer of Japanese media, culture, and the language especially. I had basic knowledge of phrases and can read Hiragana and Katakana, but unfortunately my Kanji is not up to scratch. This program was a great way to get a foothold of how to tackle aspects of learning the language, and to make many friends from all around the world.

Where did I stay?

For this program, I decided to stay with a homestay family to get the full experience of Japanese hospitality, and to see the day to day commute when living outside of central Tokyo. I stayed with two homestay families, as I left Australia a little earlier before the program to visit my previous homestay again in Hiroshima. Hiroshima is a beautiful city, a must see!

My homestay family

My homestay in Tokyo was far from central Tokyo in the Chiba prefecture, which is roughly a 1-hour train ride to Meiji University. Public transport in Japan is very easy, but quite expensive. On average, I spent JP¥2000 per day (around $25) riding various trains, to get to and from my homestay as well as visiting various cities across Tokyo. It is important to budget well prior to departing Australia, and to investigate cheaper options such as the Japan Rail Pass or even regional passes for short term trips. Unfortunately, due to my travel itinerary it was not worth purchasing the pass. On the plus side, I had delicious dinners after a long day at uni, such as hotpot!

I miss hotpot for dinner

 

How was the language program?

On the first day of the program we all had to sit a Japanese language test, which tested our reading, writing and speaking ability. Depending on your performance during the test, you were placed in one of four classes, from introductory up to advanced. The classes themselves were very informative with enthusiastic teachers and student volunteers, eager to help in any way possible. However, the lessons were conducted at a fast pace and fully in Japanese with limited English and it was easy to get confused, so it is highly recommended to brush up on your Japanese before joining the program! These classes took place over a 2 ½ week period, with classes taking place mostly on weekday mornings, leaving the afternoons free for students to explore Tokyo and its surroundings.

My university for the program

We also participated in various cultural activities such as calligraphy classes, tea ceremonies, and dressing ourselves in Kimonos!

The cultural part of the program

Kimonos time!

Learning Japanese is a long process but is highly rewarding once you start to understand the grammatical and character-based systems. At the end of the program, I currently still am not able to hold a full conversation in Japanese but am able to now convey my message across through basic sentences.

Special memories?

Many lifelong friends were made throughout my month across Japan. In my spare time between classes, I took the opportunity to visit Hiroshima, Fukuoka, Yokohama, Sapporo, and various places around Tokyo. One highlight of my trip was experiencing -15°c temperatures whilst taking in the sights and sounds of the Sapporo Snow Festival held in the Hokkaido region. Amazing snow sculptures carved with insane amounts of detail scattered the streets of Sapporo, bringing in tourists from all over the world.

Sapporo Snow Festival

Sapporo Snow Festival

From humidity to snow and back again

Final Thoughts

Upon returning to Australia after only just a month, it took some time to readjust back to a humid climate, as well as settling back into a more relaxed Australian lifestyle. For those who have not been to Japan, I cannot recommend it highly enough as an exchange destination due to the amount of amazing people, food, and cultural norms that embodies Japanese society. I hope to undertake a full semester exchange in 2020, as I cannot wait to see what else Japan has in store.

See you soon, Japan!

Pokemon mania

Experiencing the Culture and History of Denmark at Aarhus University

Taylah De Wit, Bachelor of Science/Laws

Short-term program: Experience Summer at Aarhus University

Denmark (July 2018)

My short-term exchange program was hosted by Aarhus University in Denmark. The campus was absolutely stunning and it had an amazing ambience. It had so many study and social places as well as beautiful gardens and was steeped in culture and history. Life on campus was quiet as it was during the summer semester for Danish students, however there were still some locals who participated in the summer courses and heaps of international students. The summer university program promoted and organised a lot of social events and opportunities for everyone to meet and socialise.

The highlight of the program was meeting people from all around the world.

In terms of the academics of the university, I really enjoyed the teaching style. For me, I had class everyday during the week for three hours. I studied Animal Law – which was the first class of its kind in Scandinavia.  It was an intensive 3-week course that created a very in-depth understanding and I had multiple guest lecturers from all around the world. This included academics from Scotland, Barcelona, the United States, Denmark, and Ireland. This created a more global perspective on the topic and created amazing networking opportunities.

In regards to the accommodation, I stayed in student housing which was located on the smaller campus of the university. The accommodation was nice and my room set-up was just a bed, wardrobe, and sink. I had to share a kitchen and bathroom with other students, which meant I got to know a lot of the local Aarhus University students.  I would really recommend student housing as it was a really fun vibe and experience.

The campus was absolutely stunning!

Aarhus is a beautiful seaside city and I absolutely loved my time there. Everything was in walking distance and all of the locals were so lovely. Everyone speaks English in Denmark so it is very easy to find your way. There is plenty to see and do but also it is a very nice place to just relax. The living expenses were similar to Australia, except for eating out at restaurants, which was quite expensive. So I would definitely recommend cooking for yourself!

The highlight of my short-term program would definitely be meeting people from all around the world. I also really enjoyed visiting the beaches, the deer park and the ARos Art Museum – the rainbow panorama skywalk was insane. If you get the opportunity I would definitely recommend going on a short-term exchange to Aarhus University.

Leeds Survival Guide, Part 2: Leeds Lingo

In the past few months of being in Leeds, there have been plenty of interesting and strange Yorkshire sayings that I’ve encountered. In Australia, we have words such as “snag”, “arvo”, “grog” that are native to the Australian language. Similarly, there are newfound words found in the ‘Yorkshire’ dialect found in places like Leeds, York and Sheffield.

As part of my Leeds Survival Guide, I’m going to share a few crucial and the most interesting words I’ve heard so far.

Most importantly, when you first make eye contact with a Yorkshire person you’ll most likely be greeted with “you alright?”. This happens to mean “how are you?” but if you’re not expecting it, it feels strange being asked if you’re alright by the cashier at a supermarket or a stranger you pass by.

Why yes I am okay… Do I not look okay?!

You are supposed to respond with something like, “yes I’m good, and you?”, but it is definitely something I had to get used to.

Aside from that, the following are some more intriguing things I’ve heard that I thought would be good for an incoming student to wrap their head around:

  • Ey up – Hello?
  • Aye – Yes (Kind of like a pirate with a British accent)
  • Clever clogs – Conceited person
  • Egg on – To urge someone to do something
  • Endways – Forward
  • Fancy dress – Costume (Not in fact nice clothing, but something like a Halloween costume)
  • Jiggered – Exhausted
  • Jock – Food or lunch (similar to the Australian use of ‘tucker’)
  • Lark – Good fun
  • Teem – Pour (e.g. “It’s teeming!” – “It’s pouring rain!”)
  • Us – Me, my or our
  • Usen – Plural of ‘us’ (Kind of like the way some Aussies say ‘youse’ as a plural of ‘you’)

And here are some Yorkshire idioms that are fun to say:

  • As daft as a dormhouse – Not very intelligent
  • As sharp as a Sheffield – Someone who is quick-witted
  • Catch as catch can – Everyone for themselves
  • Where there’s muck there’s brass – Where there’s hard work, there’s money

There are plenty more England ‘easter eggs’ like this to be found and it is most definitely worth it to explore and find them all. To quote a plaque I found in Whitby, I personally really ‘luv it ere’.