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.

Cultural Differences and People Management

Ok, so I’m enrolled in a unit called Cultural Differences and People Management. A lot of the course work revolves around writing about our feelings and such (BSB124 anyone?). It has a lot of self-reflection. I’ve just completed the homework for the first seminar (their version of tutorials). To describe it in a few words, I went from being very reserved in my answers to listing every difference or issue I have noticed/experienced since being here. I think it sums up well the time I’ve spent here so far, and thus I shall replicate it for all of your amusement (?):

“Seminar Week 2 – Cultural Management

1. From French, 2010:45: “How useful is it to view culture in Hofstede’s term as ‘the collective programming of the mind’”? Give examples of such ‘collective programming’ from your own cultures.

By assuming national cultures share common characteristics that are a part of their “programming” it allows managers and business professionals to make realistic assumptions about the people they interact with. It assists in both management of, and interaction with, people from other cultures. It also removes the barrier of cultures and ensures and insures human interactions are unhindered by cultural differences/biases.

What Hofstede provides is a way to examine culture in a general sense. Whilst he notes not all people, within a culture are the same, and that personalities/unique traits have a high variation within a population, he believes that there are certain core elements of a culture that are shared among its populace. As such, to think of it as a collective programming of people’s minds allows people to interact with another culture in an effective (and non-offensive) manner.

Examples of Cultural Programming within our own culture:
• Mateship – Australians are for the most part, all friends with one another, regardless of whether or not we know each other or are strangers. We will greet strangers on the street, ask them about their day, and offer assistance on trivial things if needed.
• Empathy – Australia is a very compassionate nation. In times of crisis, we will go above and beyond to help a fellow man
• Fairness – Australians operate on a fairness basis. To put simply, we believe in “a fair go” and that all people should be given a chance when it is due to them. We believe also in the fair value of things, that is, we believe that in all things there should be an equivalent exchange. For example, the Australian public believes we should not pay more for something if it isn’t worth something, we will pay only if the price is fair. We will complain about the rate of tax if our governments are not providing adequate services for the money we pay. We will voice our objection to any political policies that discriminate against the Australian people, and the concept of “a fair go”. On a side note, most Australians will look down on ANYONE who doesn’t contribute to society in some respect, as it violates this policy of fairness and equivalent exchange. We have a name for these people.
• Respect – We have a deep respect for our history and those who serve the country in some way.

2. What is meant by’ Culture Shock? Can you give any examples of it from your own experience?
Culture shock is the dissonance felt when experiencing a culture that is not one’s own. It manifests in a number of ways, most commonly feelings of anxiety and feelings of alienation within the foreign culture because you are operating within an environment that conflicts with your own perception of what is a “normal” society.

Some examples from my own experience would be some of the etiquette differences between Australia and the UK. Australian people will say hello to people on the street. That does not occur here. Other minor differences that made me feel a little alienated included the rearrangement of goods on supermarket shelves, not seeing familiar brands from back home, being scolded for things that are considered a must over here, but no one cares about in Australia (e.g. Over here it is expected you place a barricade between your food items and someone else’s. In Australia, we rarely use this, as we just leave a space for those behind us. I was scolded because I OFFERED the person behind me the use of the barrier). Other minor differences I’ve noticed include:
• Australians walking up stairs/escalators on a different side than the British
• The amount of foods British people smother with butter
Some minor things that I’ve been annoyed with since being here:
• The assumption that all Australians cannot be well spoken. No offence to any British people reading this, but I’ve seen more Australians that have a higher mastery of the English language than I have within the population of the UK itself, in fact, we butcher the language to a lesser degree than a lot of the locals within this country.
• We do NOT ride kangaroos to school
• We are NOT all uncivilised. Education has gotten better since federation
• We are NOT all convicts. Hell, a vast majority of people who were sent to Australia were jailed for stealing bread to support their families, because lord knows the UK’s economy couldn’t support them at the time.

3. Is ‘Culture Shock’ inevitable when you encounter a new or different culture?

After the above examples, I’d like to say yes to this question, however, just because I have noticed these differences/had these scrutinies, it does not mean I have not been able to cope, and for the most part, get along swimmingly with a lot of people. I have made a vast majority of friends since being here, and my interpersonal skills are just as effective in this country as they are in my own. I’d also like to note the best people I’ve met whilst in the UK, so far, are the French.

4. Describe some strategies that are useful in avoiding or minimising culture shock.
• Cross-cultural training or some program that enforces learning in diversity – To help understand that there are differences among cultures, and to harbor respect for all people
• Living in a multicultural society – Australia being largely multicultural, we don’t have an issue with being surrounded by multiple cultures, in fact as a general rule, we embrace having so much cultural diversity, as it forces us to understand that we are not the greatest culture in the world, nor the worse, and that all cultures should be respected.
• Researching the culture before entering the country – It may not be possible to know ALL the nuances in another country before arriving, but it definitely can assists in avoiding any largely awkward situations.”

I’ll admit it gets a tad whiney at the end. But it felt so good to voice those opinions on paper format. ALL IN ALL though, I am loving my time here. And I’ve made sure to correct many people about any misconceptions they have about Australia.

Stay classy Aus,

Tom