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Life in a Foreign University: JNU students tells us how studying Mandarin in Taiwan improved his language

When you wander on the streets of Taiwan, wearing an Indian kurta, the locals smile and share their love for Indians, our culture and Bollywood.

Life in a foreign university, study abroad, Mandarin, Life in a Taiwan university, Indian students abroad, Indian students in Taiwan, Study in Taiwan, Chinese language, Chinese studies, JNU PhD, JNU fellowship, Harvard fellowshipI am in Taiwan on a three year PhD fellowship from Harvard University (Graphics by Abhishek Mitra)
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Life in a Foreign University: JNU students tells us how studying Mandarin in Taiwan improved his language
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(This letter is part of a series by The Indian Express where we bring to you the experiences of students at different foreign universities. From scholarships and loans to food and cultural experiences — students tell us how life is different in those countries and things they are learning other than academics)

Pawan Amin

I was always keen on Sinology and I am currently pursuing a course on the Mandarin language from National Taiwan Normal University. While I am a PhD student at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), at present, I am in Taiwan on a three year PhD fellowship from Harvard University. Through this fellowship, I am getting an opportunity to learn Chinese, conduct research in China, and write my thesis for a year in Harvard.

While I was pursuing my higher education, I realised that learning the language will help me understand things better — be it academically or culturally. A lot of academicians are good at Chinese but they lack the understanding of the language. I wanted to fill that gap in my learning. Therefore, I decided to head to Taiwan to learn Mandarin.

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Learning this language has helped me understand the concepts of China study in a better way. It has connected me to the culture, people, and also helped me in understanding the similarities between the Asian countries. We have lessons on weddings, democracy, marriage and several other important and regular concepts. Our class size is 8-9 students but we have classmates from different nations. That has brought diversity in the classroom. We exchange information and ideas about each other’s culture. This experience in Taiwan has helped me become more inclusive and secular.

The future prospects of this degree as it is easy to find a job at multinational companies that hire translators. Besides translating important documents, you have to attend Mandarin language-dominated meetings for better communication. A lot of consultancy firms also look for candidates who are well-versed with this language as it can help in relocating employees to places where the language is spoken.

Why Taiwan?

While the Indian strategic and academic community offers a rich exposure to any young researcher wanting to work in China, I wanted to supplement my learning with a better grasp of the language, culture and build a broader academLearn Chinese in Yaiwanic network.

I was fortunate to be awarded the Harvard Yenching Institute – Institute of Chinese Studies PhD Fellowship, which gave me an opportunity to learn Mandarin in Taiwan, while also working on my PhD thesis in consultation with Sinologists in India, Taiwan, China, and the United States.

Taiwan streets — safe, welcoming, hospitable

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My first day in a country where most people do not speak English, Hindi or any other language that I grew up listening to, felt a little intimidating. I was completely lost looking at the signboards in Mandarin. However, by the end of the first week, I had a big social circle of friends from across the world, especially Taiwan, courtesy the Mandarin Training Centre.

Also, the shopkeepers and restaurateurs around the place I stay started understanding my not so perfect Mandarin. Such instances make it easy to forget that I was a foreigner.

Taiwanese people are extremely warm, hospitable and welcoming. If they notice anybody in need, they stop to offer assistance. When they see you making an effort to speak Mandarin, they are quick to compliment. It takes a while to get used to their generosity in shops and restaurants, where you are just one good conversation away from being offered food and drinks in order to make you feel welcome.

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As an Indian, walking on the streets of Taiwan wearing a kurta, you will often be greeted by elderly Taiwanese, who want to share their appreciation for Indians, the country’s culture, and Bollywood. There is a small, yet active Indian community here which makes sure you don’t miss home much.

In my experience, though, if you keep your heart open to experiencing a new culture and not constantly search for the familiar, you will be amazed at how easily Taiwan can feel like home.

Admission process – Plan well

As a recipient of the fellowship, a lot of the admission formalities are handled by the Harvard Yenching Institute. Through their collaborative networks, they helped me secure admission in the Chinese Training Centre at the National Taiwan Normal University in Taipei. This centre is one of the world’s oldest departments teaching Mandarin language, and has a rich pool of talented teachers trained to assess which grade suits your individual learning requirement and competence with the Mandarin language.

The application process is simple and can be managed without any assistance from counsellors. Since all students coming to this particular department are foreigners, there is an ease of access on the website. All applicants need to appear for an online test and interview to determine the level that they would be joining in their first semester. While applying to the department, one needs to have their latest degree certificate, resume, study plan and passport.

You must note that it takes a while to obtain a student visa for Taiwan, so applicants need to factor this in during the application process in order to reach Taiwan well in time before the classes start.

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Also, since Taiwan is not a member of the Hague Apostille Convention, the latest degree certificate and marksheet of the applicant needs to be attested by the Directorate of Education closest to the university/college in India from where the degree was received. Thereafter, the document will be attested by the Ministry of External Affairs. Since this attestation is done on the original certificates, it is important that they are not laminated. Only after these attestations are received, can the documents be submitted to the Taiwan Economic Culture Center in New Delhi for visa processing. The entire process takes about a month.

Scholarships for Indian students

I received the Institute of Chinese Studies-Harvard Yenching Institute PhD Fellowship to study Mandarin in Taiwan. Any Indian who is registered as a PhD student in an Indian university, writing a thesis on China is eligible to apply for this fellowship.

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Apart from this, there are other fellowships to study Mandarin in Taiwan which accepts a broader pool of applicants. This includes the Mandarin Language Scholars Program by Ashoka University, and Taiwan’s Ministry of Education Huayu Enrichment Scholarship, which is coordinated by the Taiwan Economic Culture Centre, New Delhi.

One thing that Indian students should remember is that if you visit Taiwan on a student visa, one isn’t legally permitted to take up any paid employment. However, scholarships that are available for Indians are sufficient if one plans their stay carefully.

India versus Taiwan — Daily practice missing in India

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I did learn elementary level Mandarin back in India. While that helps a little, initially, this place feels as alien to you. That is only because while learning Mandarin in India, one never has to use it around the clock to get by. When the world around you speaks, writes and talks Mandarin, it leaves you with little choice but to pull up your socks and learn the language diligently. If that is your objective, then Taiwan is the right place to be in.

Moreover, the written Chinese characters taught in Taiwanese universities are the traditional characters, whereas in China and in India, the universities teach a more recent and simplified form of written Chinese characters. This makes the language learning experience in Taiwan unique and fulfilling, as it connects you to the heritage by giving you the tools to read old Chinese literature and script.

BTech student from Hong Kong |  Master’s in public relations student from Canada | MSc in City Planning and Design student from UK | MS Cybersecurity student from USA | Masters in Data Engineering and Analytics student from Germany | Masters in Mechanical engineering student  from Italy | Erasmus Mundus journalism student from Denmark | Luxury management student from Switzerland | Master of International Business student from Australia | Filmmaking student from Los Angeles | Studying engineering in Canada

First published on: 17-12-2022 at 13:56 IST
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