Asia, Blog, China, Chinese, School, Study Abroad, Taiwan
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Studying Chinese in China vs. Taiwan

I have studied in two major cities in China and Taiwan (Shanghai and Taipei) and there is not a ton of information online about these programs or yet someone who has done both and can openly share their experiences about it. I’ve been asked from different social outlets about mine and I want to express the major differences between the two and possibly help those decide which one may be a better fit for them.

Disclaimer: My experience may be different compared to others. At the end of the day, this is my opinion on what I feel about the programs and maybe something you should consider before in deciding on which program may be better for you. Keep the facts I mention here in mind, but also take into account that maybe what I experience is different from others.

Scholarship Details

Chinese Government Scholarship Welcoming Ceremony for all new students at Fudan

China

Chinese Government Scholarship Bilateral Program pays for the tuition up front. Students can stay in the campus international student dormitory for free. If a student decides to change the housing type at their school, they may have to pay extra out of their pocket. If the student decides to move out of campus housing, the scholarship committee can give students max an extra 1000RMB (~$143 USD) to pay for the rent. Scholarship students also receive a stipend of 3000RMB (~$413 USD) per month. When the student arrives, they are required to pay for various small things such as Wifi, Hot Water, Room Keys, ID Card etc. Students will receive the scholarship stipend after one month with a value worth of 2 months to cover both September and October (if a student starts in the Fall) or March and April (if a student starts in the Spring). Each scholarship student needs to make sure they set up the proper bank account and give the info to the scholarship office at the school before payment is sent. At Fudan, the scholarship money would come at random. There was never a set date. Some months, we get it right around the month before, sometimes 5 weeks after, sometimes (yet rarely) early. I have heard other schools had set days for payment and were very consistent.

Are we at a scholarship opening ceremony or an important meeting with the UN?

Taiwan

All scholarship students must pay for the tuition up front along with finding their own apartment. Language students do not have the ability to stay in the on-campus dormitory. They recommend students to bring at least ~$2,500 USD when first moving to Taiwan to pay for all the necessary fees for the first month and a half. The stipend won’t be given till a month and a half after the student has started at the university. The stipend is valued at $25,000NT (~$800 USD) is given to the student after the 15th of each month. Tuition for language students is due every 3 months. Students are required to allocate their stipend to pay for the tuition, their rent, and for other necessities. Budget wisely. Certain schools tuition rates vary. Be mindful of the cost of the language program before committing to a particular school. At NTNU, they email students every month stating that the scholarship is coming. Some months, they may even send it in earlier.

Housing

Our dorm rooms were very small, but it was all I needed ❤️

China

(varies from school to school) I attended Fudan University. Although located in the crazy yet busy and exciting city of Shanghai, Fudan isn’t in the central part of the city. Scholarship students live in the International Student Dormitory which is closed off from other dorm types of campus. All scholarship students taking the language course live in the sub-buildings (along with a few other students) in the International Student Dorm and everyone else lives in the main building. Each student has their own room and is grouped generally by someone from the same country as themselves following 2 other students from the same country. Students have their own room with a bed, wardrobe, desk, shelf, a small bedside table, and a balcony to hang clothes, hang out, smoke etc. In the common area, there are 2 bathrooms and a kitchen type setup. Wifi, hot water, electricity are not included in the housing bill and must be paid by the student, but is relatively cheap and affordable. Check out my room tour here.

Sometimes dark and very depressing room, but yet, in a very good location in Taipei

Taiwan

Unfortunately, the Huayu Enrichment Scholarship does not provide housing for scholarship recipients. On top of that, students who are not degree-seeking students at the university are unable to live on campus. Each student must find their own housing which can be done easily by using Facebook groups or Tealit online. They recommend students to arrive in Taiwan at least 2 weeks before school begins to become acclimated to the culture and new space and also spend time searching for an apartment. Luckily, the scholarship stipend given in Taiwan is almost double the amount they give in China and is expected to use to pay for rent and other necessities. Rent is relatively much cheaper than living out in the west depending on where students decide to study.

Class Time

My favorite Chinese teacher ❤️

China

Typically all language students will take up to 5 classes a day ranging from Vocabulary, Grammar, Listening, Speaking and Writing. If the student is at the intermediate/advanced levels, the have the opportunity to take one additional elective course of their choice (included in the value of the school tuition fee).

Class began as early as 8 AM and ended around 4 PM every day. We had 10 min breaks in-between each hour or so and a one hour break between 11:35 AM and 12:35 PM. We learned one chapter about every week with about a set of 20 vocabulary words which later doubles to 40+ as students move up. We would learn the new grammar, practice speaking in class, and do presentations. Every week we would have a dictation to practice and see how well we know the characters and after every 2 and a half months or so, there’s a big test. It examines students in everything we’ve learned so far. Test happens all in one day and takes around 2 hours to complete.

Tapping the card displays the number of hours you’ve done for the month.

Taiwan

(this varies from school to school and which type of class a student may take) At NTNU, we only have one class a day maxing at 2 hours per day. We have a 10 min break in-between each hour. Typically the first hour is dedicated to taking a quiz/test, reviewing new vocabulary or learning new grammar. The second half is more about reading the dialogue/texts or using this time to clear up any additional questions or going over the last points before the next test. Every week, we have at least two dictations and one test per week examining students on each chapter.

If a student takes the regular course, they can choose to take the class at a different time of the day. Those times are generally 8AM, 10:20AM, 12:20PM, 2:20PM or 4:20PM

If a student takes the intensive course, this course is typically 3 hours long 5 days a week maxing at 15 hours a week. When it comes to time selections, they can only choose between 10:20 AM, 12:20 PM, or 2:20 PM. These classes are more discussion based and tons of writing. No time to really practice speaking or learn grammar in class and tons of homework. Meaning no life. 

If the student is new, they are not allowed to choose the 10:20 AM slot for this is a popular time for students to attend class and is only reserved for returning students.

One final exam is given to students at the end of every semester. It is taken in the computer lab where all responses are recorded both on paper and on the computer for teacher’s records. Students have one hour to complete all portions of the exam. Grades are given back to the student the very next day.

Class Attendance

Classmates hard at work per usual

China

Classes hours varied from day to day but on a weekly basis, we have a class between 2 – 4 hours maxing at 20 hours a week. Classes would start as early as 8 AM till ending around 4 PM. Each semester runs around almost 5 months long. Each class we took varied from Reading, Writing, Grammar, Listening and Speaking. Students cannot choose their own schedule, unfortunately. They must have to have a legit reason to change the class time, otherwise, there is nothing that can be done. Students cannot miss any more than 15% of class time in a semester. Otherwise, the student would not “receive” the scholarship stipend. (This varies from school to school) Also before the 20th of each month, we had to email this form filling out a survey about what they could do better. Depending on what school a student attends, they may have a different procedure in making sure that students are checking in for their monthly stipend. At Fudan, we came to realize that this wasn’t the case for they did not enforce this rule as much. As long as students don’t miss any more than 2 weeks straight of school, they are ok. But this varies.

A large lecture class on learning how to pronounce basic Taiwanese words

Taiwan

(Varies from school to school) At NTNU, we only have class 2 hours a day maxing at 10 hours a week. Each semester lasts 3 months long. In order to fulfill scholarship requirements, (which requires 15 hours of study time a week), students have to do an additional hour every day, but there are many options one can choose to meet the requirements. They range from doing such as studying in the library, listening to recordings in the computer lab etc. There are also large lecture classes that every student must attend and the hours required to attend that class varies from month to month. Students can take a look at the schedule posted in the MyMTC portal or posted on the wall by the lecture hall on the 5th floor to see what class is being taught on that particular day.  If students miss more than 12 hours of class at school per month (at MTC this include both the main and supplementary classes), the student won’t be given their stipend for the next month. If a student’s grade is lower than an 80 after every 3rd month, they won’t be given the stipend for that month.

Class Environment

A presentation I gave about my home country Merica

China

Class sizes ranged from 15-20 students from all parts of the world. Most of our teachers were very young, energetic, yet many lacked the skills to teach Chinese to foreigners. Some either did not have great English to explain or others just lacked the experience to give us a general basic understanding of Chinese. Some teachers didn’t even have the background in teaching to properly teach Chinese to us. Teachers tend to stick to the book to teach Chinese in which after some time, makes students feel bored and more likely skip class. Beyond that, it was very easy to make friends as we went along in class for there was more variety of students in a class to choose from. And we took classes besides all the language students so once students meet a few people, it almost felt like they knew a lot of others one way than another.

The pace of the class itself was quite fast. We went over one lesson per week, sometimes more like one and a half lesson so it personally did not give me enough time to learn and remember all the new vocabulary and grammar points we were learning before moving on.

First Day of Class at NTNU

Taiwan

Class sizes are generally no more than 10 students, which means ultimate personal 1 on 1 time with the teacher. The classroom is set up as more of a medium-sized conference room so students sit around the teacher. Every student must participate. No such thing as raising one’s hand having that one person take all the shine. Teachers take the time to go around to every student and grill the vocabulary and grammar by having us openly talk to each other in class and take turns reading aloud. Teachers are very knowledgeable and know what they are doing for most of them went to school to become teachers. They are well trained and can easily communicate the lessons both in Chinese and English (if they have to) and best of all, my teacher tries to speak to us based upon the Chinese that we know so far (and that is super important when learning a new language in the beginning levels). Most importantly, although our book does a good job in explaining the material, my teacher takes the time to expand from the book by providing additional worksheets in class and her very interactive powerpoint slides along with making up games as we move along in the lessons. Because there are not many students in the class, there are not so many options in terms of making friends. Also, many of the students work or do other things outside of class so students experience may vary in terms of making friends.

In terms of class pace, I think it is quite fast at MTC as well, but the teacher gives us more time to practice the grammar points in class which overall help us in making sure that everyone understands before moving on. Each lesson in the book is typically finished within a week, sometimes longer depending on the circumstances. And the best thing about it, MTC has 3 different types of levels students can choose to take just in case they have a preference on the speed the material is covered. Read more about studying at MTC.   

Student Textbooks

The books I started with when I began studying Chinese.

China

Most students who are studying Chinese in China will use books various books made by Beijing Language and Culture University (BLCU). At Fudan, we used particularly a set of ones called Integrated Chinese books which start from 1 -10? (please don’t quote me on that). In my honest opinion, these books are terrible. Very outdated (not sure if they’re still using them), learned words that NO Chinese person would ever say like 马马虎虎 mamǎhūhū (careless) or 糊里糊涂 hūlǐhūtú (confused). One would go out and say the words just to be confused whether they’re saying it wrong or if they don’t understand why they’re saying that word. Some of the English wasn’t translated properly and even used slang words every now and then to define vocabulary which threw me off. The book itself wasn’t cohesive at all. We would learn about a lot of different subjects, of things that people commonly wouldn’t talk about unless someone was in those situations. And what’s fun about that? The first book also had bad Chinese/English translations. After moving up to higher levels, all of the instructions were in Chinese in which I feel like I wasn’t fully prepared or trained to read instructions in Chinese just yet. Even the grammar points were in Chinese. At Fudan, we have levels A – I and I started at A and ended at the beginning of D and these levels are considered Beginner Level so I would hope they would be more considerate to slowly weed the instructions in Chinese. The book was useless in terms of understanding the grammar unless the student was in class for the lesson or someone was able to explain it to them.

There was also a listening book and also a writing book. The listening book included a CD where students had to listen to the passages to complete the work. The writing book had more practical exercises such as  “How to write a letter” or “How to write a grocery list” which I really enjoyed doing. But writing class was only once a week. I wish we spent more time using these books in class for my teachers barely used/touched them while at Fudan.

Chinese: Round Two but with a twist with Traditional Characters

Taiwan

In Taiwan, the books are written by my school NTNU and they are updated quite regularly to reflect the changes in the Chinese language and environment. We use these books called A Course in Contemporary Chinese in which I heard over 90% of language schools in Taiwan use these books. There are 6 books in total 1 being the absolute beginner to 6 being advanced. I l love these books so much for they are very well written and go well in the department with all we need to know. They have a list of words students should know for Chinese class along with explanations of the characters they use throughout the book. In each chapter, they use these characters and tie them to real life places all around Taiwan. There’s an idea of how they can go about doing certain things which help students in their daily lives. A lot of the locations they mention in the book revolve around my school so it is interesting to think about how we can think about certain things in relative terms. In each chapter, there are typically 2 sets of vocabulary, two different dialogues or texts to read, and the grammar that follows the new words and texts. In the beginning books, they have the texts translated both in English, Pinyin, and even Simplified Chinese. Very very helpful. They even have all grammar points and the example sentences written both in Chinese and English especially if you don’t fully comprehend. And of course, a ton of exercises to be done both throughout the chapter and the end of it. The best part is at the end of the chapter they have a few texts sharing more information about Taiwanese culture or things that you mind find interesting or useful in your daily life living in Taiwan.  This book is also very practical and useful for things I needed in my day to day life. Some chapters I could recall from my books in China went well more in-depth in this book and I am happy about that. This was the book I needed when I first started studying Chinese.

We also have two additional books, one is the Homework book where we practice everything we’ve learned before the test. The second book is the character book where we practice writing every new character for each chapter. It shows the stroke order, how the character looks in both simplified and traditional and gives away a few other information about the origins of the character.

Grades

China

Although homework is given throughout the semester, what they care the most about is the big and final test which falls at the end of each Semester (Early Jan for Fall semester) or (Early June for Spring Semester). Whatever mark students get on this test depends on the grade of the class at the end of the semester. If a student falls a below a 60, that is considered failing, but to be honest, they don’t care too much about the grade. Students can decide to stay in that class, to repeat the next semester, move up, move down, or even skip a class level. But if a student decides to skip a class level, they need to take a test to test out of it. I don’t recommend to do that unless they feel the class you are in are too easy and won’t mind not learning some vocabulary. Also, if the overall grade for all of the tests combined is over 95% you can skip the next level without testing out.

Taiwan

Everything students submit or do in class are taken into account for the overall grade. From presentations, dictations, assigned homework, and tests, all of these grades are counted towards the final grade. At NTNU, students can check online after the end of each month to see their grade. If their grade falls under 80% after every 3 months, they will not give students the stipend for the following month. If students fail to not meet 80% twice, then they will take the scholarship away, cancel the student’s Alien Residence Card, and ask that person to leave Taiwan.

Student Environment

Stray cats and I were the best of friends

China

(varies from school to school) Meeting other international students was relatively easy since we all lived on campus. For the first 3 months, every week I felt like I was meeting at least 3 new people that attended Fudan. It was exciting, fun, yet very overwhelming to the point where I wasn’t sure on how to start or who to hang out with. First world problems, I know. Most of the people I would meet would simply be from just hanging lobby of the main building of the dorm or sitting outside chatting away with friends. I also met some of my closest friends in class as well.

Although we may attend different universities in Taipei, we always make time to come together

Taiwan

(varies from school to school) Because we don’t live on campus and NTNU is quite spread out as a campus, it can be difficult to meet new people. Every student lives a very different life outside of school and the only way students could truly meet people is possibly by hanging out in the common areas on campus like the 7th floor sitting area, or outside on the picnic benches. I honestly feel like I have met more people who study at NTNU outside of school than at school.

Student Resources

The lobby of the main building international dorm where memories were made, food was eaten, and one too many late night deep convos.

China

(varies from school to school) At Fudan, There was very little if any in terms of being a language student at Fudan. We had access to just about all school facilities such as the gym, indoor swimming pools, library, etc. But there’s no specified building or area (apart from the lobby in the main building) catered towards international students. All of these locations typically were either very small or always packed with university students working away. Must go early or doing off-peak hours to grab a spot.

7th-floor library at MTC

Taiwan

(varies from school to school) At NTNU, there is a building dedicated to students studying languages. All Chinese studying students take classes in the Bo Ai building. Starting from the 5th floor, there’s the Big Lecture hall along with the computer lab. On the 6th, there’s the administrative offices and more computer labs, and from 7 -9th is the library and the classrooms. While entering each of these rooms, students must tap their id card in order to fulfill attendance requirements. For students Chinese class, it’s only necessary to tap the student card right before the beginning of class. For all other classrooms, students have to tap when they enter and once they leave. Otherwise, the hours in that room won’t be counted. You can only do max 3 hours in a combination of these rooms a day (minus the large lecture hall, that is a separate time counted). There are additional buildings and resources that we have access to such as the school’s main library, gym, better wifi, cultural classes etc., but most of these require additional fees to be paid by specific personnel. All of this information can be found in the school’s handbook.

Extracurriculars

Dance battle between multiple teams on Fudan’s campus

China

(varies from school to school) At Fudan, they do a big fair that they have once a semester showcasing all of the clubs they have at the school open to both international students and local students. Most of the clubs are in Chinese but it should not deter students from joining especially if the student studying Chinese while at Fudan. And there are a few clubs catered more towards international students where English is widely spoken.

Also if the student lives in the international student dorm on campus, they post information of events happening on campus on the walls on the first floor of each building in which many students take a part of. Fudan Got Talent and Fudan Idol are some examples of the major events they’ve had. There are also student groups on WeChat that people can add themselves into to learn more about these events as well.

For all scholarship students, the school puts together a free trip every month to experience the culture and life in China. The first month, we had an all Saturday tour where we went to a museum? (can’t remember the exact details), visited the downtown Lujiazui mall area and ended the day going up in the 2nd tallest building in Shanghai known as the Shanghai World Financial Center.  Another month, we had an overnight excursion where we visited a mountain, stayed in a hotel, learned about the canals in the nearby town, went on a boating excursion and took a bus back to Shanghai the next day. All for free.

Our class took a weekend excursion to Yingge where we learned about how to make pottery

Taiwan

(varies from school to school) At NTNU, they have clubs dedicated just for foreign students.  If one was to attend the orientation, students advertise their clubs and invite students to join and be a part of the organization. On all of the bulletin boards, they also advertise the club location and hours of their weekly meetings.

The school also puts together an activity or a day trip once a month. For a small fee, any language student can sign up and join. The activity varies from month to month and is posted on the bulletin boards the Bo Ai Building floors 5 – 9 and sometimes even on the first floor. The first month, they volunteered at a local elementary school, another month, they gave out free moon cakes and coming up, they’re doing an all-day excursion on visiting a factory on making dried persimmons.

Amazing view of the downtown Bund area from the top floor of the main building at the International Dorm

Overall, I hope this gives a good overview of how studying in China and Taiwan differs if students plan to go on a scholarship or even on their own. Based upon the information given here, I think some of these options may determine where students may end up deciding to study. Now if you have any questions or you feel like I am missing something and need better clarification, feel free to ask away. Also, check out some additional resources to read more about other people’s experiences studying in China and Taiwan.

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