I remember that before I went I was very insecure and not sure what to expect. There were some videos on YouTube that I watched to try to get an idea of what it was like in Taiwan, but there weren't really that many, and in my experience you never know what it'll be like before you actually go there. After my visit the University of Oslo and National Taiwan University both asked me to write a thing that they could post on their website, and although I did write it at the time, it never got published on either site because (1) UiO couldn't figure out their own computer systems to let me log in and it all got lost in administrative staff redirecting the problem until it was given up on, and (2) I'm not sure why the NTU staff never published it.
So in the end I'm just publishing it here, 5 years after I actually went there, but the text that follows was written just a few weeks after the semester ended. Very glad it was still in my Dropbox when I remembered it and thought of actually posting it.
Like I said, it's scary when going to somewhere very foreign and you don't know what to expect, and I do believe that you won't know for sure if you'll have a good time or not until you go, but perhaps this piece of scribblery may give you a little bit of an idea what it's like. Also check out 13mordeth on youtube where he rides his motorcycle around the Formosa Island talking to his go pro camera. It was weirdly insightful for me.
Please enjoy, and thanks for reading.
I arrived in Taipei after staying a while in Vietnam meeting the welcoming commitee on at the airport, along with some other new arrivals. These people turned out to be my good friends later on. Shortly after I went to the NTU prince house dormitory in Shui Yuan, which is about a five minutes walk from the university. I quickly checked in, and a group of very friendly swedish people, and some people of other nationalities, helped me find a place where I could buy a taiwanese style mattress (a very thin mattress with a bamboo lining on top). Afterwards we bought a beer at the closest 7/11 and drank it underneath a very nicely lit bridge next to the river closeby, a location I would visit many a more times later for bbqs and for jogging.
The next day I went to an orientation at the university where we were shown around the campus in groups, and I got to know many more people from different countries like USA, Germany, France, Holland, Sweden, Denmark, China, Czech Republic, Korea – but not Norway. There were very few fellow Norwegians, and I only got to meet one until about two months into my stay.
After that class started and the days flew by as I got to know more and more people, and made better and better friends.
We could choose between morning classes with classes from 8am – 10am every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, or night classes from 6.30pm – 9.30pm every Monday and Wednesday. I chose night classes so that I could have Fridays off.
The chinese classes were fine, although I wish we had focused more on practical everyday speaking and conversation skills, rather than the very formal approach that was the case in our classes. We also focused a lot on reading and writing – which I think was not very beneficial for me, since I would only stay for one semester, and probably won’t continue studying chinese for a while. I did however learn enough to get around.
You should by the way note that they use the traditional chinese characters in Taiwan, rather than the simplified, and that they do have a noticable Taiwanese accent. I don’t think you should worry about having problems with going to China later though.
As I had to take graduate classes in Computer Science it was a little hard to find classes that fit my specialization, which was also taught in English. I did find some classes that were fine, but I wish there were more options. Also, I went in the spring semester, which is the semester where there are usually less exchange students. This resulted in there being less courses taught in english.
Trips around Taiwan
The second or third weekend after arriving, I went with a group of about 10 people to the southern part of Taiwan to a place called Kenting to go surfing and generally chill on the beach. The ride was quite long but when we arrived we were met with clear blue skies and beautiful beaches. We were blown away by how beautiful this place was, and how easy it was to get there from Taipei. As it was still around early March, the northern Taiwan was still quite cold, but in the coming months we could also go surfing or just to the beach up north. Places like Daxi and Fulong are great and the beach in Daxi is not very crowded so surfing here is magnificent.
Other than surfing in Kenting, we also rented 125cc scooters which is the main mode for transportation for most Taiwanese. Neither one of us had licenses, but we had a chinese guy with us who talked to the old man renting out the scooters, and it all went fine. I think we got about 7 scooters and went either two on one, or just alone. It’s beautiful to ride around Taiwan on a scooter, and another place I can recommend is the Taroko Gorge close to Hualien where you can easily spend a day or two riding scooters around the mountaneous area and take stops for hiking.
There are many other locations you can check out in Taiwan, and you will find out if you do a bit of research online.
Taiwan is a very cheap country compared to Norway. Our dorms did not have kitchens so mostly all meals were had in various restaurants and eating places. A normal rice, meat and vegetables dish will set you back around 20 kr. You can of course find more expensive places, and western food is generally a bit more expensive.
I had a private room on the 14소 floor in the dorm, equipped with a bed, desk, chair, closet, bookshelf, and a bathroom with a shower and toilet, and with a view of the Taipei 101. This cost about 7100 taiwanese dollars, which I think is around 1600 kr.
The public transportation in Taiwan is very good. There are generally trains and buses going to most locations in the country, and Taipei has a wonderful metro system called the MRT. The student card you get at the university also works as a metro pass, and you get a student discount. You just easily tap on and off and your fare is calculated automatically. This card also works on various buses around the city.
Free time and partying
Beer is generally quite cheap in Taiwan and we had many fun nights where we either just went to a park or to a pub, or went to one of Taipei’s many night clubs. The beer does not taste a whole lot, but it’s fine once you get used to it. There are also a variety of different fruity drinks for those who like that, which you can get for around 10 kr at one of the many 7/11s around. Wine is generally expensive as it is mostly imported.
Taipei and Taiwan in general is packed full of night markets where you can find anything from weird foods to clothing and even electronics. You can easily spend hours just walking around trying different dishes or just looking at weird stuff.
Most of my close friends were other exchange students, but I did meet many taiwanese people too. Due to their english not being that great, and my chinese being shitty at best it was a little hard to become good friends though.
It might be hard to come into contact with taiwanese people at the university as they are usually studying very hard. The National Taiwan University is said to be the best university in the country, and only the best and the brightest make it there. Being an exchange student is different, as the requirements for getting in a much lower.
What I did to get into contact with some taiwanese people was to join one of the many clubs at NTU. Since I enjoy playing a bit of music, I joined the NTU Rock Music club. I thought a club for rock music sounded a bit lame, but bear in mind that the culture is very different. It turned out to be a good choice to join, and I made some friends. There were weekly jam sessions, and I was even invited to go with some of them and stay at their house when they played a show in Hualien. They said his uncle was a local gangster, but I did not notice anything else than that we got a discount when we rode a cab to the house.
If you’re thinking about going to Taiwan on exchange, I hope reading this has made the decision easier for you, and of course I recommend you go. The culture is different at least for where I'm from, but it is definitely a developed country and you will get by fine if you just keep an open mind. The people there love foreigners, and are very friendly and will help you get around if you get lost and can’t read chinese characters. I made many good friends from around the world, and it was hard to say goodbye – but it was still absolutely a good choice to go there. One semester flies by so fast and I’m sure you will want to go back after you leave. I was looking at going to other countries like China, Korea, Japan or Singapore but I am very glad I ended up choosing Taiwan as my destination. At the moment of writing I am in Seoul, Korea and I’m visiting some friends I met back in Taipei. After going on exchange you will have so many friends around the globe that you will have the chance to meet again back in their home countries.
Final final remarks
As you might have read in the introduction, I didn't post this until five years after writing it, but now that I am in the future I can tell you that I'm still friends with a lot of those people, and they have both come to visit me here in Oslo, and I have gone to visit them in their countries. Stay curious and become a globetrotter like me, you won't regret it. Peace!
Also, I made a couple of videos tryna make travel videos kinda like Eddie Huang and David Choe (and the late Anthony Bourdain RIP), and most of them take place pretty close to NTU, so if you're interested check them out. Here's a link to the first one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TRxpzdVaTfA