Alumni Spotlight: Kevin Nguyen


Kevin is an International Entrepreneurship major from Gaithersburg, Maryland attending Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa. He loves learning foreign languages, boxing, and exploring grocery stores.

Why did you choose this program?

I chose the CIEE Spring Program in Taipei because of its commitment to teaching program participants Traditional Chinese characters. While simplified characters are used by most Chinese speakers, Traditional Characters, in my opinion, should be learned by those who want to truly "master" the language. Considering CIEE Taipei was the only Chinese language program offered by my school that offered a Traditional Character program, making my choice was easy. Plus, the several years of great CIEE reviews helped too!

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

It's funny that I have to think really hard for what I personally had to organize on my own. The reality is, if CIEE wasn't assisting us with program events, student retreats, fun parties, or day trips, then they were literally HANDING us advice, guides, and brochures of what we program participants could do on our own! Even after work hours, the staff was always an IM away if we needed anything.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

Do NOT be afraid to speak the target language. Accept that you'll stumble on words when you first arrive. Accept that you'll find regional variations in the language when you arrive and that it may frustrate you. Accept that some native speakers might want to converse in English exclusively – it's not a dig at your language proficiency, I promise!

Adopt humility in your language learning, and don't forget to ask for advice as often as possible!

“我想要練習中文。我們可以講中文嗎?" (I want to practice Chinese, can we speak in Chinese please?) is a phrase that will ALWAYS be responded with an enthusiastic "當然可以!" (of course!).

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

Despite what you see on brochures, not every day is a food festival, retreat to nature, or city adventure! Remember that you're here to study although you'll have plenty of time to explore.

My days are pretty straightforward. I woke up at 8, got dressed, brushed my teeth, and arrived to class at 8:10 AM (I literally lived right above my classroom), learned Chinese for 3 hours straight, had lunch, had a chat with my girlfriend (long distance isn't easy!). Depending on the day, I would go boxing with fellow university students, eat out with a friend, do homework, or go to my Business Chinese class.

At night? If not a midnight snack with my resident ambassador buddies, then I decompressed by writing!

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

I'd probably say that my biggest fear is being in a foreign country and having a mental health disorder. I've been struggling with OCD for the past 2 years, and decided to get off of my medications and didn't go to therapy while I was abroad. How did I overcome it? Plenty, plenty, plenty, of self-care. Running, boxing, having a meal with a friend, and writing – those were all activities I made sure to indulge in for daily decompression purposes. Considering many of those activities are physical, my health improved in some ways too!

Now that I've spent months in Taiwan with OCD, I feel like I can do ANYTHING! If you have the right support system abroad, nothing can stop you. That's my belief!

How did you manage to acquire the target language in your target country?

For context, I was in Taiwan and was studying Mandarin Chinese. Honestly, I felt pretty confident with the 2 years of Mandarin Chinese experience I had before arriving in Taiwan. After I got to the airport, I realized that if I hadn't heard, seen, or read a word from a textbook or my teacher before, then I had no idea what was going on!

That said, there are many useful phrases that one should learn in ANY target language to make immersion into a new language environment easier. Many natives, regardless of the country you're in, will resort to speaking a lingua franca (usually English). Maybe because they think you're struggling with the language. Maybe they want to practice a language they're learning themselves. Regardless of the reason, in Taiwan, I've found it INCREDIBLY useful to use the following phrases (and their usual responses) whenever I was stuck. Enjoy!

“我是中文學生。你可以幫我練習中文嗎?”(I'm a Chinese language student. Can you help me practice my Chinese?)
"可以啊!" (Yes! (At this point the conversation would continue only in Chinese))

"你可以用單詞來解釋這個問題/事情/字嗎?” (Would you mind using simple vocabulary to explain this problem/matter/word for me?)
“當然啊! 就只這樣子。。。“(Of course! It's like this...)

"如果我説錯任何東西的話,麻煩你告訴我好不好?" (If I say anything incorrectly, mind correcting it?)

Happy immersing!