Discover one of Eastern Asia’s best-kept secrets by studying in Taiwan, a beautiful island off the east coast of China. Named Ilha Formosa, or Beautiful Island, by the Portuguese, Taiwan lends study abroad students the opportunity to explore a uniquely fascinating island, ancient mountainous temples, and traditional Chinese culture.
Study the Chinese language among Taiwan’s friendly people and expand your education in one of Asia’s most rapidly progressing economies.
Planning Your Trip
Where to Study
The capitol of Taiwan, Taipei, is a lesser-known jewel tucked away in East Asia. Often confused with Thailand, Taiwan is considered a state of the Republic of China. Taipei is a metropolitan city, and for those interested in Japan but would rather study Mandarin, Taipei is the perfect alternative, offering a fast-paced metropolitan lifestyle combined with many of the foods and fashions of both China and Japan.
Taiwan is an extremely affordable country, making maintaining a comfortable lifestyle very easy. While students don't receive discounts, Taiwan's affordability negates all of that; you can have a good, local meal for about $2 easily. Most students pull money from their overseas bank accounts at the ATM machines in the subway stations and 7/11's but be sure to check the exchange and transaction fees. A bubble tea drink in the U.S. costs an average of $4 per drink - the average price in Taiwan is $1.
Luckily, the Taiwanese government highly encourages foreign students to study, and offers a variety of generous scholarships to study solely Chinese, or to pursue a BA or MA at a Taiwanese institution.
Culture Shock and Support
Taiwan, especially for Western visitors, will be a cultural shock. Taiwanese customs does not deem staring, gawking or even pointing as impolite, so for visitors with non-Asian appearances, it can be a little awkward walking into the local 7/11 just for a bottle of water. However, remember that the Taiwanese are genuinely kind and warmhearted people; It is not odd for a stranger to take you to your hostel as a friendly gesture, or pay for your meal if you're a visitor. The Taiwanese take care of family, friends, and newcomers alike, and take great pride in that.
Don't worry about making friends; not only are the Taiwanese a curious and welcoming group, ex-pats openly reach out to other foreigners, as there are very few in Taiwan, and when a minority, people come together.
The best time to visit Taiwan - if you're not a Florida native and can take the heat - is in the fall and winter. A jacket and scarf will suffice in Taiwan's "winter" season, and there should be good travel deals. Make sure to utilize the MRT (subway system) as it's an affordable and easy way to get around. Also, you could look into renting a vespa scooter!
Learn Chinese! Chinese is a difficult language for English speakers, period. Learning the language is best done in the country, but be sure to do some reviewing before you arrive. While Taiwanese college students know basic English, a large majority of the inhabitants will speak only Mandarin and Taiwanese. It's important that you learn how to read and recognize basic characters in order to read signs.
Student Visa Process
There are two ways of getting a study visa in Taiwan and they are 1) apply at a consulate in the US for a long-term study visa, submitting all of the necessary paperwork onsite or through mail or 2) apply for a tourist visa in the US to first enter the country, and then get the study visa while in Taiwan.
Unless you're short on time, it is ill-advised to choose the 2nd option: the Taiwanese government requires that you have medical exams done for both options, but by getting a medical exam in the US, you can avoid the very messy and frustrating experience of navigating Taiwanese hospitals, which you will be expected to do independently.
Either option, once you arrive in Taiwan you are required to visit the consulate to show your visa, but by having a study visa approved in the US, you will be making only 1 trip, instead of the 3+ visits required for changing a tourist into a student visa.
There are two Chinese language programs in Taipei that particularly standout: The National Taiwan University and Taiwan Normal University. Thousands of students every year attend both of these highly prestigious programs, and offer a range of beginner to advanced level classes on a 3-month quarterly based schedule. Classes are typically three hours a day plus outside study, as well as any additional elective courses. You can expect to have a good grasp of the language by the end of your first year if you take your studies seriously, but if you are seeking fluency go for two.
The other nice thing about studying Chinese in Taiwan is that it attracts students from all over the world. Your classmates could be from Spain, Japan, or Africa! This puts all of you in a highly intensive learning environment that forces you to only speak Chinese in order to communicate.
At the end of your language program you may be interested in enrolling full-time in a Bachelors or Masters program in Taiwan. There are a variety of programs available, from business studies to advanced cultural programs, and when you're done your Chinese speaking abilities will standout.
Try and learn a little Chinese before you arrive. Chinese is by no means an easy language to learn, so every little bit counts. It will also help you quickly adjust to life in Taiwan during your first few weeks, which can be a nerve-racking time period. Try a free trial of Rosetta Stone or Pimsleur.
Strange as it may seem, more traditional Chinese culture is preserved in Taiwan than on the mainland. This is a result of Mao's Cultural Revolution that ripped through China's countryside in the 1960's and 70's, destroying thousands of temples and other precious artifacts. Taiwan was spared this fate and now houses one of the largest collections of Chinese artifacts in the world in the National Palace Museum.
Taiwan also continues to use traditional characters in their writing system as opposed to simplified characters now adopted on the mainland. Despite the name, simplified characters does not make learning Chinese any easier and cuts you off from thousands of years of Chinese history and literature.
Costs & Funding
There are several options for scholarships to study in Taiwan. Some are offered by the Taiwanese government and some are offered by other organizations. Here are but some of those options.