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.
Photo Credits: Deivuh.
Planning Your Trip
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.