Adjusting Annalise Bossert Language barrier LGBTQIA+ MG Ling Peer Advisor Preparing to go Reflection Taiwan Temple Exchange

Interview with Peer Advisor MG Ling

MG is one of our peer advisors at the Temple University Main Campus Education Abroad office. They studied abroad during the spring semester of 2020 at National Taiwan University through one of our exchange programs. In this interview, MG discusses what their experience was like at NTU, their best memories, and offers some helpful advice for prospective study abroad students.

First, tell us a little about your study abroad program. Where and with which organization did you go?
I studied abroad spring 2020 at National Taiwan University, which is one of our exchange programs. Exchange programs are geared towards students that want a more independent experience but also allow you pay the same price for an overseas program as Temple tuition. However, it is not guaranteed that you will study with other Temple students. There was one other Temple student in my program, but they were a computer science student and we didn’t have any of the same classes.
What was your housing situation like?
The housing is provided by the university, and was about a ten-minute bike ride from campus. They are dorm-style and separated by gender. I came into Taiwan thinking I was going to be paired with a roommate, but to my pleasant surprise I had my own room.

Did you bring any interesting souvenirs back with you?
I got these really cool limited edition New Balance shoes. They were designed with the Chinese New Year of the Rat which I was really stoked about, because I am very into shoes. Other than that, though, I didn’t really do too much shopping. I am very into photography so the many photos I took hold a special place in my heart over any materialistic item.

How was the academic side of things? What classes did you take and how did the teaching style differ from that of the United States?
I took four classes, which were GenEds and electives: Agriculture of Taiwan, Taiwanese Women and Society, Taiwanese Environment and Resources, and Chinese. All classes were taught once a week except for language courses. They were either once a week for two hours or three hours depending on if it was a two or three credit course, except Chinese, which I had three times a week for an hour just so that we could maintain our language skills. As for the teaching style, it was pretty similar, but the treatment of homework was more relaxed because we only had five assignments give or take for each class.
What was your favorite food that you discovered in Taiwan?
It’s called “tang yuan”, which is a cold soup eaten for dessert. It consists of sweet rice balls with different fillings and is both refreshing and satisfying. I haven’t had it since I left and I miss it so much.

What are some things you did to prepare for going abroad?
I was in close contact with my academic advisor and study abroad program manager, and also did research on the side by watching videos, reading articles, and asking people that I knew from Taiwan for advice on how to best integrate into the culture. I had already enrolled in Chinese 2001 on Main Campus prior to going so that I would have a good base for learning the language as well. Another important thing I did was go to the bank in the United States beforehand to exchange money, which I highly suggest doing because the rate is lower here than overseas.
What is one thing you wish you would have packed and brought with you?
I wish I had packed more sweatpants because it was a lot colder than I expected even though it is a subtropical island. I ended up buying a pair of sweatpants for $5 at the street market, and the quality was mid at best.
What was your favorite memory from your time abroad? Did it result in any important life lesson?
This took place at the very beginning of my program when I wasn’t that close to anyone and I wanted to branch out and explore my own interests. Keep in mind, I was never really the one to go places solo so this was definitely something out of my comfort zone. On a moderately warm and sunny day, I decided to go hike Jinmianshan Trail. There was another hiker wearing a neon orange backpack and we happened to take breaks or stop to capture the scenic view at similar times. Then, he finally broke the ice and greeted me, and from that moment till dusk we explored the rest of the trail together. We even stumbled across a temple and watched the sunset go down. It was weird because I never thought I would end up in that situation, but at the same time, I was grateful for the new memories. It wasn’t just about meeting a new friend on a hike, but more about putting yourself out there and trying something new. It reminded me that stepping outside of your comfort zone can result in unforgettable opportunities and memories that will last a lifetime.

Can you tell us about an unexpected encounter with a local?
One of the local guys there wanted me to be his tennis partner because tennis is a very lucrative sport in Taiwan due to the limited tennis court space. I was picked up on his motorized scooter the first day and he bought me $150 tennis shoes so that I wouldn’t hurt my feet.
What was the most difficult part of your time abroad?
The most difficult part was stepping out of my language comfort zone, which led to me religiously eating onigiri from the local 7-Eleven and using only “thank you” and “goodbye” in Mandarin. Another difficulty was that I was reserved and so were the local students, so it was hard to be the one to initiate a conversation with others.
If you could change anything about your study abroad experience, what would you change?
I would have tried to make more local friends, that’s for sure. Even though I was afraid to speak the local language (Mandarin) I was definitely in an environment that would embrace me despite my feelings of being judged on my proficiency in Mandarin. A specific memory that reinforced my understanding of how accepting people could be lay in the hands of an elderly woman that owned a dumpling and soy bean stand. With my apprehensions of mispronouncing Chinese characters and not knowing every vocabulary term, I pointed to the food item I wanted and simply smiled. To my surprise, the elderly woman took the time to patiently teach me how to say each item even though most locals assumed I knew the language because I looked like I was from there. At that point, I felt encouraged to challenge myself to put myself out there despite potential mistakes.
What skills do you think you gained through studying abroad?
Well, stepping outside of my comfort zone was definitely one thing. I also learned to be more independent through traveling via public transportation as well as flexibility and determination in overcoming a language barrier. And, of course, I learned how to relate to and build relationships with people from all different walks of life.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: