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Taiwan in the eyes of a Belizean student abroad

Posted: Monday, December 16, 2019. 10:28 am CST.

Benque Viejo native, Asuncion Martinez is a Belizean student and recipient of an International Cooperation and Development Fund (ICDF) scholarship in Taiwan.

By Asuncion Martinez: When a student goes abroad, there are a lot of things that happen in the background that many never speak of. Or if they do, they only share with those closest to them. When the public asks us, how it was when we were away, we tend to always paint this majestic scenario of the country we were in, and rarely, if not ever, do we answer or touch the hard subjects. Why do we do this? I have a few theories. I believe that once we are given such grand opportunities, allowing us to further our education; and after having made amazing friends, established global connections, and some who may have even found their love while away, we don’t want to talk about the negatives because it might make us seem ungrateful. Or we simply feel that if we talk about the lows we had, it would be too shameful to face when asked at a job interview, or in front of a crowd.

Why did you want to study abroad?  
In this constantly changing and globalized world, requiring one to be innovative and inventive to help our communities; to better equip myself, I believed I needed to get out of my comfort space, my region, and experience a different world. This way, I would be able to understand more languages, cultures, businesses and development patterns that I could later on use, not only to help improve myself, but also, to better my country.


Why did you choose Taiwan as your study destination?  
Given that Taiwan and Belize have diplomatic relations, I presumed it was an excellent choice to achieve the before mentioned. Furthermore, I had always wanted to learn more languages, and I had had an interest in Mandarin from my teenage years. I felt Taiwan, being the epicenter of technological boosts in the past 20 years in Asia, was also an educated choice to go in par with my area of study.


Why did you choose this particular institution?  

To be honest, I was not allowed to choose the institution, rather it was the program. Before coming to Taiwan, I applied to the ICDF scholarship. This scholarship has 1 institution per area of study. Thus, when looking at the list, only NDHU was listed for a computer science undergraduate degree. I researched their website thoroughly, and asked Belizeans who had arrived previously about it, but I mostly got back what was on the website (since we were actually the first ICDF group coming to this institution). Their site said it had one of the largest campuses in Taiwan, as well as it being peaceful and near the coast. I love the beach, so I was sold on that idea, although, nowhere did anyone mention you couldn’t swim in Hualien’s beaches! And that part, was a little funny and sad.


How is your study going? If faced academic challenges, how did you solve it?  

My first year here was solely to study Chinese language. That year was extravagantly fun as our professor always walked in class full of emotion and excitement. He used a vast amount of ideas and resorted to many ways to help us learn. I believe he set the bar high to my expectations of what NDHU professors would be like in my department. It was quite unfortunate for me to find out in my first computer-science year and the years following my degree, that the teachers in my department weren’t as enthusiastic. I am an audio-visual learner; thus, if someone just reads from a power point or translates for me what is there in Chinese, I pretty much have to go and learn everything: concepts, problems, ideas on how to solve, etc., on my own. Of course, I am not saying every professor at NDHU lacked the enthusiasm my Chinese language teacher had, but the vast majority followed the same pattern. To be able to accommodate my learning type, I had to resort to YouTube, Coursera, and Udacity. I even felt I found some online explanations too late, but I still managed to pass my classes.

At the beginning of my second year, there was one semester I failed horrendously. This was due for many reasons, but one of them was my severe depression. The positive effect this had was I met 2 professors who were always excited and had stories and real-life applications of material we were learning. They started to encourage me and explain to me with drawings and metaphors for me to understand. Thanks to them, I felt I was improving once again. One of them even became my graduation project advisor! After my Chinese got better, I also formed better relationships with my professors, especially my family advisor (who is different from my project advisor), and started to get more support and ideas from them on how to continue my CSIE journey. Hence, I am now in my fourth year, steps away from graduation!  


In your opinion, what are the important outcomes as an international student in Taiwan?  

It is my conjecture that the most important outcomes about being an international schoolgirl in Taiwan are the opportunities; you get to meet people from all over the world. You’re able to get involved with them even to a personal level. I have friends from France, Germany, Russia, Indonesia, Japan, Mongolia, US, Swaziland, and even South Americans (who are our neighbors geographically). You not only learn about their cultures, but as a result, gather ideas on how they have improved their country, and even gain knowledge about ways of implementing joint projects with/in Taiwan. These things are imperative when you’re trying to expand yourself and become culturally accepting. I believe by having involved myself with OIA in my school I was able to achieve one of my goals to the fullest. What’s more, Taiwan has a great environment if you’re willing to learn Mandarin, or if you want to find someone from another country to learn their language, it’s easy peasy!


Are there any challenges as a foreign student in Taiwan you would highlight?  

Yes, I’d like to go over three which I believe are crucial of my mentioning. One, if you don’t learn the language, not even by 10%, you’re going to have a hard time getting things done fast. The locals tend to feel more comfortable if you can at least speak some Mandarin to them. You’ll also find yourself surrounded with either people from your country or other internationals, which will take away a huge chunk on you fully experiencing this country.

Secondly, many times it made me feel a little uncomfortable that locals would prefer me because I was of lighter complexion compared to other international students. I believe it’s more challenging for them when they sometimes feel excluded simply because of their skin color, more than me feeling awkward because I am their favorite. Of course, it is not always the case with our professors or staff in NDHU, but it’s a common issue in the entire country.

Thirdly, even with a busy schedule and trying to study things on your own, many students in Taiwan tend to go through a phase of depression. Personally, I’m one of those that got affected. I came to Taiwan already knowing in the back of my mind that I have always had tendencies to getting depressed (and here I mean depressed, not sad). Thus, when I realized that studying computer science here was completely different to my learning patterns; additionally, being away from home, I just fell into the deepest phase I could’ve gone into. I was scared to ask for help in between which consequently led to my total collapse at the end of the semester. I lost my scholarship for an entire semester, and I was put on probation. During this probation semester, I had to finance myself entirely. After my grades went back up, my full scholarship was returned. It is worthy to mention, I wouldn’t have been able to do this without my parents, my family advisor, my job, and my close friends here in Taiwan who supported me unconditionally.

Thus, in summary what I am trying to say is to come open to learn anything and by any means. Be prepared if your mood is easily affected or if you already suffer from depression. And lastly, prepare yourself financially if you don’t think you’re making the cut. Losing the scholarship for a semester means absolutely no stipend, no tuition, and no financial help from the university. Losing the scholarship entirely would imply, the before mentioned, plus no airplane ticket to go back home. You would have to finance that yourself. Of course, if you put your mind to it, and prepare yourself mentally, emotionally, and financially, maybe no one has to go through what I’ve been through. But if you do, don’t give up, and ask for help. There is always someone willing to see you push forward no matter how many falls you have. Wherever you’re planning to apply or go, just talk and reach out when you’re stuck.


What would you tell students before they move to Taiwan? Any suggestion?  

I would suggest that they come to Taiwan with an open mind, willing to experience different cultures and different languages, and ready to learn at a completely different rhythm. I’d also encourage them to learn Mandarin, and even Taiwanese if they can, to get a deeper feeling of this beautiful country.


After graduation, what are your future plans? Do you want to stay in Taiwan?  

After graduation, I’d like to stay in Taiwan for a few months to finish traveling and seeing the things I was unable during my study time. Nevertheless, I’d like to experience one more continent before I am content with my personal globalization requisites. From there on, I am hopeful I’ll get a job in Data Science or a related field for a few years. I hope to be able to save money so that in the future, I can start a business in Belize and/or Guatemala to help my countrymen.


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