Michwongtalks about Exchange

I left for Taipei on Feb 16 and returned home on the 29th of June.

It’s been an amazing 4 months and I enjoyed myself thoroughly, both in class and outside of lessons.
I thought it’d be good to organise this information in a single post, because I felt that there was a lack of information when I was doing my own research prior! This is going to be a long post where I’ll try to answer some popular questions like “huh, so do I have to be good at Chinese??”

I went for exchange to National Taiwan University in the 2nd semester of my 3rd year.
In NTU, it’d be referred to as the spring semester which starts in Feb and ends in June!
I am also a Sociology major at the National University of Singapore, so my review would probably be more specific to my major! Feel free to leave a message if you require any additional information and I’ll try to find out and edit my post accordingly.

#Useful links:
Information for Exchange students [http://www.oia.ntu.edu.tw/study-at-ntu/why-study-at-ntu/courses]
Course Finder! : [NTU course finder, with English available: https://nol.ntu.edu.tw/nol/guest/index.php%5D
IVLE – equivalent: https://ceiba.ntu.edu.tw/
NUS MYSIS – equivalent : https://my.ntu.edu.tw/Default.aspx

1. Credit Transfer:

A typical NUS module is 4MCs, the equivalent in NTU is 3MCs.
Therefore, to clear the 20MC load at NUS, you’d have to clear a total of 15MCs in NTU.

2. Module mapping/ registration

I cleared 3 core modules and my electives on exchange:
Core Modules included
a) Taiwan Archaeology ANTH3013
b) Ethnographies of Chinese minorities ANTH3017
c) Sociology of Saints and Sages SOC2008

NUS Sociology students would know that our department actually also includes Anthropology but in NTU, this is split into 2 separate departments – with SOC / ANTH module coding. However, I had relative ease in mapping my core modules as NUS Sociology recognises the Anthro mods as well and honestly NTU is VERY flexible about the classes you want to take.

At NUS: Prof accepted all my mappings as Soci level 3000 dummy modules.
I was only given SOC2008 (and another soci mod I didn’t really want) through the online system 😦 because Anth mods were “not under my registered department”.
However, this is where the NTU class appeal system came into place and honestly almost everybody gets what they want in this period, especially if you’re an exchange student.
They call this the “Jia Qian/加簽/add drop” period. This is the crucial first week of school where you have to PHYSICALLY turn up for the class you want and at the end of the class, you can request for a special code from the prof, key it into the system and viola you are now enrolled! I had to add/drop actually almost all my classes lol but it’s all good because a typical first lesson goes like :

Prof: “who needs the code”
[depending on your luck, this may be a popular or unpopular class]
Prof: “ok, let’s go by precedence : year 4 students first, exchange students, okay the rest of you can take it next semester”

So, I would say module registration and mapping was relatively fuss-free.

3) Timetable: 

I took 6 modules in NTU (worth 20MCs in NUS), and I had Fridays off!
1 MC in NTU = 1 hour of class time.
Unlike FASS’ typical 2hours lecture/2 hours odd/even tutorial, classes in NTU were weekly. So it’s 3 consecutive hours of class, with breaks in between, or it could be broken up into 2-1 hours over 2 days.
You can find out timetable information through the Course Finder, where they’ll write for e.g. “Thursday 67”. 6-7 refers to the time periods, not 6-7pm.

Plan your timetable wisely! I would say there’s a great degree of flexibility.
[Explanation of time periods available here: https://nol.ntu.edu.tw/nol/coursesearch/classtime.htm ]

4)  Modules 

a) Medium :
I’m sure this is actually the most important portion.
“If I go on exchange to NTU, do I have to be good at Chinese??”
Firstly, you don’t have to be fantastic at Chinese because there ARE quite a number of modules available in English, and also elective modules specially for exchange students!
You can refer to the Course Finder for information on English classes.

Secondly, I would say that you wouldn’t be having as much fun/getting the most out of your exchange if you only take English classes.

In NTU, their language medium is Traditional Chinese. Unless it is explicitly stated that the delivery of the class is in English, always assume that it will be in traditional Chinese.

I took 4 of 6 of my classes in Chinese and wrote my reports in Simplified Chinese but I found most of it manageable.
*Always check with the Profs, during the first lesson, your language options. Some profs are okay with reports submitted in English, simplified Chinese is no issue. It’s always good to check with them and give them a heads-up.

I had some difficulties during class participation because sometimes my thoughts don’t translate well 😦 however, what’s exchange without a slight challenge! Most of the Professors are educated at American colleges and everybody knows English even if they don’t use it all the time, so it’s actually okay to admit that you need help to express yourself in Mandarin. I thought my Chinese was above average LOL but I tripped up terribly a few times during class discussion because I didn’t know the exact social science terminology, but my profs and classmates were amazingly patient and in the end all was good because I either resorted to using the English terms, Google translate saved me, or my nice Profs tried to paraphrase.

b) Readings:
3/4 of my readings were in English. However, bear in mind that they’d deliver and discuss it in Mandarin. Readings were pretty manageable.

c) Grading:
In NTU, 59/100 is a fail.
It’s similar to NUS’ grading and their IVLE will usually have the grading breakdown.
Different courses have different grading requirements e.g. attendance, reports, in-class presentations, finals.
Typically, these will be addressed during the first lesson. (First lessons are a MUST to attend.)
Professors emphasise on the process and your effort. If you attend class most of the time, and try to contribute but somehow that doesn’t translate to grades, I think most of them will be more than happy to help you with consultations, or to try to find assignments through which you can pull up your grade.

5) Core modules review:

All my core modules had very few exchange students in attendance, but also because I was one of the few exchangers, the Profs were very patient and helpful and always asked if I needed extra help with the materials! Of course, they were also very helpful to the local students. 

a) Taiwan Archaeology ANTH3013
The syllabus was split into the history of archaeological work within Taiwan, and the evolution of Taiwan. We learnt about the history of archaeology – how it was brought in, the researchers and their backgrounds etc, and Taiwan through the different Ages (neolithic etc) and also archaeological findings. I had hoped for it to have a more practical/hands-on component, unfortunately, it was more historical. Also, because it was so specific to Taiwan, I often had to clarify or google some of the places/terms mentioned. Prof did try to bring in various exhibits. I have been told that there are other classes offered by the Anth dept with greater opportunities for practical work. Prof Chen emphasised on the importance of pen-and-paper and we were not given any access to his slides. 😦 Apparently, this is his style and everybody else was aware from the get-go. Thankfully, my classmates were nice enough to lend me some of their notes when I didn’t manage to copy all the information. Prof Chen is also incredibly nice and helpful when you approach him for help. All readings were in Chinese.

b) Ethnographies of Chinese Minorities ANTH3017
As its name suggests, this class focused on the minority groups within China and Taiwan. Taiwan is a great place to take such classes due to its diverse makeup and minority policies. It was a seminar-style class – part lecture then discussion. The weekly discussion was led by the respective groups, with input and conclusion by the Prof. The rigor of this class was slightly more similar to my classes in NUS. Weekly readings were themed and mostly in English! Prof Tristan is one of the kindest Profs and he would always try to make the class relevant by contextualising.

c) Sociology of Saints and Sages SOC2008
We focused on 5 sages/saints – Buddha, Jesus, Prophet, Socrates, Confucius. The class focused on the role their philosophies played in society, instead of examining the religions. It was quite interesting and a slightly different take on what these ideas mean to the everyday person. I took the level3k religion in society class in NUS and I came away with a different experience. They had different approaches so don’t be afraid that you’d end up replicating content. Prof Sun is very entertaining and has other very popular lectures/modules, one of the notable ones on Love. He had a reading list but we mostly used his extensive lecture materials, which were all in Chinese.

However, I doubt that my module reviews will be the most useful for the next 2 semesters as Prof Tristan doesn’t often take undergrad classes. & Prof Sun will be on holiday for a year. If there is an opportunity, I would recommend these classes!

6) Electives review: 

NTU has so many departments and they’re all really interesting! Of course, I had a lot more options because I could read and write Chinese! I came across so many interesting electives, some of which were targeted at exchange students!
NTU had the Exploring Taiwan series (conducted in English) for exchangers – I enrolled in the one on geology (mapped it to Geography!) so we spent the weeks learning about the geography and geology of Taiwan haha and went on interesting field trips. My friends enrolled in the Culture-centric one so it was more social/relationships-centered.
I also took up a class in the Horticultural department, however, it weaved in Taiwan historical elements as well, so I mapped it to the Chinese Studies.

7) Honest feelings

Honestly, I was initially apprehensive at having to attend classes conducted in Mandarin and I have, at several points throughout the semester, felt that I must have lost my mind to enroll for so many of such classes. However, at the end of it, I think I thoroughly enjoyed the process and the Profs were also really understanding and patient (of course, let’s not take that for granted).
Perhaps it was partly because I was on exchange and the modules are all s/u, or maybe I scrutinised my modules well hahah, but I think I really rediscovered the spirit of learning at NTU. I would say that classes at NTU came with its own set of challenges, and some classes are less rigorous than at NUS. The Profs greatly inspired me because they were entirely focused on the process, on making sure that our lessons felt relevant, that we were enjoying our material. I think, sometimes, we lose sight of that in our academic pursuit, when so much is examined on paper.
Grading requirements were actually quite fluid and I had several profs adjust the examination format just a couple weeks before (okay,this may seem irritating to the usual Singaporean structured/preparation process, but it really isn’t ’cause they always modify it for the better). Or, they’d include other innovative ways we could showcase what we have learnt e.g. in one class we had to design an activity/game that would be useful to teach what we’ve learnt to a specific audience. I think that’s way more interesting than always only writing essays after essays.

It’s always the spirit of learning that is emphasised. I also had the opportunity to learn so many interesting topics, that I probably won’t ever encounter in NUS. It was really great.


8) Orientation: 

NTU allocated student buddies to us and my student buddy, Della, was amazingly helpful. Of course, this all comes down to luck.
They arranged for airport-pickup, hostel check-in and an orientation for us where we attended registration talks and had a campus tour. You can opt-in for all of these at the NTU application portal through which you apply for your exchange.

9) Clubs & Societies 

They also have student fairs at the start of every semester so you can check them out to get information on student clubs!
NTU has about 100+ clubs and societies and they’re all really open to exchange students. Ask any local student for information on the clubs/societies fair.
In the 1st semester, they’d have an official clubs/societies fair.
I went in the 2nd semester and they had an “Open Day” for high-school students – Azalea Festival. (It happens when the azaleas are in full-bloom, hence the name.)
Join in the fun at their festival and it’s a great opportunity to check out their club booths!

10) Hostels
Rent: 4,700NTD/month = S$300+
+ 500NTD each time per top-up of electricity card = S$20++
Any excess will be refunded at the end. I had to top-up my card several times ’cause I was using the fridge for a bit and then the air-conditioning.

Accept their on-campus living arrangement ’cause it probably is the cheapest, nearest and best option! (If you don’t have friends to make rent arrangements with)
Exchange students are typically allocated to the BOT Prince Dorms which are the newest dorms at the ShuiYuan Campus, it’s similar to our NUS Utown.

Their Utown is one street down from the main NTU campus and has a 24/7 711.
The Anthropology department also happens to be at the ShuiYuan Campus, so this was a great arrangement for me.

BOT dorms are split into 3 buildings – A (girls), B (boys), C (mixed). All the rooms are single-rooms except for block C.
I was allocated a single room in Block A.
Each room is equipped with a shelf, shoerack, a desk, mini fridge, a toilet with shower, a bed-frame, and airconditioning.
I realise I don’t actually have a nice photo of my room at NTU but it was generally big and it had everything it needed to have.
A peeve was that I had to buy my own mattress, pillow, blankets. The good thing was that the 711 on campus, as well as the dorm lobby, sold thin mattresses, pillows and blankets.
The dorm also has 2nd-hand options if you’re not too fussy. Of course, you can always purchase your own thick mattress at Ikea or something, which was what some friends did!

BOT dorms have a pantry on the first floor – microwave, induction cooker etc. Most people cook there because it’s free. If you cook on the pantries on your floor, you’d need to use your own electricity card 😦
Gym : treadmills, bikes, that’s mostly what they have. You can always get a cheap gym membership at NTU’s gym.
Lounge : The one student lounge all dorms share – pool tables, table-tennis, tables to chill and study at.

Hall Life:
I made a lot of friends during the start of sem Welcome Session, striking up conversations with other exchangers and mustering up every ounce of my outgoing personality. It was worth it. It’s hard to bump into your neighbors because they don’t really have shared spaces on each floor, or like a very strong block/hall culture like our halls in Singapore. My close friends throughout the semester ended up to be my immediate neighbors (once again, step out of your comfort zone and make friends!) and also the friends I met at that welcome session!
Life is really what you make it to be!

Night markets are so cheap! I mean, we’re all Chinese what, how different can it be!

11) Food:

You will only eat at night markets everyday if you’re on vacation. But no, you’re living there.
A typical filling meal (meat+rice+side dishes) in Taipei actually costs about 100NTD = S$4+
Not so cheap afterall, right?

Taipei inevitably has a higher cost of living. I think it’s slightly cheaper as you go further south.

The only initial complaints I had with food was that it was really too oily and sweet. It was all good soon enough. I’m pretty sure that, as a Singaporean, you’d be able to seek out cheap food.

Tip: NTU main campus always has food trucks within and also their dorms within the main campus have canteens which open to all – think cheap buffets/food bentos from $3+!
Also, always check if there are discounts available to NTU students, at the shops in the vicinity.

12) Transport

It’s really convenient in Taipei, with their efficient MRT system! NTU will issue a lovely student card which doubles as your yoyo-card /ez-link equivalent.

Cycling – bike culture is really huge! It is strongly advised that you learn how to cycle. Taipei is the only part which has such an extensive MRT system. My friends on exchange to Tainan all relied heavily on their bicycles. In Taipei, you still have the option of walking. When you know how to cycle, you can also easily get on those electric bikes/scooters when you go travelling (those that don’t require a license).

Transport gets more unpredictable in other parts and sometimes the buses don’t even run. So, always do your research and ask the locals.

13) Travel 

[I will be doing up a more detailed travel post, specific to the travel spots]
I have traveled alone to various places within Taiwan and I think Taiwan is really safe enough for a lone female to travel around. Of course, always do your due research, know your emergency numbers and try to plan ahead whenever possible.
Don’t take Taipei’s safety/well-lit areas for granted, it isn’t the same in every part.

Couchsurfing culture: I downloaded the app for the first time and have couchsurfed thrice!
It would be a generalisation to say that it is super safe, because it really isn’t. I was really very lucky that I met great people, that I made sure my friends knew when to expect a check-in from me. Couch-surfing culture isn’t huge but the people I’ve met on it have left a lasting impression, and you get to meet like-minded people.

Backpacking: It is relatively easy to find affordable hostels! I have made trips to other towns on impulse and it was really easy to book, as long as it isn’t a public holiday! They almost always have a number to call and you can transfer any required deposit at the local post office!

Your local friends: Ask and you will be surprised. I had the luck to make friends with my local classmates and their hospitable parents, who drove me down to their out-of-city homes and hosted me. Because of them, I have had the opportunity to explore some towns which didn’t have many hostel options. If they are unable to host, they will always have places to recommend!

14) People : 

Beautiful. Helpful. Hospitable. Kind. I have only met the kindest people who really made my exchange experience so enriching.

15) Finances

A good estimate of my expenditure would be a range of $4-6k. This estimate includes airfare. I didn’t exactly scrimp on food. I mostly lived in cheap hostels, or couch-surfed, and also group airbnb. I also managed to visit most of the travel hotspots within Taiwan!
Actually, I believe if I was more mindful of my expenses, I can bring it down even lower.

Go with an open heart and a sense of adventure!

I had a great time and Taiwan really has so much to offer! I know people don’t immediately consider Taiwan as an exchange destination, but hopefully, you would now!

What else did I miss out?


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