Studying in Taiwan would always be one of my greatest experiences. First of all, it was a dream come true for me as I had always dreamed of studying abroad. Once again, God made it possible for me to achieve a dream that I thought was out of my reach. Right after graduating from college, I went to Taiwan to learn Mandarin Chinese. Well, I don’t have any Chinese blood, studying the language is just my personal interest. Furthermore, since China’s economy is now rapidly growing, I just thought that learning Chinese might be an advantage in the future. So after undergoing a meticulous medical examination and an interview at the Taiwanese Embassy for my visa, I finally made it to Taiwan last February just in time for the Chinese New Year.
Mandarin Chinese is the official language of Taiwan although the local people have their own Taiwanese dialect. However, compared to Mainland China that now uses the simplified Chinese characters, Taiwan still uses the traditional Chinese characters which are more difficult to write. I have an older brother who is living in Taiwan with his family so I was really looking forward to see my nephew and nieces. This was also my first time to visit a foreign country so I couldn’t help but get easily amazed with everything that I saw. Hehe. 🙂 I stayed at my brother’s house in Kaohsiung City. Kaohsiung is the second largest city in Taiwan after Taipei and it is located at the southern part of Taiwan. I took the spring semester at Wenzao Ursuline College of Languages from February to June. Wenzao is a big and popular language school in Kaohsiung City. They offer different languages such as French, Spanish, English, German, Japanese etc. but of course, the most popular for foreigners is the Chinese Center.
I was so excited and nervous at my first day of school. I was excited to see my class and nervous at the same time because I didn’t know anyone there. The Chinese Center usually handles small group classes so there were only nine students in my class. I was the only Filipino in my class and the rest of my classmates came from Germany, United States, Canada, Spain, Switzerland, France, and South Korea. Being the only student from Philippines, I felt pressured to study hard because I didn’t want to bring shame to our country. Unfortunately, before coming to Taiwan, I had never tried to study Chinese. Apart from the words ni hao (hello) and xie xie (Thank you), I knew nothing about the Chinese language. You could imagine my surprise when at my first day of class, our teacher asked us to introduce ourselves in Chinese and take note, she didn’t use English at all. She could speak English but she didn’t use it in teaching our lessons. I heard that in this school, teachers only use Chinese in teaching the lessons as they believe it would make the learning process faster for the students.
My teacher gave me a Chinese name Ai li (愛莉). Since my real name is Lovely, Ai (愛) means love and li (莉) means the flower jasmine. All my classmates called me Ai li , which I also prefer because I feel quite uncomfortable using my name Lovely whenever I introduce myself to foreigners as their next question would be “Is that your real name?” 🙂 Anyway, it was my first time to be with a large group of foreigners so I didn’t know how to approach them at first but I was really grateful because all of them had been very kind to me. I even had this classmate from Canada who works as an English Teacher in Taiwan. He has been living in Taiwan for three years and is now married to a Taiwanese. I would never forget his kindness as he often tried to help me when I was having a hard time understanding the lesson. He had studied Chinese before so his level was quite advance for the beginner’s class. I also had a German seatmate who had been really helpful to me whenever I had some questions about our lessons. I found our class just similar to the ordinary classroom setting in the Philippines. There would be the diligent and hard-working type of students and there would be the easy-going type of students. There would also be the funny ones who love to joke like my American and my German seatmates who are really fun to talk to.
However, studying Chinese is not a joke. I must say it is one of the most difficult things that I have ever studied in my life. For a beginner like me, who had never tried studying Chinese before, learning Chinese was terribly difficult for the first time. Well, what makes it difficult? I think everything makes it tough starting with the characters. Chinese has almost 3,000 characters. Each character has a different meaning. Remembering the meaning of each character is already a challenge much more memorizing how to write them. In Chinese, there’s a step by step procedure on how to write the strokes. At first, I thought I could just copy the character by writing it in the way which I found the easiest but I was totally wrong. Instead, I have to memorize the sequence on how to write the strokes for example, from left to write and from the top to bottom. Above all, what makes me crazy is the pronunciation. Chinese has four tones and each tone has a different meaning 😯 For example, the word Mài (賣) means to sell and the word Mǎi (買) means to buy. These two words have entirely opposite meanings but the pronunciations have a minor difference so one must really be careful in pronouncing the tones. And take note, that for the locals to be able to understand your Chinese you must be able to say the right tones. Chinese pronunciation has always been the most difficult thing to learn for foreigners.
Overtime, I was able to adjust to the language. One thing about Chinese is it’s difficult but very interesting to learn. I must say that living in Taiwan has helped me to understand the language faster since everything that I see and everything I hear is Chinese. After a few months, I found myself able to read some signs on the street. Something that I could brag about to my brother when I get home. Hehe 😀 I could already order some Chinese food at a local restaurant. More importantly, I could already order my favorite drink Zhēnzhū nǎichá (珍珠奶茶) which means pearl milk tea. Furthermore, I could already understand the price that the seller tells me whenever we visit the night market. I found the experience very rewarding. What makes me happier is when the local people understand my little Chinese 🙂 . My almost 5-month stay in Taiwan is indeed one of the most unforgettable parts of my life.