International Students Feature: Taiwan

Tuesday, January 24th, 2017

International students go through too many transitions to count. Their surrounding scenery, people, language, holidays, and traditions may all change, and that’s not even close to an exhaustive list. This section of TechNews aims to capture the perspectives of different international students in order to help others better understand other cultures and what American culture looks like to someone newly exposed to it. This week, the spotlight is on Taiwan. Shen Chun-Ju, a second year graduate student from Taipei studying manufacturing engineering, and Yuan Kai Tsai, a first year graduate student from Tainan studying materials science and engineering, have shared their opinions on the biggest differences between Taiwan and America.

One clear similarity between almost all international students is a dislike of the American diet, or at the very least a preference for the food back home. Both Shen and Yuan miss the food back in Taiwan. In Shen’s words, the “food in Taiwan is a lot of different than here.” In her opinion, food in Taiwan differs so drastically from here that a lot of foreigners wouldn’t try it. One food she misses most is Taiwanese fried chicken, usually purchased from a street vendor. Shen described it as boneless, with Taiwanese spices like basil, all in a white paper bag. One would “normally eat it with bubble tea, [which] originated in Taiwan.” According to Shen, near her house there are three or four separate bubble tea vendors, and the competitive atmosphere makes the bubble tea even tastier. In comparison, Shen said, “bubble tea in Chinatown is bad.” One thing Yuan found strange about American food is how common it was to eat vegetables raw. “In my country,” Yuan explained, “we eat vegetable which is cooked, but here people eat vegetable raw. We can put some salt, or put some other sauces.” Another difference Yuan noted was the presence of less seafood. “Taiwan is a small island,” he said, “so every city [is] near the sea. It’s easy for us to get seafood. But in Chicago, it’s very difficult to get seafood.” In addition, Yuan explained that the general composition of meals varied greatly between the two countries. While American meals tend to have an emphasis on potatoes, he thought, Taiwanese meals instead use a lot of noodles and rice. But while most of the food is clearly very different, Yuan mentioned that the pizza in Taiwan was very similar to the pizza offered here.

In terms of general culture, one of the most obvious differences is the language. And while the language barrier is a big part of the transition, there are many other changes to account for. According to Yuan, “I think one difference is about family. The connection of parents and kids is very strong in my city. For example, I know a lot of Americans [whose] parents don’t care much about them after 18 years old. In my country, the connection is stronger. For example, if we encounter big challenge[s] in our lives, we can get help from our parents. Our parents can help us to solve the challenges because they have more experience [and] their age is older.” Yuan also noticed that people in America seemed to prefer to stay home after they finish work, contrasting with the behavior he had become accustomed to.

Academically, differences also abound. One such difference, according to Shen, is the “education system here is more practical. [The] professor will do a project, be more helpful for searching a job after we graduate.” In Yuan’s opinion, teachers and students interact more frequently in American classrooms. “In Taiwan, teachers usually teach students and students don’t ask any questions. It’s totally different than America.” In addition, Yuan said that the way students go about getting answers can also be contrasted. For example, Yuan said, “students in my country they prefer to ask teachers to get the answers, but the students here in my opinion find how to solve the questions by themselves ... the students in my country want to get the answers directly. They don’t want to know what the process is to get the answer, they just want to get the answer.”

While many international students have a similar opinion of the American diet, there is a also a clear trend that international students appreciate the diversity of the people and cultures here. Yuan described this feeling, saying that when the two countries are contrasted, the “big difference is human. People are from [all] countries, from everywhere. When I arrived in America and I met new people, I can know a lot of cultures from their countries or different kinds of concepts or ideas.” Perhaps it is a lesson to be learned from voices like Yuan that this diversity, this opportunity to learn from so many different perspectives, is truly an American blessing.