In which I attend class

First of all, I must apologize, I haven’t written anything in SO long! Life has been too distracting to sit down and write. Luckily, I have time now, and I’ll try to take a few moments this week to explain what I’ve been doing since I arrived here.

We’ll put the most straightforward (and most important) topic first: school. Regardless of what extra activities I try to fit in on the weekends, most of the time here is spend in class. This makes sense, as I am STUDYING abroad. I’m enjoying my classes a lot so far, although it has been a bit of an adjustment getting used to studying again after break.

I’m taking 8 classes here, which is way more than I would take at UW, and even a course more than I took in high school. The difference is, whereas a “normal” class at UW takes 3-4 hours a week, a “normal” course at UW is only 2-3 hours. In addition to this, instead of being spread out across three or four days, courses here are only held once a week (except my Chinese courses, but they don’t count). This means that while students here spend longer stretches in the classroom, they spend less time on one particular subject, but instead delve slightly less deep into many more subjects. So even with 8 classes, I am only at 15 credits (the lower limit for local students, upper limit is 25!). This has taken some getting used to, and I’m not sure if I like it more or less. It’s just different. I do have to say though, I have less awkward 20 or 30 minute breaks between classes now!

Classroom culture here seems more or less the same as back home. The professors teach… and we learn. Some of my teachers write their entire lectures on PowerPoint slides, some focus on discussion, and some use in-class activities- just like at home. I have noticed a few new things though…

-T.A.s: TAs here aren’t the same as TAs at UW. From what I’ve gathered, TAs here post documents online, reply to emails, and help the professor do miscellaneous tasks, but they never teach. Also, in some of my classes, the “class representative” (whom I have been told is just one person who… volunteered to be class representative)
carries out these functions. I’ve had a few classes at UW where TAs have only graded papers and played an administrative role, but in most of my classes they’re just as involved in teaching as the professor, if not more so.

– Time: I’m not sure if this just happens to be the professors I have, but my professors don’t seem to care if students come in late. Even those that claim to be “strict” usually give about a 10 minute window for students to show up. I’ve heard students who have studied in Europe and Latin America say that sometimes class would start 30 minutes late, and I must say, Taiwan is nowhere near that lax. But it does seem that in Taiwan the clock is more like a strongly considered suggestion, where as in America it is law.

– Public announcement of grades: One of my professors will give us a small quiz every lesson, and then the next lesson, when we go to receive our papers, will make loud comments such as “wow, best in class” or “you really did not do as well as everyone else”. I’ll be honest, this makes me feel pretty darn uncomfortable, even though I do fine on the quizzes. However, I’ve shared this with Taiwanese friends, and they say usually this only happens in Taiwanese elementary and middle schools. Huh.

So, what classes am I taking?

General Chinese: 3 credits, 6 hours a week. I somehow placed into the advanced class for this course(scary), where instead of having a textbook we read and discuss primary documents (aka real-people-articles). I like the feeling of being able to read “real” things, even if I have to struggle with my dictionary to pick up every other line of a novel or news article. I feel like my vocab improves a lot in this class.

Enhancing Chinese: 1 credit, 4 hours a week. This class is… actually slightly more difficult than the 3 credit one? We have a textbook, and learn the words in the textbook. Whereas the above course focuses more on formal writing, this course focuses more on everyday speech. Pretty straightforward language class.

Exploring Taiwan: 2 credits, 2 hours a week. This class lies somewhere between a language class, and a content-based “normal” class. The class is conducted entirely in Chinese, but is provided for non-native Chinese speakers. Therefore, while we don’t sit and practice grammar patters, the professor will sometimes slow down to explain words, and we don’t have to be embarrassed about asking language questions, as we would be in a normal Taiwanese classroom. We cover topics like geography, history, and religion in Taiwan.

Cross-Strait Chinese: 2 credits, 2 hours a week. Same concept as the class above. I am actually very surprised with how incredibly useful this course is. To put it simply, the split between Mainland and Taiwanese Mandarin Chinese is similar to the split between American and British English. Since most international students learn “Mainland” Mandarin, this class teaches us differences in everyday speech, and why the differences exist. Imagine being a student who has studied British English who comes to Wisconsin, and you can appreciate how helpful this class is.

So, in essence, I spend 14 hours a week learning Chinese. I really enjoy learning language from a personal standpoint, and the classes help me with everyday life here. In addition to this, I also have…

Taiwanese Environment and Natural Resources: 2 credits, in English. This class is brilliantly fun. Every week we have a guest lecture, and cover a different facet Taiwanese… environment and natural resources. Taiwan’s ecology is very diverse, and it is also one of the most natural-disaster-prone areas in the world, so studying the nature here is very interesting. We have students from all over the world in this class, including local Taiwanese students. This class has field trips!!! I haven’t been on field trips since high school, and the prospect of one makes me very excited!

Seminar on Political-Economic Interaction across the Taiwan Strait: 2 credits, in English. Is the title of this long enough for you? This is my first time… ever… taking a graduate course, and I still believe the reading load is very intense, even though I’ve done worse before (this brings back AP test nightmares). We read about 200-250 pages a week, and our final exam may be worth up to 80% of our grade! With that being said, the course material is great. This is a political science class examining the political divide between the Mainland and Taiwan, which is an incredibly interesting and controversial issue. The class also benefits from having students from around the globe (including local students). The reading load is worth bearing in order to learn more about the subject.

Nonprofit Organizations: 2 credits, in Mandarin. This is my only “real” very-academically-oriented-all-local students-Mandarin-only-class. Surprisingly, it is not killing me! I am very excited I get to take this class, as I want to work at a nonprofit organization when I graduate, but the nonprofit class at Madison is almost-impossible to get into for students outside of the department. ! I’ll be honest, I’m very proud to be in this class, to be able to *pretty much* keep my head above water, and to have the chance to learn the material. In this class, I get to learn really cool words like “think tank”, “tax mitigation”, and “Neo-liberalization of public management”.

Ballroom Dance: 1 credit, in Mandarin. Yes, I’m taking ballroom dance! Studying abroad is about stretching your comfort zone, and nothing will stretch my comfort zone more than having my awkward-self learn the grace and poise of dancing. This class is laid back and fun, and I get to wear sparkly shoes (the fact that the store stocked a pair big enough to fit my wide feet was reason enough to smile).

As for my time outside class, I’ve gotten involved in a few extracurricular activities as well:

Ballroom Dance: As long as I bought the shoes for class, I thought I might as well join the club. We are learning tango, waltz, and jive. I’m definitely one of the slowest, as I’m completely new to the sport and have a language barrier, but I’m proud of myself for learning. The fact that I really am not very good at dancing makes the progress sweeter when I finally understand something. While some students are like me and have just begun, other students are very impressive and compete competitively.

Church: Church is church, seems to be very similar to America. People are kind, and I can pretty much keep up during the service, which includes English translation of song lyrics and bible passages, as well as ear-piece-translation of the sermon. That is, except for the Lord’s Prayer, which is sped through just as fast as the English version. So I just say it in English instead. I’m going to make a guess that God doesn’t care much about the language barrier.

ISIS: The International Student club has held a few activities so far. I decided not to go on their two-day trip, but I DID attend Mahjong night. Mahjong is a game very similar to old maid or poker, but that is played with tiles (the same tiles as on the Microsoft-preinstalled-mahjong-matching-game). I managed to win once! However, don’t think I’m going to start winding away my nights gambling mahjong anytime soon.

So, there is a not-so-brief introduction to my classes and school. I’ll try to write more tomorrow, but for now… have to do homework!