What's it like to study in Taiwan?

Mark tells us how he ended up in Taiwan, where he is now in his sixth year of a Political Science PhD at National Taiwan University.

Why did you choose to study in Taiwan?

I came to Taiwan to study Chinese in 2004 having completed a master’s degree at SOAS. I studied Chinese at National Taiwan Normal University for three years (at the language centre, not a degree course).

My initial plan was to go back to the UK to do a PhD. I decided to study here instead due to the lack of funding opportunities available in the UK and the fact that I was enjoying living in Taiwan and didn’t really want to move back. Taiwan offered me funding, so the choice was made.

What was the application process like?

The application process was mostly straightforward, although requirements vary between departments. The trickiest part was the requirement to authenticate my degree certificate and transcript, which had to be done in the UK, but I got my parents to help me.

How did your family and friends react to the news?

They were very pleased.

How did the fees in Taiwan compare to what you would have paid in the UK?

Fees are cheaper here, especially at public universities. I paid about NT50,000/year (£1,000 pounds) for the first three years, then a reduced rate afterwards. However, the government has recently increased fees for foreign students at public universities, although this doesn’t apply to existing students. You should still be paying less than £2,000 pounds a year with the new fees. Scholarships are also quite easy to get.

The fees for my initial language course were about £1,600 per year, though I think they have gone up since then.

What about the cost of living?

Much cheaper than the UK, especially outside of Taipei.

How are you finding the experience of living and studying in Taiwan?

My course is entirely in Chinese, so the language was a very big challenge, especially at first. There was no specific language entry requirement for my PhD course, but three years of Chinese wasn't really enough and the first couple of years were a big struggle for me. Taiwan does have an increasing number of programmes in English to choose from, which are worth considering if you don't have the language skills.

There are also many cultural differences, although I was more prepared for that having lived here for three years before I started the PhD.

Taipei is a great place to live. You can find pretty much anything you want in the city, but you are surrounded by mountains. If you need to escape, within half an hour from the city you can be on a hiking trail with no one around. The Taiwanese people are also very welcoming and Taiwan feels like home now, although of course I miss my friends and family.

What do you plan to do after your course is finished?

I previously worked as an English teacher here, when I was learning Chinese, and I now work as a research assistant at the Asian Barometer Survey, a university-funded research programme. The work involves things like translation, writing research reports, organising international conferences and liaising with foreign scholars. You can apply for a work permit once you have been enrolled on a course for a year.

After I graduate, I hope to stay in Taiwan, possibly working in academia or as a translator, depending on what opportunities are available. My other options include moving to Hong Kong or China.