Name: Nathan Troscinki
Location of Study: Taipei, Taiwan
Program of Study: Summer Taipei
Sponsors: Liu Family
A brief personal bio:
你好！My name is Nathan Troscinski. I grew up in Grosse Pointe, a suburb of Detroit, Michigan. I had originally planned on studying German, but got placed into Chinese following a scheduling hiccup. I’ve never suffered a more lucky accident, and I now am studying Chinese as my second major. While my Chinese knowledge is still somewhat limited, I’m very much looking forward to improving in the year ahead!
Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:
Since freshman year, be it through my choice of primary major (business), the countless Chinese internationals I’ve befriended, or my deepening involvement with Notre Dame’s Chinese cultural organizations, China has seemingly woven itself into every facet of my life. I recognize as well that it will likely continue to be pivotal in my life, ‘til graduation and beyond.
Thus, Taipei is critically important. The program’s two intensive courses offer almost as much language class time in one day as my Notre Dame courses do in a week. This accelerated language training coupled with the cultural knowledge to be gained through the Explore Taiwan class would give me a far greater understanding of Chinese society, allowing me to better relate to my network of Chinese classmates, and giving me a massive leg-up as a business student entering an increasingly China centered future.
Four years of unemployment, however, had left my family without the money for such a venture. With the assistance offered through the SLA grant however, I really believe I can better both my own and my classmate’s understandings of this incredible culture, for the ultimate benefit of all.
What I hope to achieve as a result of this summer study abroad experience:
Since coming to Notre Dame, I have made a multitude of incredible friends, many of whom have family or ancestry traceable back to China and Taiwan. It has been partially out of respect and admiration of these friends that I have been able to find such joy and interest studying Chinese.
This study abroad trip, therefore, is not only about language proficiency, but also about gaining a better understanding of Taiwan’s culture. As such, through this study abroad experience I hope to achieve three things. First: language proficiency. As Chinese is the third foreign language I’ve studied, I appreciate the significance that a language has on the way an individual thinks or views certain situations. Therefore, I can’t truly claim to understand Chinese culture without understanding (at least on a passable level) the Chinese language. Second: political understanding, as the way a country views its own government and the governments of its neighbors is central to its comprehending its culture. And last, but far from least: cultural competency. I know that I’d never be able to pass for a native Taiwanese man, but I hope that after my time abroad, I could certainly put forth a legitimate effort.
My specific learning goals for language and intercultural learning this summer:
1.) By the end of the summer, I will be able to carry on a fluent conversation with a native Chinese speaker without stumbles or errors.
2.) By the end of the summer, I will be able to read a newspaper story and be able to describe its content without substantial inaccuracy.
3.) At the end of the summer, I will be able to conduct myself in Taiwanese society by learning the social and cultural norms of the country and how they differ from those in America.
4.) By the end of the summer, I will be able to describe the general political attitudes of the Taiwanese people, particularly with regard to their own government, and the governments of their close neighbors.
My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:
To truly garner the maximum benefit from the Taipei program, I’m determined to avoid passivity and actively attempt to meld with Taiwanese society. Based on this, there are several activities that I intend to use during my stay to maximize my language growth.
First and foremost, I plan to read the daily paper. The Taipei Times would offer a unique opportunity to not only test and reinforce classroom material, but also expose me to vocabulary that might otherwise be overlooked. Fu Jen University also regularly forms service corps to assist the needy in orphanages, nursing homes, etc. Participation with said groups would allow me to practice my Chinese skills in a way that would brighten the lives of others, while bringing me into a fuller understanding of the human condition. Volunteering at local Taiwanese schools would be another similar opportunity to give back to the community while simultaneously integrating further into it. Finally, the university offers one-on-one tutoring for international students which, when combined with my inevitable exposure to local residents and the Explore Taiwan travel opportunities, would provide me with yet another fantastic opportunity to develop my conversational Chinese outside of a controlled classroom environment.
Reflective Journal Entry 1:
Reflective Journal Entry 2:
Trip down South
My (belated) blog post for week 2 is going to focus mostly on a trip that Chang Laoshi (the professor who handles the events of us study abroad students) took my classmates and I on to the south of Taiwan. Our trip was two days long and would involve a day spent at Kending and Kaohsiung, two famous cities in the countries warm, but less industrialized south. The experience ended up yielding several surprises (both exciting and otherwise) and was truly a fantastic way to spend a weekend.
The journey started with a ride on Taiwan’s high speed rails. I’m going to be a bit long-winded here, as I actually ride trains to and from Notre Dame, so travel by rail is an important subject to me. The quality of the Taiwanese high speed rail was hands down incredible. The speed (228 km/hr) reduced the normally four hour drive to Kaohsiung to a mere one hour and thirty minutes (which was a welcome upgrade from the four hour rides I get to Notre Dame, a trip of almost identical distance). What was more impressive though was how precisely the train kept to its schedule. I’m used to trains in the US experiencing hour or longer delays in departure and arrival. I clocked the high speed rail on our way back to Taipei and the train experienced ZERO MINUTES of delay from its stated travel time, and only five minutes delay from its stated departure. If that’s not incredible efficiency, I don’t know what is.
After spending the night in Kaohsiung (pronounced Gow-sh-yong), we traveled an hour and a half south to the resort town of Kending (pronounced Kun-ting). The area is one of the southern most points of Taiwan and is supposed to boast some of the countries warmest weather and best beaches. Unfortunately for us, sun sand and surf was not to be in the cards. Heavy rain moved in and we spent much of the day dodging downpours.
That said, we did still get to view some interesting sites. First on our list was Elubani Lighthouse (as far as I can tell it’s the southernmost structure in Taiwan). The lighthouse radiates light some 27 naval kms in an over 180 degree ark into the waters south of Taiwan. It’s also somewhat notable in that it’s one of the few lighthouses in the world that is fortified (surrounded on all sides by high walls and a moat designed to deter natives who attempted to sabotage the project).
After the lighthouse, we made a stop in the nearby city of Hengchun (Hung-Choon). What this town lacks in size, it makes up for in age. The city is still surrounded by tall stone and brick walls (I had initially assumed that the walls were still intact, but later research shows that apparently only about half the walls still stand. The four gates however are all still standing). Just outside the city walls were able to see another local wonder: the Chuhuo (Choo-hoo-oh), or the natural fire. Pockets of natural gas filter through cracks in the local rock, leading to a fire that burns continuously, even when faced with the torrential rains (the rains however do flood the cracks, limiting the fire’s size). Despite the rain, we were even able to make a quick stop at the beach, though the severe weather had led to the ocean being cordoned off. Still a great view however.
We were about ready to head back, but decided to make one final stop at a famous temple to the Taiwanese god of the earth. It turned out to be a great decision. The temple is apparently the largest in Taiwan, with a five floor main hall and several auxiliary buildings. I honestly could have spent all day inside asking questions and taking pictures, and I’d still have barely scratched the surface. The deities of Taiwan are incredibly interesting, and I feel it would be well worth my time to do more extensive research on them in the future.
After a short ride back to Kaohsiung, we were all feeling pretty tired. We had on more adventure to attend to however: a trip to a Kaohsiung Night Market. A quick word on Taiwanese night markets: they are something akin to a series of shops and stalls (the sort you might see at a carnival) that are put up various nights of the week for the enjoyment and perusing of any curious passerby. While such markets are a staple in cities in towns across Taiwan, this was actually the first one I had visited. Even given the weather (raining again) the place was packed, and with good reason. The food was nothing short of spectacular, and I got to try a whole range of morsels ranging from conventional (fries and ice cream) to bizarre (grasshoppers anyone?)
The following day we checked out of the hotel and began our tour of Kaohsiung. One of Taiwan’s two largest navel ports, Kaohsiung was an interesting contrast to the rural Kending. Our first stop was the island district of Qijin (Chee-jeen) where we were able to grab some great seafood for rock bottom prices (if I ever am able to buy a fish meal with rice for $3, I’ll happily eat these words). Afterward we took a quick trip to the Dream Mall (absolutely massive shopping center featuring 11 floors of stores, cinemas and restaurants).
Our final stop would be at the Lotus Pond, a small lake surrounded by a series of temples. Our particular itinerary set us at dragon and tiger towers, two twin towers themed after their respective animals that jutted out of the lake itself. The color and craftsman ship that went into building these temples was particularly striking, and the thematic elements were very well established, with tourists entering the towers through a tunnel shaped like the maw and body of a dragon (to enter through the respective tigers jaw does not bring good fortune as the dragon does). The climbs up the towers were somewhat harrowing after a day of walking, but the view of the lake and the incredible artistry on display in the temples made it more than worth it.
That more or less wraps up the trip. I hope I wasn’t too long winded, and that this provided a nice bit of insight into the attractions and opportunities that southern Taiwan can offer.
Until my next post (hopefully tomorrow actually)
Reflective Journal Entry 3:
Hi all. It’s been a REALLY long time since I did my last post, so I’m going to try to get up a few weeks’ worth of posts tonight. Wish me luck.
We’re gonna start things off with week three, which will focus on a deceptively interesting subject: my trip to the hospital. Before anyone freaks out, this actually had nothing to do with being ill. Before leaving for Taiwan I was supposed to get several vaccinations, including JEV (a vaccine for Japanese Encephalitis, a rare disease transmitted via mosquitos in parts of East Asia). Due to time constraints however (and the rarity of the vaccine in the US) I was only able to get the first dose of the two shot vaccine. I was assured before leaving however that this vaccine would be widely available in Taiwan, so I’d be able to complete my inoculation abroad.
I had originally hoped that I would be able to get the vaccine at the American embassy, however I ran into two problems immediately. First, there is no embassy in Taiwan (this is due to Taiwan’s disputed claim to sovereignty). Second, the American Institute in Taiwan (the next closest thing to an embassy) doesn’t provide vaccination services. Thankfully, the end of the waiting period between shots coincided nicely with my homestay program, and one of my homestay parent’s relatives was able to take me to a hospital to sort the matter out. The experience gave me a great insight into the Taiwanese medical system and how it differs from its American counterpart.
My biggest observation about Taiwan’s hospitals is that they’re considerably more bureaucratic than those in the states. The Taipei hospitals are very crowded and doctors must be utilized efficiently to keep the flow of patients going. As such, everyone has to first make online reservations to even get anywhere in the hospital. When you arrive at the hospital you then have to go register, a process that can take anything from five minutes to an hour depending on crowding. The registration then puts you on the doctor’s schedule, and you go wait outside their office until they’re ready for you.
The doctors and their function also seemed very different than in the US. In the US, I’m used to going to a room, waiting a little while, being seen by a nurse, waiting some more, seeing a doctor, and then leaving. In Taiwan, after doing your reservation and registering you wait in a communal waiting area. A nurse may come see you for specific medical information if they don’t have your information on record, but otherwise there is little if anything like a nurse’s meeting. When the doctor is ready for you, you go in, the doctor examines you, gives their diagnosis, and then you’re out. In my case, this meant getting a slip from the doctor approving me for this vaccination, then being sent to pay, then being sent to actually collect the shot from the pharmacy, and finally going to the shot center to get the vaccination itself. As I mentioned before, the system is very bureaucratic.
I hope that my description above hasn’t given the wrong impression. While having to run back and forth could be a little frustrating, I actually rather liked this system, particularly when factoring in the context of my own needs. While the visit did take almost two hours in all, the dispersal of responsibility between multiple departments allows the doctors to see more patients, and prevents the doctors from having to waste time doing simple things (like administering vaccines) that less qualified employees can handle.
Additionally, the service here was TREMENDOUSLY cheaper than in the US. Granted, in the US almost nobody needs the JEV, so its price is a bit crazy ($200 per shot not counting the actual cost of the office visit). Comparatively though, the same vaccine and visit in Taiwan came out to ~600 NTD, or $20 USD. To top it all off, this was without health insurance. And while JEV is actually a broadly used vaccine in Taiwan, it’s largely administered for children, so the adult version isn’t that much more broadly used.
That’s not to say that my entire impression of the system was favorable. I had to make a “brief” repeat visit when I forgot to get the doctor to record my vaccination on my US health records, and quickly learned that the process is inflexible as well as complex. Despite effectively only requiring a signature, I still had to go through the exact same registration process, wait period and finally got to see the doctor after almost two hours. We had initially attempted to circumvent the process by going directly to the doctor’s office, but were turned away (though they were gracious enough to not charge us the office visit fee after the signature given the simplicity of our need).
Since my visit, I’ve learned a little more about healthcare in Taiwan. Apparently it is a single payer nationalized system, which explains the low visit costs and the apparently heavily bureaucratic nature. Given as a foil against the US largely private system, the differences are heavily apparent, and was highly educational, particularly considering the current political debates stateside. I would recommend anyone with an interest in the subject to do some research into the Taiwanese system. I know it definitely was a very eye opening experience for me.
Reflective Journal Entry 4:
Thanks for everyone’s patience with the delays. This is technically my week four post, but it sort of applies across several weeks. This will also be the case for the fifth and sixth posts. Hope this doesn’t cause any confusion.
So, I haven’t mentioned this before, but I’m a HUGE game fan. Board games, computer games, card games, I’ll play any and all of them, anytime anywhere! Given this, whenever I go on trips anywhere I’m always on the lookout for new games to try out, and Taiwan has been no exception. While I was wandering the shopping district of Tamsui (a district of New Taibei City), I came across a few such games. Not wanting to spend too much money early in the trip, I decided to limit myself to one game, and thus was my discovery of Xiangqi.
Xiangqi, or Chinese chess as it’s known in the West, is a popular board game in China, Taiwan and Vietnam. It’s played on a board similar to Western chess (known here as Xiyangqi [西洋棋]). At first, I was slightly concerned by the lack of English instructions (or any instructions at all). Thankfully, with a few google searches and some pointers from my teachers, I was able to figure out the basic rules and start playing. A brief warning before I continue: most of the rest of this post will be comparisons between Xiangqi and Chess. I’m going to save time by only doing descriptions of Xiangqi gameplay, with my Chess comparisons assuming that you are already somewhat familiar with the rules.
For starters, here’s a quick rundown of the basics. Xiangqi has the same broad objective as Chess: place the enemy king in a position that ensures his capture the subsequent turn. That said; the board itself and its piece placements are somewhat different. In chess, pieces are placed on a 8×8 board with alternating black and white squares. In Xiangqi on the other hand, pieces are placed on the lines between the squares (which on the Xiangqi board are uncolored). The Xiangqi board also has a “river” running through the middle of the board which interacts with some pieces, and fortresses at each side of the map (a set of spaces surrounding the kings starting point).
As for the pieces themselves, they are largely similar to the pieces in Chess (though most have slight differences in terms of attack or movement capabilities). It’s here some large differences between chess and xiangqi became apparent. Chess’s pieces have such long ranges that a large element of chess is balancing the use of your pieces across both offense and defense. Xiangqi however has considerably fewer of these long range pieces as there is no equivalent piece to the queen in chess, and the pieces that take the place of chess bishops (xiang) cannot cross the midpoint of the board, making them useless for offensive purposes.
The mobility differences however are not limited only to the ranges of pieces. People familiar with chess would remember that the knights get a lot of their power from the fact that they can “jump” over pieces, allowing them to seemingly assassinate otherwise safe pieces. Xiangqi however adds an element of counter-play to this, as players can “block” the movement of ma (the knight equivalent). Earlier on, I also mentioned the presence of fortresses on either side of the board. These structures surround the king and are equal parts hideaway and prison as the king and his advisors (shi) are not able to leave its walls.
These mobility limitations, combined with the reduced number of combat available pieces give xiangqi a distinct style of gameplay, one that places considerably higher value on proper piece positioning than the number of pieces captured (it’s not at all uncommon for a player to win in a turn despite being heavily down in pieces). All things considered, it’s been an enormous blast to learn, and I hope I can share it with my friends and fellow students when I return home.
Reflective Journal Entry 5:
Hey all, 5th post. Almost through in Taiwan, but don’t go away. The best is indeed yet to come.
One of my first thoughts after getting off the plane at Taoyuan Airport was: “Wow, this is just like the US”. This actually had nothing to do with the people I saw, the design of the airport, or the kinds of cars on the road. I was actually referring to the fact that EVERY street sign that I saw was written in both Chinese AND English. Throughout my stay I’ve noticed just how prevalent the English language is in Taiwanese society, and I want to devote my second to last blog post towards addressing the place of English in Taiwanese society.
First off, it needs to be noted that English can be found almost everywhere in Taiwan. Be it on signs, menus, T-shirts, or even MRT announcements, a visitor from the US needn’t look hard to find some more familiar letters. Beyond the obvious trade connections that Taiwan has with the US, and need to appeal to American tourists, English is also critically important to Taiwanese students. From middle school onwards, English is taught to all students with the same rigor as that of other core subjects (such as math and science). Knowledge of English is also a determining factor on the college entrance examination, meaning that basic English proficiency is relatively widespread.
From this, I learned to my surprise that most of the Taiwanese people I met could speak English on at least a basic level. Curiously however, they generally were very reluctant to do so, coming off in most cases as being extremely shy or introverted. It was only later that I would realize that this “shyness” was actually nervousness associated with insecurity about their English skills. Without generalizing too broadly, almost every Taiwanese person I met told me that their English was awful, and that they were scared of potentially embarrassing themselves in front of me.
This only made me more confused however. In the US, as you likely know, most people have only the most rudimentary knowledge of foreign languages. If, for example, I were to ask a random guy on the street to speak a little Chinese, he would likely be limited to a quick “Ni hao”, and it would likely be pronounced incorrectly. Most Taiwanese students, on the other hand, not only can express themselves reasonably clearly (if slowly/in a clunky manner), but also generally correctly understand English that they hear (as a language student this is harder than it sounds, pardon the pun). When you go to compare the two, the two are simply not even close.
And this isn’t even limited to the college level students. Twice, my classmates and I went to local high schools to “teach” the students English. In one case, I planned to use a game to help them practice speaking Chinese. This game involved me giving English words to two groups of students. They would then write English descriptions of said words, and their classmates would have to guess. To my surprise, they not only correctly recognized almost every word on my list (I still have no clue how to say most of them in Chinese), but they also were able coherently explain the words to their peers. These high schoolers were arguably more fluent in English than I was in Chinese, and I’m the college student!
So, all things considered, English is a huge part of life here in Taiwan. Most students are well versed in the grammar and vocabulary from their time in school. That said, most are very shy and self-conscious about their fluency.
Reflective Journal Entry 6:
Hey all. Seems it’s finally time to head back stateside. My summer in Taiwan has been such an incredible period of my life and I know that I’ll treasure these memories for the rest of my life. For my final post, I think that I’m going to take a slightly different approach and post my list of the 25 most unexpected surprises of Taiwan. Note, the order to this is completely arbitrary, not a reference to how surprising I found a topic. This is going to be a little more low-key than my other posts so I hope you still enjoy it.
1.) Japanese style animation: With the exception of Poke’mon, Japanese style animation in the US has a relatively small audience. In Taiwan on the other hand, there were advertisements displayed prominently on everything from shopping centers to subway cars. I could even go to 7-11 and buy Japanese manga (book medium) right off the shelves.
2.) 7-11s: While you can find 7-11s in the US, in Taiwan it’s not unusual to find 3+ within a single square kilometer. They also are considerably more multipurpose with print, atm, and tax submission services. We ended up joking that 7-11 (or 7, as the locals call it) was indeed the center of the universe in Taiwan.
3.) Garbage trucks: Beyond being smaller than their US counterparts (trucks in Taiwan just generally are smaller), Taiwanese garbage trucks are also notable because they play music, similar to the music produced by ice cream trucks in the states. Made for a funny first morning.
4.) Garbage cans: There are actually not very many garbage cans in Taiwan (especially compared to in the US).
5.) Lack of litter: Kind of related to the above, but despite the lack of trash cans there is almost no litter. In my home town there are a lot of empty lots or areas near the freeways that just have mountains of garbage thrown around pell-mell. In Taiwan I honestly don’t recall ever seeing anything remotely similar.
6.) Lack of Clocks: Odd as this might sound, a lot of places didn’t have any clocks (specifically hotel rooms). I guess they just assume everyone has a phone.
7.) Bathrooms: So before heading over, I read that Chinese and Taiwanese bathrooms often don’t have toilet paper, and that you should bring your own. This didn’t end up being the case, however I did find that almost none of the bathrooms I visited had hand dryers.
8.) Drinking fountains: Drinking fountains are actually very rare in Taiwan. More common are water machines (called yinshuiji) that resemble the sort of water dispensers in office buildings (the ones with the big water jugs on top).
9.) Hospitals: I had to go for a shot while in Taiwan and was amazed at how bureaucratic the system was. Just waiting for a signature from a doctor took 2+ hours. That said, the shot only ended up costing 20 USD, so can’t complain too much.
10.) English in Taiwanese culture: English is surprisingly prevalent in Taiwanese society. I was astounded when I arrived at how every street sign was written in both Chinese and English. English is also frequently used on T-shirts, menus, and subway announcements.
11.) Movies and English: Most western movies are actually not dubbed into Chinese, but rather are English with Chinese subtitles. I was honestly a little surprised about this considering how popular many American movies are abroad and infrequently I see subbed movies in the states.
12.) Taiwanese people speaking English: Possibly the biggest shocker on the list, but Taiwanese people generally have a very solid grasp of English. They generally are very shy about using it, but their grammar and listening comprehension are usually pretty on point, and far beyond the average American’s grasp of their second language.
13.) Print shops are a thing: Something like a more basic Kinkos, there are a bunch of these little shops with 4-5 printers that allow you to print stuff for around 1ND (about $0.03) a page. How these things are even remotely cost-effective are beyond me.
14.) Shop tiles: This is a weird one, but the sidewalk area in front of a shop is often unique to the shop itself. What I mean by this is that if you look down a street, you will frequently see the sidewalk having as many as ten different tile patterns/styles.
15.) Cheap food: Food in Taiwan, particularly sea food, is incredibly cheap. I was able to go almost two months on less than $500 (and that was factoring in transportation and souvenir costs). It wasn’t unusual to find fresh fish meals for as little as $3.33 USD.
16.) Rain: Okay, so in Taiwan your umbrella is one of your most important travel items. Beyond the fact that rain can come out of seemingly nowhere, the rain in Taiwan tends to be acidic, meaning prolonged exposure can have potential health complications (specifically baldness)
17.) Parasols: In Taiwan, having tanned skin is actually not considered attractive, and instead people often aim to be as “white” as possible. This leads to people using parasols when traveling outside on sunny days.
18.) Pets: Dogs frequently have no leashes and are incredibly well behaved about not bothering strangers. I’m not sure whether they are just trained differently, but it’s definitely curious.
19.) Churches: Knowing Christianity’s checkered past in Asia, I was surprised at how many churches I found, even in fairly rural areas.
20.) Graveyards: Taiwanese graveyards tend to be less clearly marked than those in the US. They also have more elaborate tombs than those frequently seen in the US.
21.) Mopeds, mopeds, and more mopeds: Yeah, so before going abroad, I had heard that mopeds were very popular in Asia. I had not realized that this would mean that they would outnumber regular cars.
22.) No stopping: Taiwan has no stop signs (or at least incredibly few, I never saw any). They make up for this with an apparent excess of traffic lights (which also tend to be longer than their US counterparts).
23.) Road rules: This is a bit of a joke, because the rules of the road in Taiwan are viewed as guidelines and nothing more. It’s not unusual to see people riding between lanes, doing clearly illegal U-ies, or speeding. In fact, about the only thing you can count on is that they GENERALLY won’t run red lights.
24.) Elevator apartments: I got the chance to stay in at least two apartments while in Taiwan, and they actually both had internal elevators (as in within the apartment itself, not just inside the building).
25.) Taiwan and crime: As it turns out, Taiwan is rated the 2nd safest country in the world in terms of violent crime (only behind Japan). That said, Taiwanese citizens seem very scared of home invasion/burglary, so you will frequently see windows with bars over them.
Hope this list was informative/interesting. Hope you enjoyed hearing about this trip as much as I enjoyed taking part in it. Cheers, All!
Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:
Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:
How I plan to use my language and intercultural competences in the future: