A Taiwanese student in the USA

Mindy Chang, who is from Taiwan, first contacted us when she was doing some research for her Masters programme at the University of Michigan, USA. She ended up writing a guest post on Taiwanese culture. Now Mindy is back in Taiwan after completing her studies. We caught up with her to ask some questions about studying abroad and returning home afterwards.

First, could you tell us something about yourself?

大家好,我叫張敏儀。Hello, my name is Min-Yi Chang. (Mindy). I’m from Taiwan, the Republic of China. Not to be confused with the People’s Republic of China, or Thailand, which sounds sort of like Taiwan.

I turned 25 this year, and I just finished my master degree of Public Relations in Michigan State University. I had never traveled to any foreign country before I went to the U.S. for my graduate study (which was awkward when I was a teenager coz all my friends had been to at least one or two foreign countries like Japan, Thailand, or Korea). That inspired me to study hard and I dreamed of winning the government scholarship to study abroad in the future (unfortunately, I didn’t get it and I applied for a government loan for my U.S. study). I didn’t spend time searching for a job in the U.S. after graduating because of financial concerns and I feel the overall working environment is not quite optimistic for an international student like me. I came home this June and I’m looking for a job in Public Relations or marketing fields in Taiwan.

Reading, watch movies, making new friends, playing the piano and joining voluntary groups to help people are my favorite activities. My friends describe me as happy and sweet, but I consider myself being sensitive to other people’s needs. I’m interested in western culture, more correctly, U.S. culture, thanks to the dominant Hollywood and the political issues between the U.S., China and Taiwan. I grew up listening to ABBA, Bee Gees, The Beetles, and the Carpenters. They are all my father’s favorite bands from when he studied in the U.S. However, I barely know how to write any English word until I had my first English class in high school.

I don’t care so much about fashion clothes, shoes, and make up. I like to dress myself in comfortable and plain ways, and I’m inclined to spend money on books or traveling. My favorite musician is Chopin. I can always feel him whenever I play his pieces. I also admire Angelina Jolie for her charity deeds all around the world. She demonstrates courage and determinations, which are rare characters in Hollywood movie stars.

Why did you decide to study in the USA?

There were four reasons for me to study in the U.S.A. First of all, it is my father. He studied in University of Colorado, Boulder twenty years ago. (He studied aerospace engineering, and he was sponsored everything by the Taiwanese Government). He used to show me pictures in Yellowstone National Park and he described to me the cultural impact and different teaching style in the U.S. He said it would be a wonderful experience to live in another culture and come to learn its advantages and reflect your flaws.

Then, it’s long believed in Taiwan that the U.S. has a better higher education system. I think that is formed after WW II because the Americans won the war and they were becoming stronger from then on. The third reason is that Public Relations study is more mature in America than in Taiwan. While there were many impressive public relations planning throughout the U.S. history, I found that public relation in Taiwan is in a developing status. Therefore, I think studying in the U.S. helps me to compare different markets and I can bring useful ideas to my country. Finally, it’s probably because I want to compensate for my teenage years. I want to experience other countries and not just by TV, internet or books. I thought I’m young and I shouldn’t stay on this island all the time. I also considered England, Canada, and Australia when I decide where to go. But I choose the U.S. because I think it may be easier to fit in the culture.

I also got offers from universities in southern states, but I was fooled by the song “ White Christmas” and I was looking forward to living in a snow white world in the winter so I chose Michigan. Taiwan is in semi-tropical and tropical area, so I never knew what it is like to have snow dancing outside your window. Now I see, especially when I drove my friend’s car in the winter.

Is it popular in Taiwan to study abroad, or was it an unusual choice? Was it hard to explain to your family / friends?

It was back in my parents’ generation, but I believe it’s changing now. I wouldn’t say it’s popular because it has financial restrictions unless you have scholarship from the country you are going to. But people tend to think (at least) your family is rich and you are a hard working student if you have the chance study abroad. Ideas are changing, but it’s still viewed as a luxury choice. It was not difficult for me to explain to my friends or family. The only thing I worried about was my GRE score and the schools I’m going to.

What were your first impressions of the USA? Did they turn out to be true or false?

Wow! I can write another five pages about my impression of the USA. Simply said there are three categories: The people, geography, and the culture.

Before going I had heard about the racial discrimination, the legalized guns, party, drugs, bigger ice creams, different teaching style, huge steaks, CNN and Hollywood before I came to USA. Those are pretty much superficial things. My school is in East Lansing, Michigan, where over 85% residents are Caucasians (and most of them are Christians). It’s a rather simple and peaceful place, but I didn’t encounter racial issues and most people I met are friendly. But things are not the same in New York, Las Vegas, or California. I went to those places and I experienced more diversity in those cities, and I experienced some of what I’ve seen in the movies in those places. There was a man who tried to rob my dinner in the subway and there was a clerk who pretended she couldn’t understand what I was saying and refused to sell a Coke to me. A policeman even shouted at one of my girlfriends because she forgot to turn on her headlight after 6pm (but the sun wasn’t even set then).

I’ve seen the positive parts of American culture. The Americans spend more time in football games and enjoy their lives, when Asians incline to spend time on working. Some Americans are willing to help strangers and they are easy to chat with.

The geography and awesome views also impressed me when I was in U.S. I went to the Yellowstone National Park and Grand Canyon before I returned home. Those breathtaking landscapes inspired me and I made a wish that I’ll travel around the world to see every wonder in the world.

Were your friends in the USA from there or did you make friends more with other foreigners?

I went to local churches though I’m not a Christian. I simply wanted to learn more about Christianity and its relationship with western culture. So I have friends from class, churches, and Taiwanese student associations. I spent more time with Taiwanese or Chinese friends, but I also love my American, Indian, Korean and Arab friends. I had a really close Indian girlfriend and she even promised me that she’ll come to Taiwan for my wedding in the future. I think my case is special because I make friends with Americans or people from other cultures easily; while most Taiwanese students tend to only make Asian friends. I barely knew any other Taiwanese students in the first year of my graduate study.

Now you are back in Taiwan, do you see it differently from before? What things seem different?

The first thing is that I learned how much I should appreciate that I can enjoy different food with reasonable prices. Food in Taiwan is way better than in the U.S. and it’s much less expensive. I also know the importance of working hard on conserving the orthodox Chinese culture. People are learning simplified Chinese all over the world, but we all know that the valuable classics and the essence of Chinese culture are based in traditional Chinese. My Chinese friends sometimes pissed me off when they asked me: Why don’t you Taiwanese admit that you are part of China? I know the inevitable trend of investing in China, and I fully support Taiwanese government’s business policies with Mainland China. But it never equals that Taiwan should fail the name “The Republic of China”. I always feel upset when people mix Taiwan with China or when people deny our efforts in international events. I think Taiwanese people should face the situation and really think about a solution rather than pretend they can’t do anything or only leave it as an election issue.

What sort of job are you looking for in Taiwan? Do you think having studied abroad helps you to find a good job?

I’m searching for a job in a Public relations agency or as an event planner. I love learning and meeting new people, and I always welcome challenge. That’s why I think Public Relations fit my personality and career vision. But the problem I have is that I don’t get satisfying payment as an Account Executive in Taipei, and the industry is kind of harsh in Taiwan now. I can’t survive in our capital with the salary. I’m still looking because I know that’s what I want to do. I would say studying abroad helps me to have more interviews, however, since my lack of work experience is a disadvantage with employers sometimes.

Read more:
Nine books about moving abroad
Sudanese impressions of US culture
Interview with a Malaysian student in Korea

About the author

Lucy (Liz) Chatburn
Lucy is English and first ventured out of the UK she was 19. Since then she has lived in 4 different countries and tried to see as much of the world as possible. She loves learning languages, learning about different cultures and hearing different points of view.
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