A few years ago I was pressed to think about the things I still wanted to do with my life. The list was only 4-5 items. Oddly enough, learning Mandarin Chinese and improving it beyond a kindergartener’s literacy level emerged.
Having been raised with Mandarin-speaking parents and taken a year of Chinese in college, I have some rudimentary ability. Living in America has always made memorizing all those ideograms (pictures of words) rather overwhelming. My frustration has been trying to express abstract ideas and engaging in conversations with people my own age.
In August, I moved to Taipei to take a language course at one of the local universities. The program costs $1,100 for 3 hours of instruction per day, 5 days a week, for 12 weeks. Class size is limited to 6 people. The school’s materials say we’ll learn 500 words; I feel we are on pace to learn 700-800 words.
I think it’s a pretty good deal. Living expenses in Taiwan are about a third of what they are in the US. The public transportation system is efficient and cheap. Furthermore, I’m staying with family to cut down on costs. I’m fortunate that technology enables me to continue taking programming courses at UCSD Extension and work remotely.
Most of my classmates are in their early 20s who expect to use Chinese in their work or as part of their educational training. My classmates come from five different countries — Italy, Switzerland, Russia, Japan, Malaysia — so I’ve learned morsels about each culture while also learning Chinese. One universal aspect seems to be that everyone is escaping the economic challenges of their respective countries.
Even though I’ve been here for 3 months, I haven’t announced my presence to anyone except a handful of close friends in Taipei.