It has now been exactly 8 months since one of the most exciting, fulfilling and successful years of my life came to an end. What I am referring to is the year I spent living and studying in Taipei. I came to Taiwan with a single objective in mind - learning Chinese - and I left being fluent in Chinese but also full of experiences that I could not have had anywhere else.
In this text, I want to reflect on my time studying at ICLP and hopefully convey why coming to study in Taipei after graduating high school was the best decision I ever made.
First, let's talk academics. A year will fly by quickly and so you will want to be sure to get the most out of your time, which is why the 20 hours of small-sized teaching you get at ICLP immediately attracted me to the program. Four hours a day turned out to be just the right amount of time to spend in the classroom with usually at least six hours of self-study done at home during the rest of the day. Yes, it can be even more than that and yes it gets tiring at times. But I found that the more time I put in at home, the more valuable the lessons themselves were. It makes sense - the more prepared you are the more interesting the conversations in class will be, giving your teachers more material to help you improve everything from grammar and vocabulary to pronunciation. Speaking of teachers, while I could mention such things as the smaller class size, daily one-on-one classes and probably the widest range of classes in the world with brilliant, proprietary textbooks as what sets ICLP apart, all of those factors are in fact amplified by the outstanding teaching staff. They are ICLP's greatest asset.
During my time at ICLP, I was fortunate enough to help out during the recruitment process for a day and could witness first hand the rigorous testing possible teaching recruits were put through and the results speak for themselves. Not only is their teaching top-notch, but they are amazing conversation partners from simple life stories to the great political issues of our time, which makes the experience of learning Chinese feel more like making a new friend.
Having supportive, wonderful teachers is of course especially helpful when you have just moved out from home for the first time and moved to a big city in a foreign country. What also helps is if that city is Taipei, Taiwan. Taipei is a wonderful sensory experience full of smells and sounds (the honking of the countless scooters) which offers an unparalleled quality of life. Nowhere else is transportation this efficient and delicacies this ubiquitous and affordable. Most importantly, Taipei is home to one of the most caring and tolerant societies I have ever experienced with a vibrant democracy that will leave you speechless. But you will not be confined to Taipei either: Taiwan is small enough to make travel a breeze but big enough to offer everything from chilly mountain escapes to coastal waterfalls offering a retreat from the summer heat. On top of the natural beauty, ICLP also allowed me to see and experience what not many travellers on the island will experience. Ever participated in a god's 'birthday party' that the whole city celebrates with a never-ending sea of firecrackers? You will emerge covered in ash and wanting nothing more than to return the next year.
The year in Taiwan was remarkable in its own right, thanks to lasting friendships and countless new experiences. But it is the continuing impact my time there is having on my life, that is the reason why I am so happy with my decision.
Nothing compares to the experience of learning a new language that is spoken by one in six people on this planet. Because, inevitably, you will gain unprecedented insight into the culture of the most populous country in the world and make friends with people who otherwise you would not have met for the simple reason of a language barrier alone, learning Chinese can only be described as discovering a second universe on top of the one you grew up in. It is riveting.
Perhaps the most noticeable impact my time learning Chinese in Taipei continues to have is twofold. Firstly, everywhere I go, I find it easy to connect with total strangers just by virtue of sharing the same language. Just two months ago, I was solo traveling in Venice, Italy when I overheard two fellow young travelers speaking in the familiar Taiwanese accent. After approaching them, a lovely conversation ensued and my solo trip had turned into a group adventure.
Secondly, my experience at ICLP has given me a real experience edge over my fellow students at university. Whereas for many, it is their first time leaving home, with confidence yet to develop, the ups and downs of university life do not affect me nearly as much. Knowing that you were able to learn such a fundamental skill as a new language in a completely foreign environment and come out of it stronger than ever before will give you almost stoic confidence in the future, which is an invaluable asset to have at university, no matter where.
The best piece of advice I ever received and which is something that I would urge those who are about to enroll in ICLP’s Chinese Gap Year (CGY) program is to live life in Taiwan as if you are never going to leave. Instead of being satisfied in the foreigner bubble, this mindset includes eating at traditional restaurants, online-shopping on Taiwanese websites and most importantly making an effort to meet Taiwanese people everywhere you go. This strategy creates the necessity to learn faster in order to make meaningful connections and live life to the fullest. Based on my own experience I can tell you: You will get there and it will be incredible.
So if you are ready to commit fully to the beautiful country that is Taiwan, I can wholeheartedly recommend Chinese Gap Year (CGY) in Taipei. Welcome to Taiwan.