Foreign students in Asia: Comparing identities in Northern Ireland and Taiwan

by on Thursday, 18 March 2010 10068 hits Comments
Rate this item
(0 votes)

Conor Stuart is currently a Masters student at Graduate Institute of Taiwan Studies at National Taiwan University (NTU). Sitting pensively in front of NTU’s infamous Drunken Moon Lake he discussed study at Taiwan’s number one university,  not only as a foreign student, but also  the sole representative at NTU of his homeland, Northern Ireland.

How do you compare your experiences of British and Taiwanese education systems?
We often hear that the Asian system is learning by rote but in my experience that is not necessarily true. They are aware that they need to have a huge mass of general knowledge. I remember once professor Li Oufan was teaching at our institute and requested that the students hand in shorter essays than normal but included a solid argument when they handed them in. The students here have excellent all round knowledge and flair when expressing themselves and analysing if you are talking on an individual basis; however, one problem I found here is that when writing an essay they tend to be pleasing the teacher rather than consciously having a dialogue about a subject.

How about the teaching?
The teachers have all made excellent progress in making this graduate institute and dealing with the problems of creating Taiwanese literary theory. One problem I’ve encountered here is that it seems very difficult to get feedback from your professors in Taiwan, whilst where I was studying in Leeds it was very much encouraged that you spent more time with your teachers.

And the students?
The students I have come across are very well prepared; they’re confident, able to express themselves, can intake loads of information in foreign languages as well as Chinese, they can process and are so capable at what they do. Thus, for a foreigner coming here, and studying in their language with the best of the best, it’s very intimidating. The standard is kept so high that it is difficult to keep up.

In terms of social life?
Subcultures are very strong here. I think that Taiwanese are much more interested in cultural activities, perhaps because they don’t drink so much. In the UK most university socialising revolves around drinking.

Differences between Taiwanese and foreign students?
I think it’s easy to feel that you have an insight into some kind of analytical theory that they might not have. I think it’s a fallacy that western students are more this or Taiwanese students more that. It’s all on an individual basis. Generalising on upbringings is negated anyhow as every individual has such a different cultural upbringing. There are some students here I cannot communicate with, not because of language, or even culture & upbringing. It’s just because we’re on a different wavelength. There are also some students here with whom I have great mutual understanding. It’s all about wavelength.

In my own department the teachers have created a Taiwanese literary theory however it’s difficult as a foreigner to totally see through the eyes of the other. I’m more familiar with western literary theory so I still tend to analyse from a western point of view.

Why did you choose to study Taiwanese literature?
I think it’s great opportunity as it focuses on modern literature in contrast to the Chinese department, where the breadth of what you can study is so vast. Chinese literature has stemmed from such a wide area, but everywhere in the Chinese sphere has a local identity. In Taiwan the local identity is particularly strong. Japanese, Chinese, Taiwanese and American influences have all played a part in influencing who people think they are over here and as such have all influenced the literature.

What about Northern Ireland and Taiwanese identity?
There are similarities and differences. Obviously, the losing of local languages in postcolonial identity, the pushing out of Gaelic and the Taiwanese languages is important. I think it’s even harder for Northern Irish people to have an identity, as you’re questioned on both sides. You can’t claim you're Irish as the people from the Republic of Ireland have claimed that identity, and you can’t claim you're English…even British is also taken by the English, who don’t care about our identity to mean English.

Initially this drove me to try and identify with non-violent nationalism and thus deciding to study Taiwanese literature. Eventually you end up realising the futility of drawing borders. For instance, I love the UK and I have lots of friends there. I’ve prospered much from being a part of the UK. However, the living standards and modern culture and society in NI and England are very similar and has been developing interlinked, here in Taiwan, it’s a bit different, as the Mainland and Taiwan have been developing separately and under completely different governments and two contrasting identities have emerged.

Last modified on Wednesday, 08 January 2014 17:34
Conor Stuart (蕭辰宇)

Born in Belfast. Just finished his Master from the Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature at National Taiwan University (NTU). Currently lives and works in Taipei. 

Help us!

Help us keep the content of eRenlai free: take five minutes to make a donation

AMOUNT: 

Join our FB Group

Browse by Date

« September 2019 »
Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
            1
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30            

We have 4309 guests and no members online