When people think of studying internationally, Taiwan is hardly the first place that comes to mind. But as Dr. Ewurabena Addo tells it, that is just setting yourself up to miss out on an incredible travel experience. Taiwan is an island nation with a geography that is perfect for tourism. In fact, tourism is one of the major contributors to the country’s economy.
As a third year medical student (in 2014), Dr. Ewurabena Addo got the opportunity to go on a study exchange abroad. She chose to spend her month of study in Taiwan. And this week on My Studies Abroad, she tells us the best parts of her experiences, as well as what it was like for a Ghanaian visiting Taiwan.
Medical School Exchange Applications
There is an international body (International Federation of Medical Students Association) that provides oversight for medical programs across different countries. A committee in that body deals with exchange programs.
After her third year of medical school at KNUST, Ewurabena had the opportunity to go on a research exchange. A quick overview of how this works: there are multiple slots available for each country. That number differs from country to country, and students were given the opportunity to choose where they wanted to go.
As you can imagine, a lot of students were inclined towards the more popular places that people like to travel to. However, Ewurabena wanted to visit Taiwan; a decision that a lot of people had trouble understanding. Well, that decision led to an experience that our young doctor won’t soon forget.
The Taiwanese People And Culture
When Ewurabena touched down in Taiwan, she was met by four Taiwanese medical students. They would be her guides for the duration of her trip. Her first stop was the hostel on campus where she would be staying. And the bus ride there, was a chance to take in the culture. Dr. Ewurabena Addo expected the cultural shock, and it came.
In Taiwan, the people speak Taiwanese. Ewurabena describes it as being similar to Chinese in the way that Ashanti Twi and Akuapem Twi are similar. And then, some people speak English, especially the students. And as for the Taiwanese themselves, they were very friendly and helpful. Her guides would take her wherever she wanted to go, even scheduling outings with their killer planning skills. Ewurabena could go out on her own too. Even without necessarily knowing how to get to where she was going, strangers would always help.
The Taiwanese also take food very seriously. There’s even a culture of asking whether a person had already had breakfast, lunch or supper and then making sure that they ate if they hadn’t. A lot of the food, you had to eat with chopsticks, and so Ewurabena learned how to use them. She has a particularly fond memory of a formal dinner at a Taiwanese restaurant on a hilltop with a breathtaking view. Speaking of views, there were also tourist spots for watching sunrise and sunset.
And yes, she was there for a research exchange program. However, after her hours studying fungi in her microbiology lab at Chung-Shan Medical University—or on the days when her professor would tell her to just go out; Ewurabena explored almost the whole country of Taiwan. Honestly—in her opinion—she did more of tourism than anything, really. Ewurabena’s weeks ended up being full of social activity.
Out and about in Taiwan, you would get around using a train, or the bus. And on the train, it was not an uncommon sight to randomly see a meditating monk. You see, Taiwan has a lot of Buddhist practitioners in addition to non-religious people and some Christians. Other than trains and buses though, a lot of the locals also rode scooters; including the medical students who would give Ewurabena a ride when she needed it.
Whenever Ewurabena would visit public places, like the market, she found that she drew a lot of attention. The locals just weren’t used to seeing black people. In fact, children had trouble taking their eyes off her. And when she told people that she was from Ghana—they immediately mentioned Asamoah Gyan because of the then recent World Cup Tournament.
Finally, when it comes to Taiwanese culture, there’s one thing that you can’t do without talking about. That is … Pandas! Taiwan has pandas in the zoo. And they’re sort of a national treasure. The whole country is crazy about them. In fact, when a mother panda gives birth, it’s a nation-wide event. It’s broadcast on the news, people go to the zoo to visit, people bake cakes and country celebrates.
So we’ve established that Dr. Addo spent a large part of her trip touring the region. She did that with other international students and guides or sometimes just her student guides. But where exactly did she go?
Taiwan is an island nation with the Pacific and Indian oceans either side of it. Naturally, the place has a lot of beaches, as well as water-side attractions. In fact, just taking a ride to Hualien by train meant that you would get to pass by the sea shore. Can you imagine that view? Getting a good look at the ocean and peninsulas. Some of the other beach-side places that Ewurabena visited include the Fulong Beach at Yilan and Sun Moon Lake. Sun Moon Lake is a lake that can be found at the foot of a mountain range. You could go for a cruise on a boat there, or even walk the the trails around the Lake. And if you did not want to walk, there were also cable cars that you could explore the area in. Additionally, there were hotels around the lake where tourists could stay.
There was always something to do, or some place to explore. Ewurabena did everything from going to bowling and game centers, to going to museums, the Taroko National Park—where she went mountain hiking, the night market, the zoo (to meet the panda, obviously) and even Jinguashi; an old mine where you could go underground and explore. She also had to visit the Taipei 101, one of the tallest buildings in the world. Ewurabena’s trip was generally an experience after an experience.
And she came back pretty well learned. I mean, now she can make a Chinese Dumpling and, she can surf. Ewurabena observed some acupuncture and Kung Fu as well.
Taiwan is a region that experiences Typhoons fairly regularly. As a result, the people have learned to live with them. During Ewurabena’s exchange to Taiwan, she happened to experience Typhoon Matmo which lasted for about two to three days. Before the typhoon hits, there is a public warning, so that people can prepare.
What those preparations look like is, people stocking up on all types of food. For Ewurabena that meant getting some sausages. bread, cornflakes and other provisions from the supermarket. And then the typhoon came. It goes without saying, but during a typhoon, you stay indoors. During a typhoon, there are strong winds (really strong) and heavy rains.
Ewurabena spent the duration of the typhoon watching movies, reading, looking outside her window and chatting with her roommates who were also other exchange students. And on one of those occasions watching the activity outside her window, she saw a motorcycle just shoved away by the wind.
All in all though, it was an experience that the doctor won’t soon forget. In fact, when she got back she couldn’t stop talking about her trip, and managed to convince one of her friends to choose Taiwan for her exchange as well. If there’s one thing that she regrets though, it’s not going scuba diving or whale watching on the pacific. Oh and river rafting on Xiuguluan river. If she ever got the chance to go back, she would definitely do that.
My Studies Abroad is a weekly Kuulpeeps series that brings you the Ghanaian schooling experience—from other parts of the globe.