On my experience at NTHU

A hand holds an ice cream burrito. Visible in the background is a NTHU sweatshirt.

(Originally posted here.)

What follows is a long post  with no pictures. Sorry, folks. My intention here isn’t to rant. It’s to provide more information to curious friends, as well as students who are considering NTHU for exchange.

Perhaps some of the issues I’m about to discuss are new problems or may be solved in the near future, but last semester was one frustrating experience after another.

You should know a few things up front: first, I’m attending UNM on a scholarship that requires I take 15 credits a semester with at least a 3.0 GPA, for eight consecutive semesters. You should also know that Computer Science is not my original major, and that I’m also double majoring in Languages, so I’m a little behind schedule in some spots.

That said, let’s start with a brief overview.

The Basics

The following is how I explained the situation to my study abroad counselor at UNM:

“I constantly had communications issues with NTHU. For instance, we weren’t told how or when to pay for our dorms, yet we were locked out for late payments. All dorm staff spoke only a smattering of English, and all memos we got were in Chinese. Two of my classes were rescheduled without notice, and the only English language calculus class was canceled, also without me being notified. Support staff we had to meet with for things like internet permissions and mail didn’t speak any English, and most of the required paperwork was in Chinese only. Due to NTHU’s special class registration system for exchange students, we weren’t officially registered until weeks after classes started, which meant we weren’t on attendance sheets, weren’t assigned lab space, weren’t able to log into homework submission systems, etc. While professors used English in class, the tutors and TAs were mostly unable to communicate in English. NTHU assigned me an adviser from my department, and while she was very helpful, NTHU never told her she was assigned an exchange student. Things actually look worse for next semester, as websites that used to have in English switched to just Chinese, and English course offerings for computer science are more limited. Essentially, compared with Taiwanese students, exchange students at NTHU have many extra hoops to jump through while getting much less support.”

This leads us to a less-but-still-relevant…

…Short Rant About NCTU and Calculus

I also had issues with NTHU’s partner school, where I took calculus. Honestly, that’s putting it lightly. This calculus class was the bane of my existence. When NTHU’s fall classes came out, they weren’t offering calc. That was a problem, as I’m behind in my math sequence, so I was relieved when they added an English calc class. I registered and showed up for the first day of classes…and no one was there. They canceled the only English language calculus class, required for the huge majority of students, without notifying me. NTHU runs very small classes sometimes, and I know there were at least two other foreign students registered for this class. Why they canceled is beyond me.

Anyway, I decided to take calc at NTHU. They offered more than one English calc class, but because other classes were moved and I had to join late, I only had one option. This class, I soon realized, was moving deep and fast, sort of an honors-and-intensive rolled into one. We finished our coursework almost a month before students in the regular classes and moved right on to calc 2 material. The homework was almost all proofs, difficult proofs. I found the answers to one of the problems on an answer sheet for a different class, one that listed Linear Algebra as a prerequisite.

I took my homework to tutors, but that was only some help. They spoke very little English, so if I didn’t catch something, they couldn’t explain it to me. Sometimes they couldn’t even work out the answers. There was one problem early on in the semester that five tutors spent twenty minutes working on, only to tell me that they couldn’t answer it without more advanced techniques we weren’t allowed to use. I asked UNM’s online tutors for help then, to try to get explanations. I’ve only had good experiences with CAPS (UNM’s tutoring office), but the poor tutors were stumped by these homework problems, and astonished that they were only for calc 1.

Couldn’t I have just dropped? Nope, not exactly. Remember that 15 credit requirement? Yep.

Spring Semester

The NTHU Department of Computer Science is only offering three courses in English Spring semester for undergraduates, one of which is “English Listening and Speaking”. The other two don’t correlate to any classes required for my major and/or require NTHU-specific prerequisites. This means that a second semester at NTHU would not have brought me closer to finishing my degree, and I would have returned to the US too late to enroll in summer courses. Coming home allows me to take relevant classes this summer at the local community college. In addition, my roommate and closest on-campus friend had moved to Taipei, I had pretty much used up my travel opportunities, and I wasn’t enthralled with the thought of pushing through a semester that would be essentially useless.

What now?

I appealed to UNM for a leave of absence for the spring semester. Most schools (including UNM) grant these exceptions for serious illness or injury, family situations, missionary work, and military orders. Documentations and letters of support are strongly suggested. My only documentation was the NTHU school calendar and a few screenshot emails, but somehow, it worked. My leave of absence was accepted and I’m returning to UNM in the fall, scholarship intact.

In hindsight…

I wish there was more information on NTHU online. Non-university, English language websites are practically non-existent. No blogs, no vlogs, no review websites, zilch. When I started this blog, I couldn’t find a single relevant blog. Now, this little blog is on the second page of Google search results for the third result and first non-NTHU result for  “national tsing hua university blog exchange student taiwan”, and is the only blog Google returns in the first five pages. So maybe this will help others out.

Update, January 2016: This post is now the third result and first non-NTHU result for “national tsing hua university blog exchange student taiwan”. The blog’s homepage is the fourth. There is, however, another blog post within the first five pages, which is pretty good reading. You can get to it here.

NTHU is a well-regarded technical school in a beautiful country, and I hope the adjust their systems to better support exchange students. Do I regret going? Nope. But I don’t regret coming home, either. I took a gamble based on the information (and vastly reduced application time) available to me, and it didn’t work out this time. But trying new things, meeting new people, and traveling while I can was kind of the whole point of this adventure.

 

Happy adventuring!

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