This article was first published in The News Lens International, a Taipei-based bilingual digital media that provides news, analysis, views and deep reporting from Greater China and Southeast Asia. You can read the original here.
If you've ever considered studying abroad in Taiwan, this guide will show you how. However, the question stands — why should you go to college in Taiwan? What makes this a better decision than, say, studying in the U.S., or Europe, or your home country?
First, Taiwan features a number of world-class research institutions, and education is a top social priority. Close to 70 percent of Taiwanese people go to college, and schools like National Taiwan University (NTU), Tsing Hua University, and China Medical University offer some of the best programs in Asia.
Next, going to school in Taiwan is affordable. The government offers scholarships to international students that make studying here essentially free of charge, meaning (at least for American students) instead of graduating with years of debt, you have a strong degree that is completely paid for. And even if you don't go the scholarship route, tuition and cost of living are much more reasonable than many other locations around the world.
NTNU offers a strong teaching program.
Taiwan also features a number of unique and useful programs, especially if you want to focus on language acquisition. Learning Mandarin is more important than ever, and Taiwan offers rigorous and fulfilling Chinese curricula without the headache of living across the Strait. Beyond Chinese, you can find degree programs — taught both in Mandarin and English — in just about any field.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Taiwan is an amazing place to spend any length of time. Moving to Taiwan, whether for a semester or for four years, will allow you to experience a unique culture, a vibrant democracy, and a beautiful piece of geography.
Studying in Taiwan is one of the best choices any student can make. Once you've settled on why, here are the most common methods students follow:
Studying on a scholarship
Many students come to Taiwan through a range of scholarships, the most famous being the Ministry of Education (MOE) Taiwan Scholarship and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) Taiwan Scholarship (the difference being the MOE scholarship accepts applicants globally, while its MOFA equivalent is exclusively for citizens of nations that recognize Taiwan diplomatically).
Recipients of these scholarships have tuition paid for as well as monthly living stipends. The scholarship only lasts for as long as they expect you to attain a degree (four years maximum for a bachelor's), so if you go this route, you'll need to keep your nose to the grindstone.
There are, of course, other scholarships available with different stipends and conditions, offered by both the government, universities and independent organizations. There is one for studying Mandarin, others for scientific degrees, even short-term research grants. For more information about programs you might be considering, see the following links:
Anika Smiling, an undergrad at Ming Chuan University, is completing her undergraduate degree through the International Cooperation and Development Fund (ICDF) International Higher Education Scholarship. Anika came to Taiwan because she, “had friends here who only had good things to say about living in Taiwan.” According to their website, the ICDF “provides scholarships for higher education and has developed undergraduate, graduate and Ph.D. programs in cooperation with renowned partner universities in Taiwan.” It covers all academic expenses, flights to and from home countries and a monthly allowance.
Prepared food is relatively inexpensive in Taiwan.
Exchange student or short-term
Many foreign students in Taiwan come for a year or a semester as part of an exchange program. These tend to be university-specific, so to go this route, determine what school you would like to attend and get in touch with their international office. Or, if you are more interested in Taiwan than any specific program, ask your university's academic counseling center if they have any programs or partnerships with Taiwan universities.
For further information, here are some of Taipei's most notable universities and their exchange programs:
There are also many short-term programs available, but you will need to check with your university that you can apply credit earned in Taiwan to your degree.
Non-trad and working
Perhaps the least common way — and most difficult — to go to university in Taiwan is to work while studying.
There are a few benefits to this route. First, there is no need to apply for a limiting scholarship; many scholarships limit the amount of hours you can work (if at all), and the living stipends can be sparse. Second, working in Taiwan and going to school in Taiwan are two very different experiences, and having a second center of gravity, so to speak, will help you see more of Taiwan and understand it better than spending most of your time at the university.
Howard Davies, a student at National Taiwan Normal University (NTNU) in the “Teaching Chinese as a Second Language” program, pays for his tuition out of pocket thanks to his employment at an online start up in Taipei. He originally came to Taiwan while traveling and “fell in love with Taipei,” so he stayed and found a job to support language studies. “After a few years of study I really wanted to learn more and more — that's when I started looking online and found the NTNU website, so I looked at their course and spotted the Department of Chinese as a Second Language.”
Howard notes that his program offers him far more classroom hours than other language schools or programs in his native United Kingdom, all with a rich curriculum, excellent professors, and a bachelor's degree upon completion. “It was a no-brainer,” he says of his decision to pursue his degree in Taiwan.
Still, jobs at online start up companies for expats are rare, so if you're determined to go this route, be sure you have a position lined up that will sponsor your work permit and pay enough to support your studies and living expenses.
A student visa allows you to work a limited number of hours per week.
Find a school
When you've figured out how you'll attend college in Taiwan, the next step is to find the right school for you.
This may be a foregone conclusion. If you are looking to study abroad for a semester, your university might work exclusively with one school or program in particular in Taiwan. However, if you are from a country eligible for programs like the ICDF, you may have broader options. And if you simply want to get your bachelor's entirely in Taiwan, you are free to apply to any program.
As is true of students anywhere, you want to apply to the best school that will admit you. And if you decide studying in Taiwan is right for you, there are certainly some universities that are better than others. The top universities in Taiwan are:
Note — these rankings are from the Times Higher Education World University Rankings and are, of course, based on their subjective (though useful) ranking metrics.
While all of the universities listed in the previous section have excellent programs, they might not all have what you're looking for. National Taiwan Normal University places much emphasis on language learning and training of teachers, while China Medical University is likely a better choice for students pursuing degrees in medicine.
Luckily, StudyInTaiwan.org has a handy tool to help you determine what program would be right for you. You can search based on university, degree program, short-term program, or scholarship, and you can control for degree level, major, language of study (or how much of the program is taught in English), region, and city.
Here is a list of every English-taught program in Taiwan (at least 90 percent English), also known as “international programs."
One of the greatest things about going to school in Taiwan is that you can get a world-class education for much less money than it might cost in the United States or Europe. Cost of living is lower in many places, and tuition rates are not meant to relegate graduates to years of student loan payment purgatory.
However, going to university in Taiwan isn't free, and you'll still need to pay for tuition, room and board, books, and at least a modicum of recreation. Fortunately, Taiwan, its universities, and many other institutions offer scholarships to make studying here essentially cost-free.
Fund through scholarships
We've already discussed a number of scholarships, but there are a range of others offered by the Taiwan government, for all kinds of students including those earning a degree and short-term researchers. These include:
· Scholarships for Degree such as the Academia Sinica Taiwan International Graduate Program
· The MOFA Research Fellowship
· Other scholarships like the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy Fellowship
We should note that many scholarships come with “strings attached” — recipients of the MOFA Taiwan Scholarship, for example, are only allowed to work a limited number of hours and must apply for a separate work permit. Breaking the conditions of your scholarship is grounds for its cancellation, so if you apply and are awarded, be sure you understand what you can and cannot do under its terms.
Another avenue to consider is scholarships from your home country. While these are obviously country-specific, there are plenty available. For example, GoAbroad.com has compiled a large directory of scholarships for American students looking to study outside the United States.
Pay for it yourself
As mentioned previously, education in Taiwan is affordable and it is possible to work while you study, especially for graduate students hailing from the English-speaking world. Furthermore, studying in Taiwan versus studying in the West means serious savings. This could mean that instead of your family sending you some support while you take out loans, family savings may afford your entire education.
For example, at NTNU — home of the famous Mandarin Training Center (MTC) — tuition per semester is under US$2,000 per semester. Students can reserve on-campus housing for less than US$400 a semester, and can find off-campus housing for US$300 a month. With prices this low, even without a scholarship, getting a quality degree is within reach for many students.
If scholarships, savings, and work-study just won't cover it, it might be time to think about applying for loans.
The range and breadth of loans available are staggering, so outlining them here is next to impossible. However, check with local banks and educational boards in your country to determine what loan options are available for study abroad. GoAbroad.com also offers information on how to apply for student loans.
However, part of the reason to come to Taiwan for school is to avoid taking out student loans. In the United States, the college loan apparatus has essentially evolved into a glorified, government-backed scam. If you are intent on graduating without the burden of student loan payments for the foreseeable future, Taiwan is a great place to look.
After you've applied to your program and determined how to fund it, you will need to apply for a visa.
The visa you apply for will depend entirely on your study goals. If you are coming for the summer, you may not even need a visa should you come from an a visa-exempt country.
However, for most students, you will need to apply for a 180-day student visa. This is true whether you are on exchange for a single semester, a year, or planning to complete your degree in Taiwan. Follow the application directions provided by the Bureau of Consular Affairs, and fill out this application. Or ask your university for assistance (usually the international cooperation departments of your school will be able to walk you through this process step-by-step).
If you are in Taiwan for a single semester, you are done. If your stay will be longer than that, you will either need to extend your student visa through your university after 180 days.
If you are a four-year student, however, you will need to apply for an Alien Resident Certificate (ARC) after possessing a Student Visitor Visa for 180 days.
· A completed ARC application form
· Your passport with your visa
· A Taiwan university issued student ID or enrollment certificate
· One passport photo taken within the last six months
· Your completed health check form (usually done through your university when you arrive)
If your university doesn't sponsor a health check on campus or through through the school, go to the nearest public hospital (or one listed here) and ask information about a health check for the ARC. They will provide you with the form and guide you through the process. Expect it to take a few hours and costs range from NT$1,500 to NT$2,000.
For information specific to residents from your country, contact the education department at the nearest Taipei Economic and Cultural Office.
Find a place to live
Finding room and board can be relatively simple if you have access to campus housing, but it can alternately be seriously daunting if you prefer to live off-campus, alone, and speak less than perfect Chinese.
On-campus: Check with your school about what they offer for housing. Most schools will offer housing in dormitories, and often these will be significantly less expensive than living off-campus.
However, you may have to share a room and living on-campus can put you in a campus life “bubble,” so many students prefer to live elsewhere.
Off-campus: Living off-campus has its perks and its drawbacks. It is usually more expensive, and it can cause you to be further from school than you might want to be, making getting to class a chore.
However, living away from your school means you will likely be exposed to a greater degree of Taiwan culture than if you lived in the dorms, and you will probably meet expats and immigrants who come from a range of backgrounds.
Some great places to find housing off-campus:
· Rent 591 - Taiwan apartment listings, Chinese language.
· Tealit.com Classifieds - Tealit is geared towards English teachers, but it is a useful housing resource for students as well.
· Rental.tw - English site for finding housing.
· Facebook groups - “Looking for Roommates or Apartments in Taipei and Taiwan” and “Rental Apartments in Taiwan” are the largest and most active at the time of writing.
Another possible avenue is to contact your university before you arrive to see if they have any programs assisting students find alternative housing, or simply signing up for the dorms for your first semester and (depending on your housing contract) move off-campus when you have a better beat on your area.
Many students live in Taipei's Daan District, but it can be expensive.
Can I work?
The answer to this question depends on your scholarship, course load, and background. Plenty of students have successfully paid for school out of pocket while working full- or part-time.
For students on the MOE or MOFA Taiwan scholarships, the answer is a little more complicated.
For undergraduates, the only type of paid work you can engage in without jeopardizing your scholarship is internships. For graduate students, internships are fine, as are jobs that have a connection to the type of research you are engaged in. This last caveat leaves a lot of wiggle room and is at the discretion of your university.
Still, if you are awarded one of these scholarships, don't expect to also be able to get an English teaching job on the side. Doing so could put your scholarship and your degree at risk (and if you don't yet have your bachelor's it's technically illegal to teach, incurring more risk).
For other scholarships, it's best to contact the organization who awarded you directly for their conditions in regards to working.
Dealing with a different culture
One issue people seem to forget about is having to adjust to a different culture. Culture shock obviously affects different people in different ways, and depending on where you're from and your circumstances, it might not hit you as hard. For example, it might be a little easier for foreigners from other East Asian countries like Japan, South Korea, or China to adjust to Taiwan given some shared cultural traits and even linguistic similarities. If you come from Latin America on the other hand, the adjustment could be more of an obstacle.
Culture shock usually has an effect on most people within their first six months of moving. Fortunately, any “shock” you may experience in Taiwan will likely be short-lived and mild. Taiwanese people are notoriously friendly and low-pressure, and Taiwanese society is relatively cosmopolitan and globally minded. This means you should be able to find people, food, and activities from your home country or region when you need it.
The people who get hit the hardest when transitioning to Taiwan are those who neglect to balance studies with socializing and active cultural engagement. If you are something of a homebody and on the shy side, you might have to work just a little harder to get out of your comfort zone and develop new relationships. Clubs and hobbies help, and universities are excellent at assisting international students in finding something they enjoy.
So, you have a degree from a Taiwanese university - what are your prospects? Obviously, that depends on your degree and a bunch of other factors, but just because you have a degree doesn't mean everything will simply work out.
The average starting salary for college graduates in Taiwan was a paltry NT$28,116 (U$950) per month in the summer of 2017, and while wages for Taiwan-educated foreigners is likely higher, such a low starting point means many graduates leave Taiwan after they have concluded their studies.
Furthermore, Taiwan has not been a trailblazer in courting foreign talent. Incentives for foreign investors are relatively weak, and many foreign residents leave Taiwan after a year or so.
However, things do seem to be improving. In October 2017 the Legislative Yuan passed the “Act Governing Recruitment and Employment of Foreign Professionals” which eases a number immigration and labor restrictions on foreign workers and international graduates. You can even extend your stay for up to a year to search for a permanent job.
The national government also seems earnest in attempts to retain international students after graduation, with 84 percent of graduates considering joining the local workforce. Furthermore, if you want to work in an area related to your field of study, you can now extend your stay to work in an internship role - positions which often turn into permanent jobs.
If staying in Taiwan long-term isn't your goal, your prospects depend on your degree. Obviously, the demand for Mandarin-speaking workers is on the rise globally, so if you studied Chinese language, you will should be able to find positions either in your home country or elsewhere.
For science, technology, engineering, or math majors (STEM), you might find things more competitive when your degree is compared to graduates from universities in the U.S. or Europe, but still, the demand for STEM majors is huge, especially in Asia, where your degree will be a true asset.