Asia Options recently sat down with Stefano Centini to talk about his experience of working in Taiwan. Stefano is a Researcher at the Taiwan Office of In Focus Asia. Stefano holds a Bachelor of Modern Literature at Roma Tre Univeristy Rome and Masters in Media Studies and Masters in Chinese Studies.
When and how did you develop an interest in your field and when did you realise this direction was suitable for you?
When I first started my studies I didn’t imagine that I would end up working in Taiwan. I have always been interested in shooting films, for instance during high school I shot a lot of short films. I have also, always enjoyed learning languages. So when I started university in Rome, while studying Modern Literature, I also studied Chinese part time through ISIAO http://www.isiao.it/. This was a course on Chinese language and culture, so every week I had 5 hours of language study and 3 hours of culture study (including culture, philosophy and history).
After I graduated from my bachelors, I worked for MTV Italy mainly working on drama and music videos, and while this was a good experience, I decided after working for a while to continue my studies and focus more on making movies. I applied for a place at the National Cinema School in Milan and was accepted and completed a 9 month program. After this I returned to Rome and started my Masters in Media Studies. Throughout this time I continued my Chinese studies and while in Rome continued at the Confucius Institutes which had just opened. At the end of my first year I applied for exchange in France and was enrolled at the Sorbonne in Paris.
While in France I also audited classes at Inalco and one of the professors of the Chinese class I was sitting in on appreciated my efforts and encouraged my to finish my studies there. In this way I obtained a Masters in Chinese Studies.
So, while I never intentionally chose this path, I just followed what I loved and what I enjoyed and I realised I could make a career out of it!
What university extra-curricular events did you find useful for building your career?
I had an interest in learning Chinese so I studied this while at university and this has had a large help for my current position. Also I also worked part time while at uni, working in a library. I would really recommend working part time to university students as it allows you to keep your feet on the ground and you are able to see that what you are actually studying has actual practical benefits. Applying what you learn in university in a professional environment is a good feeling!
What post-graduate experience have you found useful?
While there has not been a particular experience as such, I would encourage students to make the most of all human interactions as a way to build experience and network. Building inter-personal communication skills are crucial when it comes to working in a professional environment.
What advice would you offer to those who want to follow a similar path?
I would urge all students not to copy a path but to build and create your own path. I did what I loved doing and this has allowed me to have a fulfilling career. I would recommend students to do something (study/work) because you enjoy it not because you feel you need to do it. If you don’t enjoy something don’t feel that you need to keep doing it! When choosing your next step, sum up all your experiences and see where they can lead you. For example, I combined my Chinese language skills with my media studies knowledge to build a wonderful opportunity here.
How did you come to work in Taiwan?
While I was a student in Paris, I undertook an exchange at the National Taiwan University of Arts. While I was there, a program was offered working with Discovery. Part of this program was to go to Singapore and meet the production team, while I was there, I met some workers from InFocusAsia and we had a chat and they let me know about their plans to open an office in Taiwan. When I finished my studies I got in touch with them and well … here I am in Taiwan!
It has been a very rewarding experience. As part of my film projects I have interviewed Ang Lee (the Oscar winning director), the mayor of Kaohsiung (the second biggest city in Taiwan) and was able to go inside military barracks for filming.
Can you describe your work?
As a researcher my work is constantly changing and there is no ‘ordinary’ day. I am often working on several projects at once. As a researchers, I research ideas and see where they can go. When you watch a documentary you only see the finished product, but as a researcher I do a lot of the behind scenes work that leads to the finished product.
When deciding a project, sometimes we receive commissions, or sometimes we make proposals. Once the topic has been finalised, I undertake research. This involves talking to people, reading articles, visiting places and trying to understand the entire situation. Researching is the first stage. Once this is complete, the project goes into pre-production and then post-production. Many people contribute to the project to develop the finished product that audience views!
What have been some difficulties you have encountered in your work?
Technology, while a wonderful tool, is also the biggest challenge. It is constantly changing meaning we are always having to adapt. Working in Taiwan, culture is not such a large issue. There are obviously some small minor miscommunications, but Taiwan is a very welcoming environment for foreigners and I have had many amazing opportunities here that I don’t think I would have had anywhere else, such as meeting politicians and interviewing policemen.
Starting out in the industry can also be difficult at times. It is a small industry so connections and who you know are very important. When opportunities arise it is necessary to grab them, otherwise they may slip past. Starting out, this is often hard to do!
Any last words… ?
I am fortunate to be doing what I do. I pursued my interests and did what I enjoyed doing, making my own path in the process. I would really urge all students and young professionals to do what you enjoy and build your own path!
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