Getting Lost on the Taiwan Nature Treasure Map Program

For the past few years the School of Forestry and Resource Conservation at National Taiwan University has run the Taiwan Nature Treasure Map Program for international students. The program is a paid internship for international students to stay in a selected site for one month, and to explore Taiwan’s ineffable beauty from a ‘cultural and natural perspective’.

Getting Lost on the Taiwan Nature Treasure Map Program
Chloe Dempsey on the Taiwan Nature Treasure Map Program

Chloe Demspey was lucky enough to be selected for the program this year. Chloe is pursuing a double degree in Law and Arts at the University of Western Australia. Having finished her Diploma in Mandarin, says she was interested in using her Mandarin to gain a deeper understanding of the ‘Beautiful Island’ while on the Treasure Map Program.

Declan Fry – the Australia-China Youth Association (ACYA) National Education Officer – who shares the same home-town of sun-drenched Perth, recently caught up with Chloe to talk about her experience.

How did you hear about the 2015 Taiwan Nature Treasure Map Program (TNTMP)? Where did you spend most of your time?

Having liked the ACYA National Facebook page, I saw an advertisement for the TNTMP a few days before applications were due and decided to throw my hat in the ring. I always figure that there’s no harm or commitment in applying for something you think you might be interested in.

I was placed at the Taipingshan (太平山) Internship site. Taipingshan is a huge national park that was a historic logging centre, especially during Japanese rule. I actually lived and spent most of my time in Luodong, the nearest city to the national park.

Interns are expected to create a treasure map highlighting something special or valuable they found in the internship site. The idea behind the treasure map is to encourage other young travellers to venture out into Taiwan’s remote areas, which I love. Our treasure map combined the forestry and technical knowledge of my French-Mexican intern buddy, and our archaeology-expert Taiwanese counterpart. Needless to say, my addition to the team generally consisted of, “this place has lots of those cute little birds that have the funny beaks” or, “this path had many trees of the green and spiky variety”.


What was the background of the participants?

We were all from very diverse backgrounds. I had no idea what to expect. I was surprised that there were actually forestry students who had come from as far as the USA just to do the program. I never even knew there was such a course of study as ‘forestry’! The program is aimed at helping international students explore the beauty of Taiwan from a cultural and natural perspective. And, there was really no overriding similarity tying together the majority of participants; there were people from the Philippines, France, Denmark, Malaysia, USA, Canada, Taiwan, and, of course, Australia!


What was the most beautiful aspect of Taiwan you discovered?

Taiwan is a wonderful destination for students; aside from its beauty and uniqueness, it’s incredibly accessible, and cheap. English is also widely spoken.

Culturally and socially, Taiwan has a very distinct personality, influenced by its unique history and inhabitants. The university ensured that each internship site had at least one domestic Taiwanese student, and, culturally, this was probably the aspect I most valued. Being able to make a real Taiwanese friend and live with them was fantastic for someone like myself who usually has a million questions when in a foreign culture. Taiwanese people are renowned for being friendly, helpful and good fun, which I certainly found to be the case. As I often find when travelling, it was the people and their stories that I found most important to my cultural experience.

Nature-wise, I have to be a typical tourist and say I fell in love with Taroko Gorge. Where else can you actually love camping without a mattress on hard stony ground? After a long day of trekking above fast-running clear water framed by quartz cliffs, it was like sleeping on clouds. Closer to Taipei I loved the hikes through Yangmingshan National Park (陽明山國家公園).


You have a blog which covers the less romantic aspects of travel in Taiwan – the sleeplessness, discomfort and the like – what was the most uncomfortable part of your trip?

Whilst, overwhelmingly Taiwan is a very comfortable travel destination, my most uncomfortable experience was definitely self-inflicted – one evening we arrived in the middle of the night and were lost and as a result, we had to camp outside a visitor centre on hard concrete. This predicament was exacerbated by the fact I didn’t bring any pyjamas and was camping in a public place with big windows into our tent and so had to cover my body in the plastic fly tent in 40°C heat. I sweated so much that night!


What have you taken from the program, and what advice do you have for someone intrepid or eager for opportunities in the Australia-China space?

I have developed an appreciation and a greater understanding of nature which I will really value. This interest was also heightened due to the fact that I read a particularly illuminating book on climate change (This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein) whilst undertaking the internship. Taiwan’s incredibly unique and bio diverse environment is a perfect example of how complex and precious nature is. I also feel that seeing Taiwan first-hand has really deepened my understanding of not only Taiwan but the region more generally.

My other advice is: Apply, apply, apply! There are plenty of opportunities out there, but you do have to put effort into finding them and actually applying. I hear people so often say that such and such an opportunity doesn’t exactly suit them because they have study, work or life commitments. Everyone has commitments, but you have to be flexible and believe that you’re good enough for people/organisations to be flexible for you. Apply now, negotiate later! Stay involved with organisations like the Australia China Youth Association and keep your eyes peeled on pages like Asia Options and Young Opportunities Australia so when something comes up you feel connected enough to be a good candidate.

More information about the Taiwan Nature Treasure Map Program can be viewed here

This article originally appeared as “Taiwonderful – Chloe Dempsey Talks Camping and Craziness During the Taiwan Treasure Map Program” written by Declan Fry for the Australia-China Youth Association Perspectives Blog. Declan is ACYA National Education Manager and Communications Manager of the ACYA Melbourne University Chapter. The article is reproduced and edited here with permission.


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Will Breedon

Will graduated from Monash University with degrees in Economics and Arts (Mandarin) and studied at Soochow University as a Hamer Scholar.

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