Ever wondered what is it like to work and live in Taiwan? Are you curious to know more about it? Today Rebecca Robinson and Mitchell Smoothy will share their own experiences with you, after both having completed their internships in Taiwan. Rebecca and Mitchell certainly enjoyed their time to the fullest while living in Taiwan, learning Mandarin, trying out delicious foods, and travelling.
But how did they end up in Taiwan? What do they feel they have gained from an international experience? How did they find adapting to a new culture? I sat down with Rebecca and Mitchell to find out more.
Passion to explore Asia
Ever since Mitchell started studying Chinese at Curtin University, he always wanted to go on an exchange at some point in his degree. Rebecca, on the other hand, who was studying a double degree in Law and Journalism at Curtin was also very interested in adding an international experience to her resume. When Rebecca found and informed Mitchell about the New Colombo Plan, both of them were very keen to apply and participate in an internship in the Indo-Pacific region. Very shortly after, both of them attended an info session and were instantly inspired after listening to the experiences of past New Colombo Plan recipients.
Then, they sought help from Curtin Go Global, Curtin University’s one-stop destination to explore global opportunities, to fill the application for the New Colombo grant. Fortunately, both were successful in receiving the New Colombo Plan Mobility Grant, which essentially meant that they had to do an internship and language component in Taiwan along with a semester abroad in mainland China. However, the latter never happened due to the outbreak of the Covid pandemic. Nevertheless, Curtin Go Global assisted them by pairing up with an internship provider, InternChina, who are mostly based in mainland China and Taiwan.
Rebecca undertook an internship at a law firm called WTW Commercial and she feels it was an eye-opening experience.
“I was located in their office in Central Taipei for eight weeks. I worked every day from nine to six and took public transport. It was really cool. But there was a big language barrier in my office which was difficult to overcome and for my colleagues as well. But they did everything to accommodate me. I even went to a few court hearings, which was very interesting. I had one of my colleagues sitting next to me and translating everything into English. I also got invited to their end-of-year celebration and they took us to an active airbase and that was really intense”.Rebecca Robinson
Mitchell interned at Plustek, a company that provides services such as professional scanning with branches mainly in Taiwan and Europe.
“My internship was a more conventional experience. I had my own cubicle in my office with others in their cubicles. I think, I was one of the four international interns at that time and all of them were very interesting people. My role was to essentially be in their marketing division to translate articles from Chinese to English and try to make it sound like a 50-year-old male, who is just learning it”.Mitchell Smoothy
Visa and other preparations
One of the more difficult items when travelling abroad is managing the visa process and finding the correct visa office to submit your application. As there is no official Taiwan embassy in Australia, all documents have to be processed by the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Canberra. Rebecca and Mitchell applied for a working holiday visa, which involved a lot of paperwork. Some of the documents they had to send along with the application form were their passports, colour photos, national police clearance, proof of sufficient funds for living expenses, insurance certificate, a bank check for the visa fee and a health check certificate (with an X-ray for tuberculosis and vaccination certificates). Both Rebecca and Mitchell felt that there was a lot of stress in terms of time pressure and making sure that the documents were sent to the right address in Canberra. Luckily, the visa arrived on time, and they were all set to fly!
However, there would be one more hurdle for them to navigate. Just half an hour before the flight, when they were all excited and prepared, an incident happened that almost prevented them from leaving for Taiwan. Here’s what Rebecca has to say about what took place:
“It was midnight and super quiet at the airport. We all had our passports and tickets checked in. And then a lady approaches and says that we can’t get on the plane as we don’t have exiting plans. So, our original plan was to finish our internships in Taiwan and then book flights to mainland China. However, we hadn’t booked it yet as we were not sure of the dates. Quickly we called the Curtin Go Global people and they helped us booking a last-minute flight to Shanghai. So, one thing that people should look out for is to make sure you pay attention to your travel details and visa requirements”.Rebecca Robinson
So, people, make sure that your return flights are booked!
Check out some handy tips for Taiwan visa application, here.
Rebecca and Mitchell both enrolled in language classes while staying in Taiwan, and both put this high in their list of highlights. Besides learning Chinese, group activities and watching videos added to the fun experience. They found their teachers and other peers to be very nice and friendly.
However, there was still this language barrier that Rebecca, especially, found it difficult to overcome. Mitchell was slightly less affected by this as he was already studying Chinese.
“I found it difficult to apply the theory in a professional and real setting. It was nerve wracking. I had no confidence speaking Chinese in front of my boss or while ordering food…I would revert to my English”.Rebecca Robinson
Nevertheless, they found the language classes, especially group activities, to be really engaging and interactive. They enjoyed participating in various cultural activities including calligraphy (pictured above), reading textbooks and making flashcards. They also used Chinese Skill, a language app that had various workbook-style activities and would highly recommend it for all those interested in improving their speaking skills. There is also an Asia Options article on learning Chinese which is worth reading.
Key cultural takeaways
They found Taiwanese culture to be highly respectful of everyone and something that stood out to them the most was the locals’ hospitable and friendly nature. The workplace culture, however, they found to be slightly different especially regarding relationships with higher officers and working style.
“I think in workplaces, relationship with managers and core employees are hierachical. Obviously, my manager didn’t really talk to me directly – they would speak to my supervisor and then my supervisor would communicate it to me”.Mitchell Smoothy
Another experience of cultural shock that Rebecca faced was on her first day at the office.
“It was my first day at the internship and I enter my office at one o’clock, coming straight from my language class. I couldn’t see anyone at the reception, so I let myself in and all the lights were off. I just said hello, and then I see someone’s head popping up from their desk, and I go, what’s happening? Then, someone told me that they all have a half an hour nap every day after lunch under their desks”.Rebecca Robinson
She had no clue about this practice, and she found it uncomfortable to partake in this. However, they believe that having an international experience broadens our cultural awareness and makes us more open-minded to different perspectives.
Travel and food
Travelling has been one of the best experiences they have had in Taiwan. Their piece of advice for everyone looking to work in Taiwan is to use the weekends only for travel and get a taste of that local flavour. They pretty much had planned a trip every weekend and they have all just been very memorable. Some of the most enjoyable places they had been to were the Kaohsiung port city and Taroko village.
By the way, how can you not have bubble tea when you are in Asia? Bubble tea was a constant in their lives, something that they could have all day. Every morning their go-to breakfast would be eggs boiled in tea and later for dinner they would usually go to a night market.
They particularly enjoyed the street food and Raohe Street night market is a must-go place to try them all out. They have all kinds of treats to explore such as deep-fried chicken, soup dumplings, beef noodles, pork rice, and even desserts like pineapple cake, mango shaved ice and more!
By all accounts, Rebecca and Mitchell both had an incredible experience in Taiwan. Although they could not go to mainland China due to the pandemic, they were back safely in Australia in early 2020. They relish their memories every day as being one of the highlights of their university journey, and they just cannot emphasise enough for those interested to apply for the New Colombo Plan.
Interested in making Taiwan your new home? Check out another Asia Options article on Gold Card Visa Program.
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