Introduction: First Russia, then the World
Hailing from Russia, Igor is currently a second-year master’s student studying in the Department of Chinese Literature at National Taiwan University. His journey to Taiwan is full of exciting twists and turns. OIA recently had the opportunity to interview Igor about his experiences, and we are grateful for the chance to share his story with you.
Igor’s college education began in Moscow at the Russian State University for Humanities, where he majored in Japanese Studies. After one and a half years of studying at the Institute of Oriental and Classical Studies, he went on a full-year exchange to the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. During that exchange, he visited Taiwan for the first time. That short, enchanting trip to this beautiful island inspired him to move to Taiwan for his studies. What especially struck him about Taiwan was its convenience, the welcoming, friendly culture, and the affordable living costs.
He decided to leave his studies in Russia and look for opportunities to come to Taiwan. Understanding the importance of learning the local language, the first thing he did was apply for a language program. His mother, a professor at National Chiayi University, recommended the Chinese Center at National Chengchi University. Following his mother’s advice, Igor began his studies in Taiwan at the language center of NCCU. While working hard on his Mandarin Chinese studies, he applied for a degree program at NCCU. Deciding between continuing Japanese Studies or starting something new, he chose to apply to the Ethnology Department.
As he started his studies about different ethnic groups, he received the opportunity to be a student assistant for a professor whose research focuses on Mongolian ethnic groups. Since many texts about Mongolian peoples were written under the Soviet Union, Igor helps translate these materials for further research.
Igor took a gap year before graduating to think about where he wanted to continue his studies. He applied for master’s programs at NCCU and NTU. At NCCU, he considered continuing his studies with the Ethnology Department or applying for the International Master’s Program in Asia-Pacific Studies. At NTU, he applied to the Department of History and the Department of Chinese Literature.
Talented as he is, Igor was accepted everywhere he applied. Surprisingly, the reason why he chose the Department of Chinese Literature was seemingly trivial. As he was applying for his ARC, he was filling out the form in Chinese and thought about how much he loves traditional characters. This spark of passion led him to where he is today.
Igor first encountered traditional characters while studying Japanese. Even though they are not completely the same, this gave him a head start when he started learning Chinese in Taiwan. He has always found the traditional characters fascinating and enjoys learning not only their meaning, but also their history.
He studied Chinese at the NCCU Chinese Center for only a short time before starting his degree program. When he started his courses, he found that his Chinese level, combined with his knowledge of Japanese Kanji, were insufficient when faced with complex academic Chinese. Furthermore, during lectures the professors in the Department of Ethnology often used terms that were hard to understand. However, after climbing a mountain the first semester, Igor’s language skills improved quickly and he could understand much more material.
In his current graduate studies with the Department of Chinese Literature at NTU, he is focusing on the phonetics of Chinese. He studies the changes in pronunciation of particular characters over time and he enjoys exploring this deeper linguistic aspect of Chinese.
Presenting at Radio Taiwan International
Before coming to NTU, Igor was a radio host at Radio Taiwan International in Russian. His main program was about aboriginal peoples’ musics and histories. Sometimes, he even hosted the news bulletin! Igor already had an impressive understanding of Taiwanese cultures, and this experience deepened his knowledge of the diverse local cultures.
He was invited to become a radio host by the previous Chief Editor of the Russian Service at RTI. The Chief Editor is an alumnus of the Russian State University for Humanities, and through connections at the university learned that Igor is currently studying in Taiwan. Igor became responsible for music programs and took that responsibility to host a program series about aboriginal peoples’ cultures and musics. He first prepared programs about each aboriginal nation in Taiwan.
Igor particularly enjoyed how he and his colleagues could freely choose topics for discussion and express their opinions on different news. The most interesting part after the programs were the letters received from listeners and the comments made on social media. Some of the comments were hilarious, so they always looked forward to reading them.
As a radio host, he enhanced his public speaking skills and learned a lot of new things about aboriginal cultures. He even had the unique opportunity to go on fieldwork adventures, one of which was to an aboriginal village in Hualien.
Not Quite Culture Shock, but a Culture Knock
Russia, Taiwan, and Japan differ vastly in their cultures and customs. As Igor previously studied in Japan, he did not experience such a huge culture shock when he came to Taiwan. However, he did notice the differences in communication styles, especially communicating with women.
While Igor felt it was easy to interact with Russian women, when he came to Taiwan he found he often misunderstood Taiwanese women. After some time here, he lowered his expectations and became more open-minded, and found his communications improved.
Studying and Living at NTU
What has been most memorable about the Department of Chinese Literature for Igor was a Chinese Cognitive Grammar class taught by Professor Li-Li Chang. The class focused on deep discussion of some Chinese grammar structures and rules that some Taiwanese people aren’t even aware of, which made him feel almost superior to native speakers in a way.
Moreover, because he has a deep understanding of phonology, he really enjoys the late Professor Dong Tonghe’s book, Chinese Phonology. Professor Dong used to be a professor of Chinese at NTU, and is a renowned phonologist. Next semester, Igor is planning to start a book club with his classmates to study Professor Dong’s works, and unravel even more mysteries of phonology.
Discussing the differences between NCCU and NTU, the first thing Igor mentioned was the convenient location of NTU. NTU is situated in the heart of Taipei, next to the vibrant Gongguan market. It is easy to reach any place in Taipei from here as there are many public transportation options to choose from.
In contrast, NCCU is located close to Taipei Zoo Station at the end of the brown MRT line in Muzha District. From there it takes thirty minutes to an hour to travel to other places in Taipei. Furthermore, NCCU is close to the mountains and most of the restaurants and shops are downhill. However, the international dormitory is uphill, so you need to go downhill to get some food or supplies, and then go back up the mountain. As you can imagine, this can quickly become quite tiring.
Igor especially felt the convenience of NTU when he discovered that the convenience stores and facilities around campus are still working during holidays. In NCCU, only a few stores and restaurants remain open and most facilities are closed during breaks.
Another advantage of NTU that Igor pointed out is the rich resources that the university can offer. Most of the departments have their own libraries that hold many materials to conduct research.
Advice for International Students
We are thankful that Igor also shared some advice for students who are planning to study in Taiwan. First of all, he mentioned the humid climate and the number of insects that cultivates. As Taiwan is in a subtropical zone, there are many mosquitos, especially in the summer. However, with a subtropical climate also comes many beautiful plants, tall trees, colorful animals, and lush environments.
Secondly, Igor mentioned that is worthwhile to learn Chinese. Taipei is very convenient and it is easy to get by without knowing Chinese, but a learning new language will always expand your worldviews. He also recommended stepping out of your comfort zone by connecting with local students, not just sticking with students who speak your language as this way it is harder to improve your Chinese.
Finally, Igor suggested that if you have the chance, it’s a good idea to study Taiwanese Zhuyin in addition to the standard Chinese pinyin. Zhuyin is even more helpful to Mandarin Chinese learners than pinyin because the Zhuyin input method includes tones, making it easier to remember and master pronunciation.
With a mixture of both Northeast Asian and Southeast Asian cultures, living in Taiwan gives Igor the opportunity to experience many diverse cultures at the same time. He hopes that his university experience these last few years here in Taiwan, encountering many Asian cultures and greatly improving his language skills, will allow him to remain on this beautiful island and continue appreciating things that cannot be learned from books.
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