Living Abroad as a Canadian Exchange Student: Part I

My friend Jessie just got back from an exchange in Taiwan, where she spent five months studying hotel management at the National Kaohsiung University of Hospitality and Tourism (NKUHT), and another six months completing a hotel management internship at a five-star hotel in the city of Kaohsiung, Taiwan. Jessie was nice enough to let me interview her so I could learn about her exchange experience.

Last February, Jessie flew to Kaohsiung with a group of 13 exchange students; most of them were Canadian, and many had studied at Humber North in Etobicoke. She admits that she was terrified when she arrived at the crowded airport terminal, but thankfully, her teacher was waiting for her when she got off the plane. Jessie and her fellow students were immediately thrust into the din and clamour of downtown Kaohsiung.

Taiwan’s large cities are extraordinarily busy. Some local students gave her a tour of the area—every Canadian student had two Taiwanese chaperones, but most of them didn’t speak much English. “The first thing I saw on the street was scooters zipping all over the place—traffic is crazy, and scooter drivers don’t exactly follow the traffic laws,” Jessie says. “There weren’t really any sidewalks either. We had to walk alongside the racing traffic, which didn’t exactly make you feel safe.” This may sound scary to us, but to the residents of Kaohsiung it’s just another part of city life. “After about a week I had pretty much gotten used to it,” she says.

Jessie stayed in student housing, which had strict rules: curfew was 10:30 p.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. on weekends; students weren’t allowed to bring in anyone who didn’t live in the dorms; and guys and girls had separate dorm buildings and weren’t allowed to visit each other after curfew. There was no kitchen, and just one fridge for the entire 10-floor building to share. There was absolutely no leaving this building after curfew came into effect—when the restricted hours began, your access card stopped working and you had to call the teacher on duty.

The air conditioner only worked from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., to save power, which made the dorm building very uncomfortable at times. “The best way to deal with the heat while the AC was off was to go outside and walk around,” Jessie says. “Although one of the things I missed about Toronto was being able to walk outside into cold, fresh air after being cooped up indoors.”

Jessie took fascinating and useful courses such as Taiwanese history and culture, destination and resource planning, and tourism product development. Along with the expected studying and course work, she also had to learn basic Mandarin in order to make her life as a temporary Kaohsiung resident manageable. She learned how to ask for directions, find out the time, and order food. “Where’s the washroom—that one’s really important,” Jessie says, laughing. “Asking about prices was important too, because a handful of store clerks actually tried to rip me off.”

During her time in Taiwan, Jessie and her fellow exchange students went on countless trips that were pretty much vacations. Along with several gorgeous beaches, she also visited the biggest Buddhist monastery in Taiwan. “The tour buses had karaoke machines, which was awesome because it made the travel time seem shorter,” Jessie says. “But they were really annoying if you were trying to sleep!” Jessie made a handful of friends in Kaohsiung that she is still in touch with, and she made many other friends when she completed her hotel management internship in Taipei.

Stay tuned for next week’s blog to find out about Jessie’s experience working at a five-star hotel.

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