Part 2—Electric Boogaloo
Part 1 starts here, and while I’m lazy to do a recap of the previous entry, here’s the lead-in point:
I prepared to take classes and get ready to enter life as a graduate student in Taiwan, about to start on my Master’s…
And now the thrilling conclusion!
Excited about the new step in my life—and finally doing something in Taiwan I was happy to be doing—I went to the online course selection system and prepared to get my class schedule in order. Flipping through the pages of the offered classes, I began to get a feel for what classes I wanted to take, and which ones I could plan to take in future semesters if they were offered.
I didn’t find anything.
That’s right. As soon as I had checked out the classes I knew I was in trouble. I didn’t see a single class on there that truly caught my interest. It was just a series of literature classes that, quite frankly, I found to be incredibly boring or tedious sounding. Forced to make some kind of a selection, I went with a required class and a class on Tao Yuanming (see footnote) since I liked his work. It was with this mindset and a sense of making a very poor decision in selecting the department I was in, that I went in to my first semester.
A Moment of Weakness and Confusion
A few weeks later, I found more and more than I had little to no interest in what I was studying. Well, that isn’t entirely true. I enjoyed reading about it, and I liked knowing a bit more background, but I did not like analyzing them. Worse still, I had gotten in when, perhaps, my Chinese level was not where it should have been. I felt very intimidated in class, and always under constant pressure everyday “I have to study study study study!!!!!”. I never felt like I could catch up, I was always worried about improving my Mandarin, in addition to having to work on Classical Chinese (the language of the poets/authors of the time), and getting enough background in the area to even make comparisons—the kind that are necessary for literature studying. I just really wasn’t having any fun at all, it was nothing but massive stress.
Eventually I got so tired of it that I stopped going to class, instead going to a local coffee shop to try and figure out just what I was doing—and what the next step would be. Unfortunately the way I handled it was poor; I just stopped going without notifying anyone at the school. While I don’t regret the decision to leave the department, I regret the way that I handled it.
I was left in a very tight spot: my education in Taiwan was in question, and what would I do for finances? My coffers were extraordinarily low, so returning home to find work was not an option. I could find a job in Taiwan, which would mean teaching English or, if I was luckily, back to the ol’ 9-7 at a Taiwanese company. After redoing my resume, putting out some applications, and thinking if I wanted to be in school or not, I finally came to a decision: find a way to stay in school in Taiwan. If that failed, I would go back to the U.S.
Getting myself together, I put together a plan to get back into school. I would attempt to transfer departments—the Chinese literature department held nothing for me, and staying there would only put me back into the situation I was before—and my aim was in the history department. I had already gotten a good feeling when I had met people that worked in that office, as well as knowing a few students in the department. The classes, which I also looked at in the beginning of the semester, were much preferred over the Chinese literature department ones. I wrote some nice letters to explain my situation, and awaited for their decision.
Amazingly, the school was more than willing to understand and worked with me to put me into the history department. I still had to go through the approval of the Chinese literature department to do it, but I could begin taking classes again and start working on finishing the credits for my degree. Excited, I ran home to check online which classes I could take, signed up for them, and was now taking classes again, enjoying them much more immensely than I did before.
Back on Track
So here I am, about two and a half months in, and still enjoying it very much. My current focus for my studies is the Japanese occupation period in Taiwan. It was something that had always interested me, and now it is a great opportunity for me to study Japanese (which I have always had a deep passion and desire to learn, I still love being able to pick it apart). Unfortunately, because I am taking a class that requires looking at documents written by Japanese academics, it proves to be really challenging. Reading a 30 page document in Japanese, then having to write a report on it, with only my Japanese lessons from 2002-2006 to back me up.. it was an issue. But, fun to try and get through.
I’ve also gotten the opportunity to help translate a book for a professor into English from Chinese, which will be published sometime next year. I’ll get to have my name in print! I’m pretty excited about it, and it’s a fun challenge to do. While it is unpaid, it is still a worthwhile experience.
Things are basically on the up and up now! I’m really happy with where I am, and I’m certainly enjoying the ride.
As I mentioned in the previous post, the main goal of these entries is to also point out the importance of education versus fun.
As I hope my example shows, just naturally following academic paths set up for you by the system is not an ideal way to go. It is very easy to get lost in the system, especially for someone like me who went into it without any clear goals or motivations. To me, I was doing it because I ought to do it, it seemed like the right step to take, and it “might be fun”.
It was only when I discovered, during those coffee shop sessions and much personal reflection, what it was that would be ‘fun’ for me to do. I was able to trace the thread of history through my life: influence from my parents, enjoyment at looking at various historical landmarks in the U.S., and even in Taiwan looking at old Qing and Japanese occupation buildings and documents. I just had never thought of it before. It was just a hobby. Now I’ve turned it into my academic goal.
Of course there’s the joke that historians never really make any money, and it’s probably true, but who cares? At least I’m doing something I want that I enjoy! I mean, come on, I’m learning Japanese and Chinese—two languages I love—and can read a variety of really interesting documents related to a country that I really love, too.
And, who knows, with the focus of my studies, maybe I can get some grants to go to Japan! Or my silly goal since high school—Tokyo University!
 I should probably note what is meant by “Chinese Literature”. I’m sure it is a no brainer, but in case someone is interested in what it entails, I’ll devote some time to explaining it. Most of what constitutes Chinese Literature is not necessarily novels or plays as we may think of when we think of English Literature—in fact it is mostly poetry. I find it to be exceptionally beautiful and really enjoy reading it. There are, of course, novels too, but not in the Western sense. Chinese novels tend to be long, drawn out, and with a large cast of characters (think War and Peace). Some interesting poets to look up are Li Bai［李白］, Dufu［杜甫］, Tao Yuanming［陶淵明］(who has written one of my favorite pieces titled “Drinking Wine Number 5”［飲酒之五］), and others. As I think this ceased to be a ‘footnote’ long ago, I’ll shut up here.
 In case you’re wondering how I did it, I basically only focused on the kanji and ignored all of the verb endings. I didn’t have the time nor the proper resources to figure it out. I just focused on the ones I knew (basic negations) and whatever I could glean from my DS dictionary. In fact the picture on that entry was during this work. I wouldn’t suggest doing it again, but it was an interesting challenge, and I picked up a few words from it. If anything, though, it encouraged me to work harder!
Wow, epic story dude. I’m glad you’ve found your academic niche. Also, I don’t necessarily think Lit. majors make any money either, so it’s not like you switched from an MBA or MD track to history. And it could be worse, you could be a philosophy major like I was… lol.
It took a while but I’m glad I did it too! I don’t think philosophy is that bad!! Anyway it’s more about following what you’re actually interested in than getting stuck on something just for the money 😉
Did you have a particular interest when you were studying philosophy?
What a story, and good that things turned out your way in the end.
It sounds like your classes are all taught in Chinese, were you not afraid of not keeping up? How well did you know the language before entering the program?
Well, keeping up is certainly an issue, but because I like what I’m doing I’m very devoted to reading everything and making sure I stay on top of the work. My biggest worries are actually writing the papers! But the staff is very understanding and welcoming, so they’re willing to help you out and work with you. Many of them had studied or gotten their degrees abroad so they know how it feels.
How well did I know the language? I want to say “intermediate”, though I’m not a huge fan of terms like that. I would say–I was comfortable enough around the language that I could take the challenge of doing graduate work.
Hi Greg! Glad to know thinks are working out for you in Taiwan. If you do make it over to Japan in the next few years come and visit me at Kyoto U. I’ve been settling in over the last few weeks and its pretty nice. I’m way out of my depth but have the benefit of a whole year of no grading/testing to prepare for the entrance exam. It’s pretty sweet because I can get on with learning without all the stress. Enjoying learning modern mandarin for fun. Actually, I also have to do some 漢文 study too!
Heya! Well, it sounds like things are really cruising along for you there, too! I actually would really love to go to Kyoto–I’ve always wanted to go there, especially with my love for Japanese history. Plus the kinkakuji (?) is something I’ve always wanted to see. What degree program on you working on? There’s a school in Japan (that I can’t for the life of me remember or find the website) that has a lot of documents I may need to do my thesis work so, perhaps, I can find an excuse to go to Japan 😉
At the moment I’m a ‘research student’ in the philosophy dept. Specifically history of Japanese philosophy. I hope to pass an exam in February that will have me doing masters for a further two years. Monbusho is bankrolling me the whole time, so I basically get paid now to learn Japanese to a stupidly high level. ^^ It’s nice to get something out of all those years busting my ass with philosophy and Japanese.
The library here is pretty amazing. I’m sure there would be plenty to interest you.
Getting “paid” and “bankrolling” sounds nice, so I may need to bother you for some more info on this Monbusho thing! It also sounds quite tempting to go there, I would love to check it out, I am sure they have some really amazing archives for the kind of research I need to do!!
The scholarship I’m on here is pretty good, too, though it’s got a two year limit :/