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17. TNUA

One of the first things I saw when coming to Taiwan is how important health care is for Taiwanese people. The very next day of my arrival to the country, they urged me and helped me to go to have a blood test, and once I was already starting classes at university, I had to pass, like all new students, a complete health check made at campus. The results came in a booklet with all the appropriate explanations about the data they collected from my body; it was very helpful. A few days after my arrival, my project manager helped me to have a provisional health insurance, and six months after living in Taiwan, I got a complete health insurance from the National Health Insurance, so I only have to pay NT$100 if I need a consultation or some treatment; everything is covered if it is not too serious or expensive. For example, I go to the dentist on a regular basis for dental checks and once I had a dental emergency: in all cases I was well treated and I had to pay only NT$100 each time; I only have to show my National Health Insurance electronic card, which has information about me.

I have had only two experiences at hospitals in Taiwan: the first time being when I had the blood test I mentioned before, and later when I helped the new students to have theirs. In both cases, although in different hospitals, the facilities were immaculate clean, the equipment new and the staff very friendly and professional.

At my university, we also have a health center, with a doctor who is available for general medical consultation. So far I have never needed to go there, but I’ve been told the medical practice there is good.

When it comes to the patient, he or she is as an important source of information on medical problems or situations that in turn grab the attention of preventative public health agencies and are not considered as the only problem to solve.

Taiwan is a country with a good amount of research activity in preventive health care, and has constituted itself in one of the main countries in the world that combines human effort and technology to help prevent diseases that benefits all its inhabitants, being nationals or foreigners without exception.

The quality of care offered in public and private hospitals constitute a high level excellence in the health care services of this noble nation, because of the professionalism and diligence demonstrated by their doctors, nurses and administrative staff, all which are routine in Taiwan.

The hygiene and subtle scent of their health centers such as the medical consultation wings and hospitalization wings give us the feeling that we are not in a hospital, but rather in, a mall or in a great hotel. The classic "medical smell sanatoriums" characteristic in Latin America is not common in these parts of the world.

When one attends a hospital it is a pleasure to appreciate a small desk that has an electronic blood pressure meter (For us Latin Americans, perhaps of our eating habits, we might have a slightly higher blood pressure to usual compared to the local Taiwanese). When a patient uses it and it detects the pressure above the "normal" range it sounds an alarm to alert the medical staff of the situation. The sound would be similar to firemen’s alarm in a big fire as of saying, "to come check on the patient."

Taiwan, as one of the most developed countries in the world, is very concerned about the health conditions of its citizens. Because of this, on March 1995 the government created the National Health Insurance, with the purpose of providing the population with a wide range of services, so that people could have a better quality of life. Indeed, the initiative has succeeded, as the National Health Insurance not only provides health assistance to all the population but also provides services such as, dental services, Chinese medicine, prescription drugs, nutrition counseling, universal coverage, comprehensive benefits, convenient access to treatment and much more.

I have been in Taiwan for several years, so I’ve had the opportunity to experience the health insurance in Taiwan.  I have visited the doctor many times in Taiwan and as weird as it sounds, I just love it. Why? To start with, the facilities are really modern and well equipped, the waiting time is relatively short, and to top it off, nice and highly qualified staff who are more than happy and willing to support you in any situation.

Taiwan and Honduras are very different in many aspects, one of the most important aspects being the health system. In Taiwan, there are lots of hospitals and clinics everywhere, making the visit to the doctor really convenient. On the other hand, in Honduras, if you want to go to the hospital you will have to travel long distances, in some cases it can even take days to get to the nearest hospital and you run the risk to find the hospital closed. 

 

In the same manner, in Taiwan if you go to the hospital and make an appointment, you will get to see the doctor the same day, but in Honduras you will have to make an appointment six months in advance if you want to see the doctor.  In Taiwan, due to the National Health Insurance everyone has the right to be healthy, in other countries health seems to be a privilege that only few can reach.

Cultural Shocks is something that we all have to experience when we are moving from our normal environment to a strange and new inhabitant.  While we will all experience some sort of a shock at different levels and in different areas, I would like to take the opportunity to share with you some of the things that stood out most to me.  

I have always believed that the best way to experience a new city is to get lost in it.  However, this proved not to be a good idea in Taiwan as 1) I don’t speak the native language and 2) I DON’T SPEAK THE LANGUAGE.  Despite only knowing 你好   and 歡迎光臨, my friends and I went running around Taipei, like a crazy people not knowing how to get anywhere.  Normally when you are lost you stop and ask for help, but it is very difficult to communicate with others when you don’t speak the native tongue. We always had to resort to hand gestures and I’m positive we looked like Mimes performing a skit.  Even though we didn’t speak the native language, it doesn’t stop people from helping us. 

I have noticed that in general Taiwanese are shy, but this shyness doesn’t inhibit their willingness to help you.  Case in point, I was in the grocery store one day just looking at some products when a worker came to me and started speaking in Chinese.  Quickly realizing that I was a foreigner, and I caught a slight glimpse of the “lose your face” effect, she quickly apologized and left.  After 3 minutes, she came back with another worker and he asked if I needed help, I replied no and they left.  After 3 minutes the 2 of them came back with another person, and this continued until I looked up and over my shoulder and saw about 5 people staring at me wondering “does she need help?”  After I assured them I was fine they all laughed and moved on.  As I laughed to myself I thought this would never happen in my country.  But what should I have expected, when you arrive at every store they always yell “歡迎光臨”

I believe that I’m not the exception of the cultural shock that is experienced when studying abroad, yet I must confess that I consider myself very lucky for the way that I have lived this experience.

I remember that one of the first shocking moments that I had was before taking the flight to Taiwan. In the waiting room I realized that the journey that I was about to take had no comparison with anything that I had lived before. Sudden thoughts that I was going to an unknown place for two years, and worse, far away from those that I loved started to causing me so much anxiety that I can’t deny that the only thing that I wanted in that moment was to return home immediately, but fortunately the kindness and friendliness of the people inside the plane began to mitigate the strange sensation. And because of this I can say that what has struck me the most during this time is the warmth and service of people in Taiwan, who always have the power to pull me up. In this instance I’m sure that I could list so many stories that show kindness and hospitality of the Taiwanese who are always willing to help you in the hard times.

However, so far after nine months of being in Taiwan the only thing that I could compare with the term shock is the language barrier, because it has meant a dramatic change in my lifestyle and an obstacle to fully enjoy my new life in Taiwan. I remember that during the first months it was very difficult to eat something that I really wanted, move easily throughout the city, or even do my assignments properly, affecting my self-esteem and relation with others, and also taking me to feel frustrated and isolated, therefore less independent than I used to be. Nowadays, after many complicated experiences but also a lot of improvement with my Chinese I can say that I’m gradually overcoming this situation and the evidence is in a more confident attitude to cope the daily tasks in which I try to use my basic vocabulary多少錢?; 謝謝你; 對不起, 我不知道; or 對不起, 我的中文不是好and the indispensable開玩笑.

"The world is a great book of which they who never stir from home read only one page"

I’ve always liked this quote from St. Augustine of Hippo (354 - 430 A.D.), and that’s why I decided to use it to define the past 285 pages of my book; the 285 days that have passed since I first set foot on this amazing island…

I come from Guatemala, Central America, more than 14,000 kilometers away from Taiwan; we are corn people, who like to have bronzed skin, and who greet each other with a kiss every time we say hi. Taiwanese people on the other hand are rice people, who love white fairy skin, and are discreet and even a little bit shy when they first meet you.

The first pages in the Taiwanese chapter of my life started in a really frantic way; meetings, introductions, questions, and doubts; it was an overload of information; new people, new places, new food, new smells and new sounds every second. Taiwan is a fascinating place, where people struggles to keep a balance between tradition and innovation in every aspect of their lives, and little by little, as the days were passing by and as I started to process all the information, I learned a lot of interesting things…

Before narrating some of my experiences in Taiwan, I would like to say that there is nothing wrong with culture shock. Everyone experiences it and everyone deals with it in a different way. The stress of living in a new country, trying to make new friends, walk around new places with the fear of getting lost (although this could be quite an adventure) and specially the inability to speak the language can all lead to culture shock.

If I can give you an advice, I would say that it is better to observe what you really like about the new culture. Don’t focus on the negatives. I personally believe that the best way to start getting yourself acquainted with a new exotic culture is to get involved with it and submerged in it. Go out and experience life, talk with people, eat Chou Dou Fu (stinky tofu), walk not necessary knowing where you are going. Well, this of course, can get you lost, but I think getting lost is the best way to get to know new places, especially if you are in a safe country like Taiwan (with one of the lowest crime rates in the world). But don't listen to me and try always to have a map with you and a pocket dictionary, this can make your live easier, because it is in those early days that the difficulty in communicating results the more frustrating.

 Here I’m 7,000 miles away of my country and all I can say is, there is not another place I could rather be than here, even if I have not been a life time in the program, since I have been in Taiwan for only 6 months, I could say, without hesitation that I my life in TNUA is an experienced that involves lot of self-growth, in both ways personal and intellectual.

As one of the most beautiful universities in all Taiwan, placed in a mountain isolated from the frantic hustle of the city, yet not too far, for those who need some interaction in the city social life, the imposing architecture  with the  big columns and wide huge open spaces, always makes me feel as if I am inside a surrealistic painting a dream or a movie, and I cannot stop thinking that in the exact moment  I cross in the corner something out of the ordinary will happen, and from time to time it happens! Because art is everywhere and in here our ideas are not as crazy as they seem to be and the better part of all this is our ideas is not restrained to be expressed.

A girl running gracefully to her ballet class, a guy making videos in the middle of the street, artist walking with the canvas on the hand, and if you pay enough attention and try to hear it the sound of the hammers and chisel of the sculpture workshops in all its grace, all this because the art is in the air.

Is in this point where I have my little space, there is this space for us who want to integrate this expression of all this artist in to society in order to make it easy to coexist, where you can learn about cultures and its expression.  It is in this part where the program has make me grow in the two different aspects I mention before

 If you are like most people, you read the name of this program and think: “Whoa! That sounds interesting… but what is it?”  Don’t worry: I hear that every time I tell what I am studying. And yes, it’s quite a mouthful, despite the fact we all more or less know what is culture, what is creativity and what is an industry; it’s just that we don’t usually see all these three words together. So, let me explain briefly what this is about: cultural and/or creative industries are those based on cultural contents, like music, theatre, dance, painting, sculpture, photography, design, etc. or those directly or indirectly related with that kind of contents, like festivals, museums, exhibitions, etc. It’s not like by studying this program I will become an artist (or a better artist if I were one), but I won’t be a cultural specialist in an anthropological way either. Instead, it’s more like I could work as a manager, entrepreneur, curator, advisor or cultural promoter. In other words, I will be the guy who makes creativity and culture get to the public. It’s very challenging, but quite interesting, indeed!  Cultural industries don’t always work in the same way other industries do, beginning with the fact that there are art and artists involved; that makes it so fascinating.

And studying this program at Taipei National University of the Arts (TNUA) is a great experience. In the first place, because the campus itself is a work of art: you’ll just love the place at first sight. Beautiful neo-Chinese architecture, lots of sculptures, a striking view of Taipei city and many niceties make TNUA an excellent place for studying. Known as the best arts university in Taiwan, with many famous artists among its alumni and faculty, TNUA has all the necessary resources, personnel and facilities to make this program a really wonderful experience. Most professors have a doctoral degree and have also a lot of experience both in cultural matters and teaching.

Due to the nature of the program, we don’t just go to class to listen the professor’s lectures, but we discuss, make presentations, have invited lecturers on specific topics, go to field trips and do many other activities related to art and culture, so we can have a better understanding of how cultural and creative industries work. And, last but not less, as this is an international program, most of the students come from different parts of the world, so we can discuss and make projects about different cultures based in our own backgrounds.

 The name of my school is Taipei National University of the Arts or Taipei Ise Dasyue in Chinese, situated on a mountain about one kilometer from the Guandu MRT station. It has a population of about 2000 students.

The shortest way from Guandu MRT station is to pass through exit 2 turning right and walking towards the first junction. You turn left at the first junction and walk towards the highway. Reaching the highway, you can see the CPC filling station opposite the bus stop as you turn left. A traffic light is just after the bus stop. Few meters ahead are inscription on the wall opposite the traffic light with “TAIPEI NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF THE ARTS” and its Chinese equivalent. That’s the way to my school. Follow the street and it leads you right inside. As you walk or drive towards the school, you will be greeted with various types of art works that decorate the sidewalk; which includes reliefs and mosaics. As you pass through the security at the main entrance, you can see on the side walk to the right, a steel sculpture of a snake hanging on the tree, with two cars resting on four metal limps of a horse standing next to it. The opposite sidewalk is an open park next to the film department displaying steel sculpture pieces and two cute buffaloes walking around the park. As you enter, standing in front of the administration building you can see an Ariel view of the city around Taipei 101. The night view of the city is an exotic array of bright lights like tinny little stars in the sky. You can have a clear view of the sunset here, while an Ariel view of the Guandu Metro station can be viewed at the pool after the new girls’ dormitory.