This article first appeared in BTS Issue 4.

Global Exchange Programme (GEXP): The GEXP offers opportunities for students to spend Term 6 taking courses in world-class overseas universities with deep expertise in various fields.

By Caleb Lee Liang Heng, Senior (Class of 2020)
Information Systems Technology and Design (ISTD)

During September last year, I had the privilege to spend 4.5 months in National Taiwan University. Despite having gone to Taiwan several times, this opportunity to live and talk to people from a range of ages, backgrounds, and nationalities was eye-opening and novel in its own way.

Royal Palm Boulevard, National Taiwan University
Familiar “Singlish” of a Taiwanese who spent the past 20 years living in Singapore

For example, I found the Taiwanese, even the younger generation, to be more politically aware and involved than most Singaporeans in general. This could be attributed to their complex history, polarised ideas among political parties, as well as complicated international relations. Talking to them shed some stark cultural and political contrasts between Taiwan and Singapore, despite sharing some similarities as a small nation of majority Chinese descent. As a Singapore citizen, I would feel grateful for being under a stable political system, yet wonder if we have taken it for granted, or have become passive and ignorant as a result of our comfort.

One of the first few friends I met during a photography event

I believe this semester also had an impact on my direction in life to a certain degree since it was previously formed with a worldview confined to the horizons of Singapore. With my former lack of international exposure induced by the high level of comfort in Singapore, I could only see opportunities and possibilities for the future within the nation. Moreover, growing up in a society where meritocracy is the basis for allocation of scarce opportunities, it was easy to mindlessly pursue the common idea of “making it”, mostly driven by groupthink and fear of falling behind in the rat race. Getting more exposed to individuals who valued passion and human connection over anything else brought so much life even from a simple conversation, and it felt like something I was deprived of living in a fast-paced cosmopolitan city. I believe it sheds light on my intrinsic motivations and reminded me to always keep the purpose of my pursuits in check.

Cultural exchange with students of Tainan Neijiao Elementary School

All in all, this experience enabled me to immerse myself and see Taiwan from a local perspective – the natural environment, geopolitical scene, humour, slangs, school life and working culture, societal norms and social constructs, how they shape their collective worldview and become reinforced as a result, new trends and lost traditions, other intricacies of how it is like to grow up and live in Taipei and other parts of Taiwan, and how all of these tie in together in the end. I highly cherish such forms of cultural exchange and it certainly deepened my understanding of Taiwan more than just another go-to holiday destination!

Yang Ming Shan National Park, Taipei, Taiwan

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