should I have fun and make money or go through hell and pay dearly?
August 19, 2006 10:17 PM   Subscribe

Should I study at TaiDa and incur a US$10,000 debt or teach English in Jiangmen (near HK) and, you know, not be broke? Primary focus: learning Mandarin for future international business/applied technology grad school/career.

Here's the rundown.

Previously, I asked the hive mind about what school in Taiwan I should apply for. I ended up being accepted for one of the more expensive programs (IC LP), but suddenly my finances have taken a turn for the worse. If I want to finance this, I'll be taking out a loan to the tune of $11,000 - even on top of my scholarship. There's a chance that I could transfer out of this program after the 1st quarter if I feel that the price/performance ratio isn't quite up to par - that would put me about $6,000 in the hole instead.

Of course, there is additional complication.

Recently, a friend introduced me to a recruiter for a school in Jiangmen, around 1 hour northwest of Hong Kong. He offered me a job teaching elementary students - maximum 25h/week. I'd be getting RMB 6000 or roughly $750 (?), a furnished apartment, and lots and lots of vacation - plus a work permit (obviously), so working under the table is not a deportable offense like it would be in Taiwan with my Student visa. Additionally, upon hearing that I am primarily interested in learning Mandarin, the guy told me that there's a university nearby (WuYi) where I can take language classes, and that if I am interested in business, he can introduce me to some of the, as he put it, "movers and shakers" in the area - which, as I understand it, is fairly industrial. I have little support in Taipei.

I also spoke to a guy who went recently - he said the program was supportive, job was easy and fun, city was great - he stayed for a 2nd year contract, even.

So, as you're reading this, you're wondering why I don't just drop Taiwan and rush for the Jiangmen joint. Well, here are my concerns:

1. I want to get as fluent as possible in one year. I worry that taking classes "on the side", while living in a mishmash of Cantonese and Mandarin - won't give me nearly the dramatic progress that the TaiDa program - or any program, really, if I am a student only - would give me.

2. I don't really mind investing $6,000 - 10,000 if it's going to mean me being totally fucking gangster at Chinese. I mean, some people spend money on fancy cars, I prefer to invest it on what's inside my head.

But then again,

1. I have heard that Taiwan isn't really the economic powerhouse it was a while back - that it's really more about mainland China nowadays. Also, as the recruiter put it, language is nice, but connections are more important - and conceivably I'd be making a few out in Jiangmen, if I worked at it.

2. I am not averse to being disciplined and really absorbing language via immersion, some classes, and self study. I did it with Japanese, I may be able to do similar with Mandarin?

3. Instead of being broke, I'd probably save up money. I live pretty frugally.

YEAH. so there's a lot there, sorry. Basically, if you were interested in studying Chinese - results over fun - for the eventual purpose of doing work both in the university and the real non-ivory-tower-world in international business and applied technology - would you opt for Jiangmen or Taipei?

I kinda need to decide by Monday, as I'll be leaving in 3ish weeks either way.
posted by dihutenosa to Writing & Language (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

Chinese is not that complex of a language, like Japanese. The grammar is really simple, simpler then English for sure. The only hard thing is the characters (which aren't that hard), and it won't make any difference where you study to learn those.
posted by delmoi at 10:27 PM on August 19, 2006

Oh, also, in Taiwan they still use traditional characters, so if you learn Chinese in Taiwan, you might actually have some trouble reading in China.
posted by delmoi at 10:28 PM on August 19, 2006

(I also speak chinese but don't know how to display characters here)

Delmoi is right, mandarin is a pretty straight forward language to learn. At least once you get the tones down (which can take a long time for some people cough me cough ).

I learned in Taiwan and studied traditional characters but don't find it that difficult to figure out something written in simplified characters...although I can't write using simplified characters. And if you can write in Japanese then you already know a lot of the traditional characters.

TaiDa has a well known name so it might be a good thing to have on a resume especially if you want to apply for grad school at a later date.

On the other hand, a lot of people in Taipei speak english. So you might find immersing yourself in the language there more difficult then in Jiangmen.

I absolutely loved living in Taiwan and miss it a lot. If you go email me and I'll send you a list of my favourite places to eat/visit.
posted by kechi at 11:35 PM on August 19, 2006

my program offers me five hours of Mandarin a week for free. It wouldn't be too difficult to hire tutors to increae study-time. the work load of a TEFL teacher is very lite and most of us either choose to enrich ourselves somehow by doing things we wouldn't have time to do at home, like writing more, shooting more photography, learning guitar... or they just goof off and watch DVD's and play games all day.

Put yourself in the first camp and make something of it. My boss speaks near fluent Chinese (his tones are a bit off) after spending three years here doing the five hours a week.
posted by trinarian at 12:52 AM on August 20, 2006

I've lived for several years on both sides of the strait, and I also say go to the mainland. Taipei's cost of living is a bit more expensive than the mainland's and from what I've heard there's enough English spoken there that it can frustrating for beginners trying to practice it.

Some other options:

Live outside of Taipei, teach English at some cram-school afternoons and evenings, and take classes in the morning. I currently live on the east coast of Taiwan, and have easy access to clean beaches and waterfalls (something that you'll never see in the mainland and are hard enough to find in Taiwan.) My entire mornings are completely free, so I could take two hours of classes per day then if I wanted to (I don't since the local language school doesn't have classes at my level.) I save about $35000NT per month (more than a thousand US). If you were to do this for a year, you'd have US$10000 saved up rather than be $10000 in debt.

Enroll in a good language program in the mainland. Beijing or (preferably) a smaller city like Xiamen, Nanjing, or Dalian. Go all out in your classes and pick up private teaching gigs on the side to cover costs of living. Not sure how much this would add up to financially, but it would almost certainly be cheaper than Taipei.
posted by alidarbac at 2:37 AM on August 20, 2006

20 yrs ago I would have said go to Taida, or even better Baida or Yuan Xue Yuan. Now, speaking mandarin is not enough of an edge. I would say go to Jiangmen, work at the school and teach private one-on-one classes to local businessmen. Pick the businessmen very carefully as they are all your future employers. Concentrate on those with property interests rather than manufacturing. The end game is always access to land to develop property. If you know local people in property you can move this knowledge into investment banking, broking or whatever. Do whatever you can to get access to these people; offer to edit all the brochures and signage for new developments, and teach the bosses kids. You should in time be able to hustle a full-time job in a local investment company. If you are smart you will be able to move out into a foreign invested JV and eventually inherit the earth. I am about 20 years ahead, I did the Yuan Xue Yuan then Taiwan hustle, then broking Taiwan and now marketing in Shanghai. The western kids I see looking for work in Shanghai speak great mandarin, but don't know shit about the China that exists past the last tube stop. Try to differenciate yourself by knowing stuff and people, rather than by nailing the tones. Man man zou.
posted by priorpark17 at 3:11 AM on August 20, 2006 [2 favorites]

I love Taiwan too, but I'd say go to Jiangmen. If you're not disciplined enough to learn the language there, I doubt you'd get fluent in a year even at Taida, and (as I said in the earlier thread) Taida isn't all that great a school—you're basically paying for the brand name. If you're truly focused on learning, if you make yourself go out and use it every day, you'll pick up the language without going into debt. Good luck!
posted by languagehat at 7:09 AM on August 20, 2006

« Older To propose or not to propose... that is (sort of)...   |   Making Out and Still Being A Virgin Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.