By Yang Yu-tung (Currently a student of National Taiwan University and an exchange student at The University of New South Wales in Australia)

When people in Taiwan are still enjoying the blazing hot summer, school has been open in chilly Australia for two weeks.

But this isn’t what most depressing. What’s even more distressing is the heavy workload. 30 pages of English reading are required for each class (of course the text is in English), essays pop up all the time and there is a tutorial (internship or discussion classes in Taiwan) for every course. This is why I had to start studying on just the sixth day of school.

Is the Australian education too tough or is education in Taiwan too casual?

If the answer is the former statement then a complaining article is enough. But that’s not how things are, so here’s my revision and criticism of the laid-back education system of colleges in Taiwan.

1. On the learning process

Typical good students in Taiwan study all their lives before they’re 18 years old. They learn about impractical facts, but what’s even scarier is they rarely have the chance to explore their lives. The people working in the Ministry of Education might think a counselor’s office or an aptitude test is more than enough in terms of career development for students. After all, a person’s ambition will magically appear, right?

This education model doesn’t inspire any thoughts in life or help in choosing majors. It’s even scarier for people those studying social sciences for most of them wish to enter business school. But are they really interesting in the business and management field? Not really.

And most of these people don’t enter business school in the end, but go wherever their test scores lead them to. It’s not until we actually enter college do we start experiencing life, begin to search for directions and make decisions for ourselves. We even immerse ourselves in the daydream that we can fool around for four years and live happily ever after.

So what’s the big deal?

The problem is that people in other countries know early on what they’re interested in and start planning their futures from a young age.

Photo Credit: Sherman Geronimo-Tan @Flickr CC BY 2.0

Photo Credit: Sherman Geronimo-Tan @Flickr CC BY 2.0

2. On the education system

Taiwan’s other biggest problem is even if students get into the best college in Taiwan, we are all going through surface learning.

I am a student who studies social sciences, and from my personal experience, I choose around ten classes each semester, and even take extra credits sometimes because I believe I can learn a lot by doing so. I have quite enjoyed the process and have always taken the classes seriously until I found that I wasn’t an expert in any of the classes I had taken.

Partly because in addition to attending lectures and writing reports, I rarely did any research on my own; on the other hand, students rely completely on teachers in the learning process, so teachers can’t delve too deep into the subjects or else students won’t be able to catch up. Putting it nicely, this results in the Chinese saying, “The master teaches the trade, but the perfection of the apprentice’s skill depends on his own efforts." In other words it only means that you’re merely learning everything, but knowing nothing.

But then I realized the things you learn in college aren’t what are taught by teachers, but the things you read, hear and contemplate yourself.

In Australia, students have to read 30 pages of text before going to class and attempt to answer questions the teacher put out beforehand. Then they take in what is taught in the classroom, discuss with classmates during the tutorials and then express their thoughts.

In this lengthy and tiring process, students will go through a complete learning process of self-discovery, absorbing ideas, thinking for themselves and expressing their views.

This education model put a large amount of pressure on me and I began to think about returning to Taiwan (It had nothing to do with missing my boyfriend or being homesick). But I couldn’t help but respect this learning process and attitude.

Up to this point, I can’t help but wish I was able to exchange overseas earlier and see more of the world.

But when I was a freshman, I was busy doing things I thought were cool, such as flirting with my current boyfriend, and put no effort into preparing for the exchange program. This is why I’m taking classes with freshmen and sophomores at the age of 21 and have critical thinking abilities weaker than average.

Yet I don’t blame the person I was back then. After all, I didn’t even know what college education in Taiwan was up to and didn’t have any interest in learning how higher education operated in other countries.

Finally, I hope readers who have had the patience to read up to here aren’t discouraged. We can mourn for the education in Taiwan and our own learning experiences for three days and nights, but please start to find a way out on the fourth day.

Last of all, in the dead of night, I still can’t help but miss the relaxed and happy college life in Taiwan.

Translated by Olivia Yang