I’ll be honest, having never travelled to anywhere in Asia before, and possessing a very limited amount of Mandarin in my vocabulary, the prospect of three months in Taiwan was rather daunting.
As a New Zealander, I think it’s fair to say that not many of us have a great knowledge of Taiwan, let alone the small township of Zhudong in Hsinchu City where I have been living for the past month. However, as I sit here (in a full office on Christmas Day) writing this, I have nothing but positive things to say about working and living in this amazing place.
My work here at ITRI has been centred primarily on market research related to the current status of healthcare and infrastructure levels in various African countries.
It has also involved the facilitation of potential partnerships between various international organisations and Taiwanese corporations. This has meant that I have been lucky enough to have had direct contact with Taiwanese companies working on ground-breaking research for the international market. Specifically, devices that help to reduce medical costs, and address the major issue of the lack of medical practitioners in developing African nations.
Something I really enjoy about the working culture here is that from day one my opinions were sought after and subsequently challenged by my peers. Giving and receiving constructive criticism on a day-to-day basis is a natural part of working life here and although it does take a while to get used to, my learning has accelerated as a result.
Another great part about working at ITRI is that although it’s an organisation with more than 7,000 employees it feels extremely interconnected. I have regular contact with researchers, both in other offices and in our research labs. Inter-departmental interaction is definitely encouraged. The fact that most of my colleagues speak great English is also quite helpful, though they are always keen to help me improve my Mandarin.
The people in my department have all been really welcoming from day one and take great pleasure in taking me to all the best local restaurants each week. Although, chicken feet, duck blood and stinky tofu have been rather challenging food experiences!
Although Taiwan is densely populated, running trails and hiking areas (two critically important things for me) are still very accessible - and I have been making full use of them each week in training for the Sun Moon Lake marathon, in late January.
There is never a shortage of weekend activities in Taiwan – trips to Taipei to experience the rich food culture and various mountainous areas have been enjoyable. But a four-hour drive south to climb Alishan Mountain to watch a breathtaking sunrise with a group of other international interns has without doubt been the highlight of my time here so far.
I have been extremely lucky in that there is a large Kiwi community in Taiwan. This made the transition to living here easier and regular Kiwi expat dinners and events have been a great way to socialise and share experiences and reflect on life here with likeminded Kiwis.
I would highly recommend this experience to anyone thinking about doing an internship. Not only will it open doors to assist in your future career, but it will provide you with an invaluable international business perspective that you simply cannot get by staying in New Zealand.
With two months of my internship remaining, I already know that Taiwan has a role to play in my future. Whether that role will be business or leisure related is still unclear but, regardless, I will definitely be returning to this amazing place.