I have never given much thought to my experience of studying abroad in 2 countries, thinking that many people also have the same experiences. However, as I met more and more people, I realize that I have been fortunate enough to study abroad with scholarships for 2 different degrees and in 2 different countries: Korea and Taiwan. Also, for Indonesian people, it is still quite difficult to study abroad due to financial and language barriers. And so, I will share my experiences with student life in Taipei vs. Seoul
In this article, I want to share my experience of studying and living in two different countries as an international student by comparing Taipei Vs Seoul. I divide the experience into 5 categories: living expenses, halal/Indonesian food, university helpfulness, education system, and part-time opportunities. I will not talk much about scholarship tips here, because there are a lot of articles out there covering the topic.
Taipei Vs Seoul: Living Expenses
I lived in Taipei for 2.5 years from 2013 to 2015, so the prices I mention might have increased. One of my former classmates who is still living in Taipei confirmed recently that the prices have almost doubled since 5 years ago. However, it is still arguably cheaper than Seoul.
My monthly allowance at that time was NTD 6,000 (around KRW 250,000), but I still could get by pretty well. Nevertheless, I had to work several part-time jobs and life was not easy. To live comfortably, one would need around NTD 12,000 per month. Obviously, the amount of money you will need depends on your lifestyle, but I was extremely frugal and tried to spend around NTD 100-150 per day.
For living quarters, I lived in a university dormitory and shared a room with 5 other girls. The dormitory cost NTD 12,000 (around KRW 513,000) per semester. My university was a private university, so the dormitory actually costs more than what it would at a national university.
Meanwhile, in my current university in Seoul, the same amount of money will afford you one month’s rent in the dormitory. Even though you would only have the option to share living quarters with one person.
Living outside the university, some tiny spaces used to cost around NTD 6,000 per month (KRW 250,000). My friend said the housing in Taipei now costs NTD 11,000-20,000 (KRW 470,000 – 850,000) per month. However, it can be cheaper if you choose a rooftop room or a bathroom outside your room.
The cost is similar to one room rent in Seoul, but in Taipei, you don’t need to pay a hefty deposit (only pay a deposit the price of one month’s rent).
Taipei Vs Seoul: Food
What about food? Can I find Halal/Indonesian food easily?
The food price is way cheaper in Taipei than in Seoul. For my school cafeteria, there was a buffet option where I could pick a wide range of food and the staff would weigh it all to determine the price. Most of the time, it cost between NTD 60-100 (KRW 2,500 – 4,200).
Another favorite option for students is dosirak (luncbox), or biendang in Mandarin. I could pick 3 veggie options and 1 kind of meat. One of the lunchbox places near my university only cost NTD 50 (KRW 2,500). For vegans or vegetarians, Taipei has many options and they are all delicious!
Halal food (mostly Indonesian) is also easy to find in Taiwan because there were around 30,000 Indonesian migrant workers in Taiwan. There was even little Indonesia in Taipei in the Main Station’s underground mall! Comparatively, the price is pricier than the local food, starting from NTD 100.
Here in Korea, universities normally have cafeterias where meals will cost between KRW 5,000 – 10,000. Additionally, picking up something to eat at a convenience store such as kimbap or ramen is a favorite among students. Instant ramen can cost anywhere between KRW 900 – 2,500. Kimbap is normally between KRW 1,500 – 3,500.
Taipei Vs Seoul: University Support
University support, especially international office, is essential in navigating life as an international student. I find that my university in Taipei offered more support and help compared to any university offices in Korea that I’ve had to deal with.
For instance, my university took care of our ARC and offered help in making a Chinese name (we’re required to put Chinese names on the ARC). Even for visa extension, they readily helped with necessary documents and pointers for me to deal with the immigration. In Korea, the offices basically left international students alone to fend for themselves, except for KOICA students.
Taipei Vs Seoul: Classes and Grading
I enrolled for the same major in both Taipei and Korea, albeit for different degrees. English was the language of instruction, so language barriers did not exist for me. I do find my classes in Korea offer something ‘more’ than my classes in Taipei. I think I learned more here in Korea than in Taipei while pursuing my degree.
Another major difference is the grading system. Some universities in Korea employ a rank-based grading system, which encourages fierce competition among students. The normal grading system will only assess how many questions students answer correctly, and the grade will fully reflect that.
However, with a rank-based system, the Professor pulls a normal distribution curve on students’ grades. To put it simply, there is a ‘quota’ for each grade (e.g., 10% of students get A+; 20% get A; 30% get B; etc.). Taipei generally follows the normal grading system, instead of the rank-based one.
Taipei Vs Seoul: Part-Time Jobs
It was definitely easier to get a part-time job in Taipei. The immigration rules were not so restrictive, so international students could work wherever they wanted within a certain hours limit. The university even handled our working permit cards that allow us to work legally in Taipei. In Korea, we can only work within certain fields and can only get a working permit after we get the job.
In terms of language barriers, not many people can speak English in Taipei, even less than in Korea. Nevertheless, it was not a barrier for international students to work part-time there. For example, I used to work in the school cafeteria despite not speaking fluent Chinese. There was less stress at work, and no one was screaming or swearing at me for not understanding what they said.
Overall, it is obvious which country I prefer here. However, country preferences for studying abroad differ for everyone and experiences vary. Personally, Taiwan offers a more laid-back education system, cheaper living costs, and a friendlier atmosphere for foreigners.
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