Jeff Huang - AsiaBound Exchange to Taiwan 2015
During the 2014-2015 UNSW summer break I embarked on the AsiaBound Program offered to me by the Department of Education and UNSW’s School of Materials Science and Engineering. My destination was Tunghai University located in Taichung, Taiwan. My purpose for going was to complete the industrial training requirement for my degree.
I was initially very intimidated applying for this program as my Mandarin reading, writing and speaking ability was basic at best and this would be the first time I lived away from home in a country where I didn’t speak the local dialect. Eventually, I decided that this program would be a great opportunity to be independent and travel to a new country.
During my time in Taiwan, I lived in the male student dormitory, which was occupied by mainly first year students of Tunghai University. In my room I lived with 3 Taiwanese students and although we were not able to communicate with each other very well due to language barriers, eventually, through them teaching me Mandarin and me teaching them English we were able to communicate and develop friendships.
During the day, while the other students had class, I interned at a company called Yung Sheng Optical. Yung Sheng Optical researches, designs and develops contact lens and their brand “Hydron” is currently regarded as one of the most popular contact lens brands in China. I worked in their Research and Development department with other chemical and materials engineers.
At the company I helped research prospective avenues of improving the biocompatibility of contact lenses using a chemical called chitosan. In conjunction with this research, I also ran experiments to examine the relationship between differing concentrations of monomer constituents in contact lens hydrogel formulations and the physical characteristics of the completed contact lens. By the end of the internship I was able to design my own hydrogel formulation to synthesise a biocompatible contact lens for short-term application. On the weekends when I didn’t travel, I would go to the laboratory in the Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering in Tunghai to help a post-graduate conduct his study on gold nanoparticles applied to electrochemical dopamine sensors.
Most nights after work I would have dinner with my roommates and other friends in a shopping district about a 15-minute walk from our dormitory. I was always amazed while walking around the shopping district because of the multitude of cheap and delicious street food available, which ranged from hot pot to the internationally famous Taiwanese fried chicken.
Due to the relatively small size of Taiwan and the convenience of their transport system, travelling around was very easy. On weekends when I had more free time, a 20-minute bus ride from the front of the university allowed me to go to FengJia night markets, which is one of the most popular night markets in Taiwan. A 3-hour bus ride allowed for a day trip to the beautiful Sun Moon Lake located in Nantou County, which is situated in the middle of Taiwan.
It wasn’t only the buses that were impressive, the Taiwan train system made it especially convenient to travel up and down the island of Taiwan. On Boxing Day, I took a 3-hour train ride to Kaohsiung, located in southern Taiwan, to see the scenic tourist attractions it had to offer. Then on New Year’s Eve, I took another 3-hour train ride to Taipei, located in northern Taiwan, to see the fireworks at Taipei 101 and then went to Keelung, situated near the northern tip of Taiwan, to watch the first sunrise of the 2015.
In addition to all the tourist attractions I visited, I also visited engineering institutions during my trip. I visited the Yung Sheng Optical factory and was given a tour around the factory floor where I got to see their contact lens manufacturing process from raw hydrogel formulations to a final packaged product. Furthermore, I also went around to other Taiwanese universities to give presentations on Australian culture, student life and UNSW. One of the most notable of these was at National Tsing Hua University in Hsinchu, whose engineering facilities rival UNSW’s.
I feel this trip was a great experience in the sense that I not only got to travel but I also gained knowledge invaluable to my future as an engineer. My internship at Yung Sheng Optical provided me with experience in R&D and patent analysis and furthered my understanding of polymers and hydrogels. My weekend work in the university laboratories allowed me to learn about nanoparticles and conducting research at university, and overall my interaction with Taiwanese people has improved my Mandarin reading and speaking abilities.
I highly recommend any UNSW School of Material Science and Engineering students “on-the-fence” about applying to the AsiaBound Program to definitely do it as, not only is it a great opportunity to do Industrial Training, but also it is a great opportunity to have fun and travel. I only have one piece of advice and that is to bring mosquito repellent!