I can’t believe I’m on my last week already. The last two week have been really hectic and busy since I’m wrapping up my project and my advisers are preparing to go to a conference in Italy. This practicum experience in Taiwan has definitely given me a new perspective or work culture here.
Although I previously worked at a university in Taiwan for the summer, this was a completely different experience. My previous experience was working with mostly foreigners, while this time; I was one of the few foreigners in my department. Although I can speak Chinese, there were definitely still difficulties communicating with my adviser. My Chinese skills is mostly conversational level, so any technical or public health related conversations were a little hard for me to understand. Likewise, if I spoke in English to express my questions and concerns my adviser had difficulty understand everything. After explaining things multiple times, we were able to get on the same page, but this took twice as long as it normally would have. Aside from some miscommunication mishaps, I think this experience was really worthwhile for me. My project was pretty much spot on with what I was interested in, which is air quality. I think my project of cluster analysis on PM 10 and PM2.5 to help determine the source of these pollutants will be able to help my adviser at NTU in their future papers. From working on my project I noticed that other less developed countries still have some corruption within the government. For example, Formosa Company blocked many organizations from studying the workers’ health that work in the petrochemical complex. So up till now, many workers are not aware of the kinds of pollutants they are being exposed to. In addition, from my perspective it seems like Formosa Company is able to “censor” some of the information that is released to the public, as in not releasing the whole truth. Although Taiwan may seem like a more developed country, there is corruption that still exists, which in turn can hard the public’s health.
After this practicum experience, I really hope I will be able to work internationally after my completing the final year of my Master’s program. I’m really thankful for this opportunity to have worked with NTU and for the Global Health Fellowship, which provided me the means to participate in this internship.
From my internship experience at NTU, one of the biggest factors I noticed about a research project is collaborating with others. At some point in time, you will need help from others and maybe someone else will have information that you need, so interpersonal skills are extremely important in both a work setting and in a classroom setting. In class, I have had a group project in almost every single class. This is where working with others becomes very important. Although, this may seem simple or like common sense, there will be times when unexpected circumstances or conflicts will arise that have to be resolved in order to move forward. Working at NTU has allowed me to gain exposure to both a work and school setting where stress levels are high and see how others interact to reach a common goal. I think this is a skill that is not taught in class, but applies in our everyday lives.
Since my project revolved mostly around using R for air quality monitoring and data visualization, I might not necessarily learn this in class. However, the skills that I can apply towards my classes is the problem solving skills used to learn the R program, and how to work around obstacles to reach the goal. Also, since most of my internship was in Chinese, this skill became very useful, since I have a harder time understanding professional or Public Health related terms in Chinese.
I believe that these skills are something that are not taught in the classroom, but are useful in the classroom setting. Working in a professional setting has helped foster these skills, which is an important aspect of a practicum, to learn to work outside of a classroom. Finally, working in Taiwan has taught me to adapt to different environments, since the working lifestyle and culture here is different than in the US.
One thing that I found very challenging at my practicum was learning a completely new computer software, which I will be using to analyze the air pollution data. Within the first week I was told to learn this program in 2 days and was just given an instruction manual. This was a bit challenging in the beginning since I had no exposure or familiarity with the program at all, and I didn’t quite understand what I would be doing with the program. The program I was told to learn is called “R”, which can be used for data manipulation, calculations, and graphical representation of data. The specific package in “R” I was using is called the Open Air Package. The first 2 days I just flipped through the manual to try to understand a programming language, I did a lot of research on my own through YouTube video tutorials, and reading the manual to understand what each command does. The script itself in “R” is not that difficult, the hard part is finding the best way to display or analyze your data for the specific question you want to answer.I overcame this obstacle by using all the resources available (YouTube, online websites, manual) as well as asking the other students around me who previously used this program. After learning the functions of this program I know this skill will be really useful in the future, especially for air monitoring data.
Another challenge I encountered was language barrier. I noticed this the most in Yulin County, where my project site is, because local residents in more rural or Southern areas of Taiwan usually speak Taiwanese. I can’t understand a single bit of Taiwanese, so it was a little difficult communicating to the families there to understand the living conditions. There were other students there who can understand Taiwanese, so all I had to do was ask if they could explain what was going on. In addition, during the class I took, the majority was in Chinese, so it was a little hard to understand all the technical terms when talking about the Public Health field. For the challenges I faced during my practicum, all I had to do was ask. Sometimes just simply asking a question can resolve the problem. There is no right or wrong question, especially when it comes to understanding something.
Since I have been to Taiwan several times before this summer internship, I was fairly familiar with the environment and culture. Also, since my parents are both Taiwanese, I feel like I have always been exposed to the Taiwanese culture. In addition, being able to speak Chinese helps me get by in daily life situations. Of course there are differences from American culture; however, it’s a little difficult for me to pinpoint since I grew up in an mixture of both cultures. In terms of the work environment, I haven’t noticed too big of a difference. This could be because my desk is a room with mostly Master’s and PhD students so they don’t necessarily have strict working hours or job duties. Also since my project is mostly data analysis through a computer program, I feel like I have very little chances to interact with the other students and faculty here. Most of the time I am work by myself, only checking in with my preceptor for updates or a short meetings to check the progress of my work.
One thing I did notice when I was participating in the class is that most people here don’t use their laptops to take notes, compared to the US, in my experience, where almost everyone take notes electronically. Because I am one of the few that still take notes by hand, I found this kind of interesting. Another point I observed was during the field trip down to Yulin County, one of the most rural parts of Taiwan. The county as a whole seem to have a more “freestyle” attitude. Due to the lack of people and most of the county being farmland, the traffic enforcement and parking regulations seem to be more relaxed. Cars are parked in any direction, many roads don’t have lines or lanes dividing the road, and there are no sidewalks for pedestrians. Also, I learned that in other parts of Taiwan, Taiwanese is the common language used, which I can’t understand so I had difficulty communicating with people there. This is where cultural competency comes into play, where you have to understand where the local residents are coming from and how their lifestyle varies from those from the cities. I would say overall, the cultural differences have not been that shocking to me, it was more of just getting use to being in another country.
Interning at NTU has been such a great experience so far. Not only was I able to visit places I would have never gone, including visiting the infamous No. 6 Naphtha Petrochemical Complex, but I was also able to see environmental issues from a new perspective and learn new skills here such as R (programming language). I think since I’m working at a university, a lot of skills I learned from global health related courses apply to the work I’m doing here. I would say Health Impact Assessment (HIA) and Geographic Information System (GIS) are the two most relevant skills/ knowledge.
My whole project here is a HIA on the No. 6 Naphtha Complex, focusing mainly on air pollution, but also including other factors such as water quality, physical activity, mental health, nutrition, etc. From taking the HIA class I can relate what aspects of a community is likely affected from the project (operation of complex), and ways to formulate community intervention programs to increase community/ stakeholder participation and to build a sense of empowerment. In addition, I can offer recommendations for ways to alleviate the health effects from the petrochemical complex. The health effects from the complex is also related to one of my environmental health classes of exposure assessment, which helps in understanding the relation of ambient exposure and the amount of pollutant that is actually absorbed into the body.
For GIS, I will be using this technique to map out local food sources for high and low exposure areas to the petrochemical complex, to gain a better idea of the types of food people are eating and how far they have to travel to purchase food. Although this is part of another student’s study on the effects on antioxidants to exposure, I will include a section on nutrition in my HIA.
This is just the beginning stages of my project/ report, and I’m sure there will be more opportunities for me to apply my knowledge from the classroom to this project. It is really exciting to get the chance to see a real-life application of global health related courses.
Entrance of Petrochemical Complex
“Small White House”- Administration Building
It is really difficult to pick one thing as what I enjoy the most about my placement. A few things pop into my mind when I think of my experience so far as a whole. The first is all the new people and friends I have met. My desk is in a room that is for all Master’s and PhD students in the department, and some administrative people, which makes every work day a lot more exciting. They help me feel welcomed at school by showing me around the area, invite me to lunch with them, and help me translate anything I don’t quite understand, especially when discussing the Yulin project in Chinese. Of course meeting new people and making new friends is always a plus, but I would say the most unique part of this whole placement is the different places I get to visit, which are definitely not the usual tourist destinations.
From the first field trip I went to over the weekend, I visited: Changhua City, Erlin, Dacheng, Mailiao, Taishi, and Tuku Townships. For our first trip, we were able to look at the pollution of the No. 6 Naphtha Petrochemical Complex from the outside in terms how it was affecting the sea life and water quality in the surrounding areas of the complex. As a part of the food source project, I was able to visit the local traditional markets and night markets in a few of the townships, which is a lot different than in Taipei city. Each township only had maybe 3 booths or vendors for each market, one for vegetables, one for meat, and one for seafood. In addition, each township only had one convenience store, compared to Taipei where there is one almost every block. Since this area is known to be one of the most rural areas, many families actually grow their own food since most of the land is actually farm land. I actually got the chance to visit a mushroom greenhouse, which was pretty surprising for me. The experience overall gave a different vibe from the big cities: the way people drive, the language they speak (Taiwanese), the foods they eat, everything was so different. I’m thankful that I had the opportunity to visit such a place, and will be back this weekend to explore the other parts of Yulin County.
Elementary School built by Formosa Plastic Groups located 900m from the Complex
No. 6 Naphtha Petrochemical Complex
To be honest, I don’t have set weekly “duties”. The last 3 weeks has varied day to day depending on what activities my preceptor has planned and what work is available. The first two weeks I spend a lot of time familiarizing myself with the area, students, and faculty there and also a computer software called “R”. For my Health Impact Assessment, I am focusing on air pollution from the petrochemical complex and how that affects the surrounding communities. I will be using R, specifically the “Open Air Package” to plot the data collected from the monitoring stations to determine if there are patterns or clusters of pollutants at a specific site. Because I have never used R before, it took quite a bit of time to get used to the application and learn the functions, especially since it can process a large amount of data. In addition, I read several papers of their previous studies on the petrochemical complex to gain a better direction of my own project, and also how public health is viewed in Taiwan and what areas the government tends to focus on.
This week, my schedule has been a little different. My preceptor is partly teaching a class that runs for about two weeks called “Health Promotion in Rural Communities”, which he suggested I attend, since it is relevant to my project. The first day of class was interesting because I was able to learn background information about the petrochemical complex, such as the struggles and conflicts the government and citizens had with having an industrial complex built so close to the residents, and how the Yulin was chosen to be the site of the complex. Although the majority of the class is taught in Chinese, I can understand the general idea the professors are trying to convey since there are some technical terms that I don’t quite understand. The class schedule is quite different. For the first week, there is class from Tuesday to Thursday for 8 hours a day, with few breaks in between and from Friday to Saturday, the entire class will be taking a field trip to Yulin County to visit the local Public Health Bureau, hospital, and schools in the surrounding communities of the petrochemical complex. A few of the students and I will be staying till Sunday to gather some data for our project, and to visit other towns that pertain to our projects.
I am excited to being going to the site this weekend, because I’ll finally get a chance to see the largest petrochemical complex in Taiwan, and how close in proximity it is to residents living in surrounding communities.
It has been almost a year since I last visited Taiwan, but for those of you who aren’t familiar with Taiwan, it is a tiny island (8% the size of California) off the coast of China. Since Taiwan is such a small island, the weather here is extremely humid (~50%+ humidity) and hot, and is often met with lots of rainfall and typhoons especially during the summer months. Due to the lack of land compared to the US, most of the buildings here are high-rises and apartment style housing. The most common personal transportation here is using a moped because of the narrow streets and high congestion during traffic times. The public transportation in Taiwan is pretty developed. There is network of 5 subway lines that is continually expanding and also a reliable bus system. Getting around Taiwan, especially in Taipei is relatively convenient.
The food culture here is diverse. It ranges from cheap and delicious street food to tasty 24 hours convenient store food to fancy restaurants in malls. The food portion here is definitely smaller than the US and even the chain stores here have a slightly different menu such as KFC, McDonald’s, Burger King, Starbucks, Krispy Kreme, etc. The one thing that stood out to me out of all the food I’ve eaten in the past week is the carry out service. They put the soup in plastic bags and simply tie it with a ribbon. Not to mention Taipei offers food delivery service for almost any type of food.
I am interning at the National Taiwan University (NTU); however, the campus that I actually work at is not their main campus, but an off campus location near the NTU Hospital, along with the Law and Medical School. The colleagues I work with are the students of NTU College of Public Health, who are mostly PhD students, although there are a couple Masters’ students. I think there will also be 2 other international students from Malaysia, but they haven’t arrived yet since their term is shorter than mine.
After discussing with my supervisor, we agreed on having my project focused on the Health Impact Assessment of the No. 6 Naphtha Cracker Petrochemical Complex in Yulin County, mainly focused on air quality/ related diseases based on the 3 zones located in close proximity to the complex. This site was chosen since Yulin is one of the least developed counties and the No. 6 Complex is the largest petrochemical complex in Taiwan.
Over the next few weeks I will be making several field trip down to Yulin County to observe the site, but also trips to NTU’s other air monitoring sites such as Hualien. I can’t wait to see what adventures the next few weeks will bring!