Just Be Yourself: An Exchange Student’s Guide to UT

Chen-Pang Chang has a tip for all exchange students: don’t be ashamed of staying true to yourself.

Originally from New Taipei, Taiwan, Chang is no stranger to living far away from home. He is an international student at the Paris Institute of Political Studies, or SciencesPo, in France. He has been enrolled in an exchange program at UT since fall 2018. 

His program at SciencesPo allows him to spend the final year of his undergraduate studies at a university abroad. Back in Paris, Chang is studying social science and his program is called the Euro-American program. That’s why he chose to come to the U.S. for his exchange experience.

“I've always wanted to study in the U.S. since I was in high school because Taiwan is influenced by the U.S. a lot in terms of history and politics,” Chang said. “I also wanted to see how American culture is like.”

What brought Chang to Austin, in particular, was his interest in sports. Before applying to exchange universities, Chang did some research on sports culture at American universities and was amazed by UT’s strong sense of community and Longhorn pride. Chang is now a part of that community and culture; he is active in intramural sports on campus, which has been a great way for him to connect with students and meet new friends.

Chen Pang Chang's headshot

 

“My first impression of UT is orange,” he said. “Everyone wears orange. There’s this really strong culture at UT, and I feel like people are so passionate about sports and the identity of UT.”

Besides his fascination with the University’s school spirit, Chang also appreciates the diversity he sees on campus. Chang has found a sense of belonging through sports, but he believes that other international students’ experiences at UT will be different.

While international students should experience American culture during their time at UT, Chang thinks it is equally important for them to be proud of their own culture and where they come from. For example, Chang said he is proud of his Taiwanese identity and doesn’t see the need to alter his accent.

“Language, just like culture, is not something that is fixed. It's ever-changing,” he explained. “America is a multicultural society and the same goes for Paris, the same goes for England. So, when I'm speaking, I don't want to let the majority of people there know that their culture is the dominant culture. I want them to know that in your society, there are actually different accents, different cultures that might not be as strong as yours, but they are still part of your culture.”

His time at UT has allowed him to broaden his perspective in the field of social sciences and ignited his passion for activism and social justice. Last semester, Chang was a columnist for The Daily Texan, where he wrote several articles on what students and the University can do to minimize environmental impact through making small changes, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator or finding sustainable alternatives to blue books for exams.

“It's something that I’ve been passionate about since I was in elementary school,” he said. “I think that that largely comes from my family and my brother’s influence on me because he's a very strong proponent of environmentalism.”

Being a columnist for the school newspaper has allowed Chang to not only keep up his hobby in writing but also learn useful skills, such as how to pitch an article, interview people and craft a strong argument.

"Language, just like culture, is not something that is fixed. It's ever-changing."

Chang challenges other exchange students like himself to step out of their comfort zones and look at Austin as a city, not just as a university town. Students, he said, should explore different parts of Austin and be aware of current issues going on in the city.

“Exchange students who want to experience UT culture also need to try to see the different faces of Austin, not just West Campus,” he said. “Convenience is something that is deeply rooted in modern society. Sometimes being inconvenient or being inefficient will actually have interesting results.”

Chang will complete his bachelor’s degree this semester. He wants to use the skills he learned both in Paris and Austin to address injustices in Taiwan. He believes that all his international experiences have brought him a step further in pursuing his passion.