On August 10th, American Councils for International Education was pleased to collaborate with the Global Taiwan Institute on the most recent installment of their biweekly public seminar series. The Global Taiwan Institute is a policy incubator dedicated to ideas that enhance U.S.-Taiwan relations and engages Taiwan in its own right.
The seminar, “Boosting Human Capital for U.S.-Taiwan Policy,” discussed U.S.-Taiwan public diplomacy efforts and highlighted the value of educational and cultural exchanges between the U.S. and Taiwan.
Andrew McCullough, Assistant Project Director for the Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) at American Councils, discussed American Councils’ role in expanding and implementing public diplomacy initiatives through the U.S. Department of State’s and American Councils’ own education exchange programming in Taiwan.
James Lee, Deputy Representative from the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO), delivered opening remarks. Panelists included Andrew; Dr. Robert Sutter, Director of the Bachelor of Arts in International Affairs at George Washington University; and Lisa Heller, Director of the Office of Public Diplomacy at the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs in the U.S. Department of State. The seminar was moderated by Sebra Yen, NSEP Boren Fellow for Taiwan in 2015-2016 and current Ya-Hui Chiu Intern at the Global Taiwan Institute.
The following are excerpts from Andrew’s remarks during the seminar.
Q: Could you talk about what American Councils has done to increase programming in Taiwan for your organization’s educational exchanges?
American Councils has been interested in building relationships in Taiwan for a long time. There is recognition that Taiwan has a lot to offer students of Chinese language and that the relationship between the United States and Taiwan is a strong one that will be important in the future, but that far too few students are studying there. We actively reached out to the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in D.C. to explore opportunities for collaboration and as a result American Councils has implemented three different programs in Taiwan.
The first is the Critical Language Scholarship, a summer language program funded by the U.S. State Department that lasts for eight weeks and offers intensive language education to university and college students in the United States. CLS expanded into Taiwan in 2016 as part of a partnership between American Councils and TECRO. In 2016, we sent 20 students to National Cheng Kung University in Tainan and then in 2017, the State Department chose to continue the program in Taiwan with 23 participants.
The second is the Taiwan Intensive Summer Language Program (TISLP), another summer language program administered by American Councils similar in concept to the CLS Program. TISLP had eight participants in its first year in 2016 and expanded to 29 students in 2017. Unlike the CLS Program, TISLP is not fully-funded through government grants, but an important aspect of the program is that participants have access to generous scholarships supported by Taiwan’s Ministry of Education and private donors.
In addition to our summer language programming, American Councils also started a short-term study program in Taiwan focusing on the culture, history, and politics of Taiwan for students with no background in Chinese. In 2016, the program brought five students from to Taiwan for two weeks and gave them the opportunity to participate in cultural workshops, a weekend homestay, and trips to sites of cultural interest. The program is on hiatus for this summer while we restructure some of the curriculum, but we will be reintroducing it in 2018 as a four-week program offering academic credit.
Over the last 40 years, American Councils has built its reputation on serious exchange programming grounded in language study and cultural exchange. I believe TECRO came to this partnership with the same goals, and we see each other as an honest partner to try and further develop public diplomacy and mutual understanding.
Q: As an organization that works on international education and exchange can you tell us the biggest challenge you see in marketing Taiwan programs as an option to the American audience? Given your work with students that focus on East Asia and the Pacific, what are factors that make a country attractive for Americans to pursue long-term language and cultural exchange?
The biggest challenge that we see in marketing Taiwan as a study abroad destination is just the fact that relatively few Americans know much about Taiwan at all, and Chinese language students are generally encouraged to apply to programs in Beijing and mainland China.
In terms of what makes Taiwan an appealing study destination for students, there is a lot. First, though, I want to put in a plug for our programs in mainland China as well. We have excellent university partners in China that work with us to administer language programs that can boast really strong results. That being said, I think there are a few things that set Taiwan apart.
Firstly, and especially for students who have not had the opportunity to study abroad before, Taiwan is generally a more welcoming and familiar environment. Students have access to familiar academic resources like Google and there is strong support of our programs by the Taiwanese government.
Next, cities in Taiwan—and Tainan in particular where we administer TISLP and CLS—are less crowded than many of the cities of mainland China. This offers a better opportunity for engagement with locals and a more immersive environment with fewer English speakers. We cannot overestimate the importance of this to our programs as a learning environment.
Finally, as a program administrator I can tell you that health, more than almost anything else, does seriously impact a student’s ability to participate and benefit from a program. The fact that relative to mainland China, Taiwan offers a cleaner and less polluted environment for language study is definitely part of what makes it appealing to students who may suffer from respiratory conditions, for instance.
Q: What future programming does American Councils have in mind in regards to Taiwan?
TISLP and CLS will continue on the basis of strong results from both programs and a lot of student interest. We had participants from 26 different universities on TISLP in 2017and CLS received over 650 applications from 273 universities for the CLS Chinese program. That includes 48 MSIs, 12 Community Colleges, two Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and all manner of public and private four-year universities.
American Councils will also reintroduce the short-term study program in Taiwan, as a four-week culture and history program offering credit for up to 30 participants.
We also want to expand our activity in Taiwan. There is a lot of interest in internship programming, for instance, that will give students interested in learning Chinese an opportunity to develop hard skills at the same time as they build proficiency in the language.
Q: Can you share with us some concluding thoughts on your work with Taiwan and what you have enjoyed most?
One of the things that I find most rewarding about our experience running programs in Taiwan is that, even when running programs for Less Commonly Taught Languages like Chinese, there is a great deal of centralization that takes place. Many students in the United States who are learning Chinese or studying Asian Studies have innumerable opportunities to visit Beijing and Shanghai and build their understanding of the Chinese-speaking world on what is, actually, a very narrow sliver of experience. When our students study in Taiwan, I believe that they are gaining a breadth of insight and experience that is not easy to get and it pays off for them in the long run.