This month, a group of six students from the International Youth Ambassador Delegation visited the Bay Area to expand their horizons and to promote Taiwan’s grassroots diplomacy. During their two-week visit (June 3-16), the students from National Sun Yat-sen University, Kaohsiung, met with other young leaders from local universities, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the media. For a majority of these young ambassadors, it was their first trip aboard, but they were eager to share their impressions with Taiwan Insights.
In their replies, the male students focused on local civic participation, while many of the female ambassadors commented on personal relationships. Scott Peng said he was impressed by how active Bay Area residents are in participating in community affairs by serving as volunteers or by becoming involved in community projects. Michael Chen could see Taiwanese learning from Americans as they take advantage of communication channels to express their views to government officials.
Monica Peng saw the increased interest in learning Chinese as result of China’s worldwide prominence, yet she worried about the decline in the number of Taiwanese students studying in America. Charlene Yeh and Cindy Shih’s general impressions were that there were “a lot of kids here and they are happy.” They also envied the American parent-child relationship which tended to be encouragement-oriented rather than punishment-oriented. Grace Hsiao was impressed with the advancement of special education for children in the US.
Among one of the questions asked by Taiwan Insights was whether these students saw much of a difference between Taiwanese and mainland Chinese students studying at their university. Since Taipei started to allowed Chinese college students to study on the island two years ago, many of the first 928 mainland students have enrolled at National Sun Yat-sen University, one of the first schools open to Chinese students. Scott Peng and Chen did not see much difference between Taiwanese and mainland students because they share the same language and culture.
Monica Peng and Yeh felt that the mainland Chinese students were more careful about doing their reports, with a stricter mindset, while Taiwanese students were more carefree and open. Shih learned that Chinese students are more committed to studying because of keen competition on mainland campuses. However, Hsiao believes that whether Chinese students are more open or conservative depends on each individual, and should not be generalized.
The six students unanimously agreed that their perception of Chinese people has improved due to the influx of Chinese students on campus. Monica Peng believes it is “beneficial and necessary” for the two sides of the Taiwan Strait to cooperate. This cooperation brings more good than harm. Scott Peng noted the people on both sides should not be hostile towards each other since they are of the same race and culture. Yeh said that she would continue to take the initiative to contact Chinese students on campus and to learn more about them. Shih claimed that she has no prejudice against mainlanders and is willing to exchange ideas with them, but she is upset that the Beijing government continues to squeeze Taiwan out of the international community.
When asked about Taiwan’s future, Chen believes that as the only country in the world that uses traditional Chinese characters, which serves as a tool of integration between Taiwan and the traditional culture of China, thus enhancing the island’s soft power. Scott Peng is optimistic because Taiwan is economically strong, and manufactures many globally recognized products. Shih’s comments were also brimming with confidence, “Taiwan’s economic strength and democratic achievements are internationally recognized and enjoy a certain international status. We should promote Taiwan’s soft power and let the international community recognize our value,” she said.
In all, the group expressed tremendous optimism for their future, and as young ambassadors of grassroots diplomacy, they focused many of their comments on building bridges with the international community. Monica Peng said: “I am optimistic about exploring all the possibilities around me, and will try my best to communicate with foreign friends so that they have a good impression of Taiwan. Perhaps in the future some of them will make a friendly decision towards Taiwan in their position.”
Shih believes, “My future is not confined to Taiwan. I will aim my sights on the whole world.” And Hsiao said, “I will take all possible opportunities to spread the story of Taiwan among foreign friends.”