From Pennsylvania to Taiwan: Reflections on Fulbright International Education Administrators Seminar

Written by  Wednesday, 22 August 2018 10:12
Shih Hsin University Shih Hsin University By Alexsh [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], from Wikimedia Commons

Professional Development

     My participation in the Fulbright International Education Administrators Seminar in Taiwan in March 2017 broadened my professional experience in East Asia, which was previously limited to organizing site visits to Japan (2007) and China (2016). The Fulbright experience helped me contextualize a deepening engagement with partnerships in Taiwan and explore new opportunities for both student exchange and faculty collaboration.


     The Fulbright Taiwan IEA seminar provided me with an in-depth professional and intercultural learning experience quite different from the experiences I have had leading site visits or student groups. I was able to focus on my own learning and experience for a substantial period of time rather than being responsible for the organization and logistics for a group. As an academic administrator, the daily demands of my position’s responsibilities and the constraints of the academic calendar do not allow for intensive and extended experiences abroad.  

     From lectures and cultural visits to direct access to officials in the American Institute in Taiwan, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Education and even the President of Taiwan, the overall structure of the Fulbright Taiwan IEA seminar provided invaluable information about the politics, economics, and culture of Taiwan.  

     The daily cultural lessons of the Fulbright Taiwan staff and provided a robust cultural immersion experience. One example that comes to mind is when Dr. William Vocke, Executive Director of Fulbright Taiwan, reminded the group to wave goodbye to hosts as we departed from the schools. Being reminded of seemingly small cultural customs in a real world setting is an important lesson for those of us who work daily in developing intercultural competence in students.  

     On a personal note, it was extremely meaningful to gain a better understanding of the heart of internationalization at Juniata College by interacting with Dr. William Vocke, the first head of International Education at Juniata.

 

 

Institutional Impact

     The primary purpose of the Fulbright International Education Administrators Seminar in Taiwan is to encourage more U.S. students to study abroad in Taiwan, and my participation in the seminar has certainly inspired me to advance curricular and co-curricular opportunities in Taiwan for Juniata students.  

     I gained a better understanding of the strategic importance of Taiwan for U.S. foreign relations and the possibility of U.S. higher education collaboration with Taiwanese universities. As Dr. William Vocke wrote in the Fulbright Taiwan Annual Report 2015-16, “There are few places were America is more respected and Americans are more liked.” As one of the other seminar participants stated, “Taiwan is underappreciated” as a study abroad destination for U.S. students.  

     Taiwan is a great location for students interested in East Asia, Chinese culture and Mandarin language study. Taiwan and its people are cosmopolitan, innovative and progressive. The cultural history of Taiwan, the complexities of diversity within modern Taiwan, including movements related to indigenous and LGBTQ+ rights, make it an ideal location for study abroad for students of diverse backgrounds from the U.S.  

     Juniata’s engagement with Taiwan seems to be the next frontier of development for international exchange. The timing was especially important as I closely collaborate with Dr. Wei-Chung Wang, Associate Professor of Economics and Director of Global Development, who happened to be in Taiwan on sabbatical this semester.  

     The opportunity to be in Taiwan enabled me to connect with Dr. Wang and to meet with partners at Shih Hsin University and Shih Chien University and to deepen our institutional partnerships and explore new areas of engagement. I will work with faculty in the Communication Department to promote study abroad in communication at Shih Hsin University given opportunities for journalism and broadcasting there. I will work with faculty in our Integrated Media Arts Program to promote study abroad at Shih Chien University.  

     There is also the possibility of exploring partner degree initiatives or bachelor’s to master’s options for U.S. students. From our visit to the Ministry of Education, I learned the government of Taiwan strategically supports such initiatives. There is good scholarship support for students from the U.S. to study in Taiwan, including the Taiwan Experience Education Program.   

     

     As a result of my experience in Taiwan, Dr. Wang has invited me to serve as one of the group leaders for the short-term faculty-led program on Environmental Resource Entrepreneurship, a short-term course abroad he leads with Juniata professor, Dr. Uma Ramakrishnan in Environmental Sciences. The visit to the National Aquarium helped me make connections, strengthening the experiential component of this short-term course to Taiwan; I hope that Juniata can explore opportunities for research for students in Marine Biology at the National Aquarium as a result of our IEA Seminar visit. I have also discussed the possibility of Dr. Wang extending his short-term course abroad Business in China to expand a component on cross-strait relations and include a visit to Taiwan.   

 

     After a visit to National Chiao Tung University as part of the IEA seminar, I was able to visit again with Dr. Wang to explore potential areas of collaboration and move ahead with an institutional agreement. Potential areas of collaboration include developing a U.S. – Taiwanese team of undergraduate students to participate in the International Genetically Engineered Machine Competition iGEM hosted by MIT. The students from the U.S. would have an intensive experience in Taiwan to work with the students from NCTU to prepare for the competition. We will promote the opportunity for Juniata professors to go to NCTU for a semester or year to teach in their basic undergraduate science curriculum.   

     The opportunities to interact with the Fulbright English Teaching Assistants was an important part of the IEA seminar as Juniata often places one or two ETA’s each year. As a member of the Fulbright advisory committee that assists students through the Fulbright application process, I feel better prepared to guide students as they apply to the ETA program.  

     And although not a direct objective of the IEA Seminar, I appreciated the opportunity to connect with Education USA. I learned the U.S. is the number one destination for Taiwan students, and Taiwan is the seventh largest sender of international students in the U.S. and the fourth highest sender per capita. I found visiting and presenting at the American Innovation Center in Taiwan especially interesting, and I will encourage our international recruitment team to connect with other such centers sponsored through the American Corners around the world especially given Juniata’s newly developed Integrated Media Arts program.   

     An unexpected benefit of the Taiwan IEA seminar was the time I had with ten colleagues from diverse institutions across the U.S. to talk about a range of international education and intercultural learning and to explore possibilities for collaboration.  

 


Logistics / Schedule 

     The logistics and schedule were meticulously planned, although I would offer that a little more time must be given for travel and transition to sites (bathroom breaks, etc.) with a group. We were late several times, which seemed to rush a few of our visits.  The range of institutional types visited was extremely important given the diversity of the U.S. institutions represented among the seminar participants. Being able to travel around the country and experiencing different modes of transportation provided good firsthand experience to be able to better advise students who will study abroad in Taiwan.

 

     One of the most memorable components of the IEA seminar was the visit to the south and visiting the ETA school in a Rukai area. I particularly enjoyed the visit to National Taitung University and eating in the school cafeteria since it gave us a real sense of student life on campus. I wish we had more opportunities to interact with students and view university life as we did at NTU. The visit to the National Pre-History Museum was fascinating and helped to provide a much better understanding of the indigenous populations in Taiwan. The overnight stay in the visit to Frog & Pheasant and the visit to Dr. Vocke’s house in Ruiyuan was a wonderful experience and provided a view on the rich geographic diversity of Taiwan. I think there might be terrific potential for the short-term course Environmental Resource Entrepreneurship to explore this area of the country as it relates to eco-tourism.  

     The accommodations provided throughout the IEA seminar were incredible. The Amba Hotel in Taipei is awesome in terms of location, comfort, food, amenities, staff, etc. Despite some protest from the group, it was a great experience to share a room on two occasions and to have the experience of the “rustic” but wonderfully scenic conditions of the National Aquarium dormitory. Please do not change this component of the experience, which pushed us out of our comfort zones but also enabled us to have time to bond with one another and to develop a little flexibility. The only small comment I have is to ease the “discomfort” of such circumstances by giving a bunch of middle-aged Americans access to hot, black coffee in the morning.    

 

     I caution the organizing staff to be more cognizant of dietary restrictions. Although I had listed vegetarian as a dietary preference, I think my request may have been overlooked. There were not specific accommodations for vegetarian at many of the meals, especially the group meals. This was not an issue for me, but it might have been problematic for someone with more strict dietary needs for health or religious reasons.  

     The schedule provided a great balance between scheduled time and free time. All of us needed some time to catch up with work at our home institutions, so I appreciated being able to end days at 8 or 9 pm. It was generous to have had the Fulbright staff lead us on a sightseeing tour of the Chian Kai-shek Memorial Hall, Botanical Gardens, and Yingge Ceramics Museum and Old Street on the first free Saturday of the seminar; I visited the Botanical Gardens and nearby exhibitions several times again during my free time. Those visits allowed me to interact with Taiwanese people in a more informal setting and to have a chance to observe family and intergenerational relationships, giving me a glimpse of Taiwanese everyday life.    

     Providing us MRT cards and a more than an adequate per diem allowed us to explore on our own. In my case, it helped me interact with Taiwanese locals as I navigated the city or tried to figure out how to serve myself from the buffet restaurant at the National Taiwan Craft Research and Development Institute (Taipei Branch). The National Taiwan Craft Research and Development Institute should be included as part of the formal schedule for future IEA Seminars. The site provides exhibitions of Taiwanese contemporary art and enables visitors to interact with artisans in their workshops. The top floor of the building — the historic location of the National Science Center — has a vegetarian buffet restaurant and organic local food shop.    

     I wish to express my deep appreciation to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Education of the government of Taiwan — Republic of China, to the Fulbright Taiwan staff and interns, and especially to Dr. William Vocke, Executive Director. Dr. Vocke’s vision and commitment to cultural and educational exchange and to the promotion of peace through people-to-people diplomacy was certainly achieved through the inaugural Fulbright International Education Administrators Seminar in Taiwan. My participation in the Fulbright International Education Administrators Seminar in Taiwan will have lasting impact on my personal and professional life. Thank you.  

 
 

Afterward

     Since my time in Taiwan, three students traveled to Taiwan in May 2017 to participate in seminar at National Chiao Tung University.  In May 2018, a professor of Communication from Juniata taught a short-term course at Shih Chien University. In June 2018, a Juniata professor of Religion visited National Chiao Tung University to discuss collaboration in the digital humanities and to deliver public lectures in related areas.  In the summer 2018, two Juniata graduates enrolled in language intensive courses at Shih Chien University. In fall 2018, a Juniata student will study at Shih Hsin University. In spring 2019, a Juniata student will study at National Chiao Tung University.
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