Kirsten Asdal 艾永勤

Kirsten Asdal 艾永勤

Kirsten Asdal graduated from the US Naval Academy in May 2013 withe a B.S. in Chinese. She will complete a masters in Contemporary Chinese Studies at Oxford University in 2015, then report to her first ship, the USS MICHAEL MURPHY(DDG112), to serve as a division officer.


    This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. graduated from the US Naval Academy in May 2013 with a B.S. in Chinese. She will complete a masters in Contemporary Chinese Studies at Oxford University in 2015, then report to her first ship, the USS MICHAEL MURPHY (DDG112), to serve as a division officer.

    She will share her experiences living and studying in Taipei this past year and discuss what she has learned about Asia-Pacific international relations and regional maritime conflict.






    2013年5月艾永勤於美國海軍學院獲得中文學士學位。她將於2015年在牛津大學就讀碩士學位,專攻中國當代研究。畢業後她將登上美國軍艦USS麥克爾默菲號 (DDG112)擔任部門主管並展開她的首次服役。

Top Five Highlights of a Year in Taiwan

Wednesday, 26 August 2015 16:04


  Top ten lists are everywhere these days. As readership moves online, and as viewership becomes more dependent on a catchy title to encourage a curious click, writers have become adept at condensing regular material into this appealing format.


    One of my favorites this year was a Foreign Policy piece by Stephen Walt entitled “How to Get a B.A. in International Relations in 5 minutes.” In a few paragraphs that take no more than five minutes to read, Walt lays out key concepts that a student of IR would actually remember five years after graduation, like anarchy, balance of power, and comparative advantage. As I took the bait and opened the article, I thought to myself, “Ah, here we go…good thing I decided not to do that double major after all, because this is everything I need right here.”


    While not quite suitable for an academic paper, this uber-condensed format is just fine for the casual reader. So in an effort to make this article more appealing to whomever is browsing through the Fulbright website, I’ve decided to jump on the bandwagon and turn my jumble of thoughts into a consolidated list.


    Here you go, the top five things Kirsten will remember about her Fulbright year in Taiwan five years from now:


1. The People

Taiwanese people continue to impress me with their honesty and generosity, even and especially toward foreigners. Taxi drivers often shave off the last 10 NTD of the fare and round down or stop the meter once the destination is in sight. One night after I had gotten in a taxi I realized I only had 200 NTD in cash. I told the driver to let me know when the fare approached 200, because I’d have to get out then. But he replied, “Don’t worry about the price. I’ll get you home even if it goes over.” Sometimes I buy a crepe from a middle-aged woman who sets up shop in a little alley by the university. One day I came a bit late in the evening, and she had already run out of the ingredients for my favorite crepe. She was very sorry and she immediately and earnestly offered me part of her own dinner that she had brought from home. I have never met anyone on the street who was unwilling to help me, and many have gone out of their way to ask me if I need any help. I especially love that I first can assume that a stranger will have good intentions. I’ll definitely have to readjust my personal safety barometer when I get back to U.S. cities.   


2. The Sub-Tropical Weather

Taiwan is the most wet and humid place I’ve ever lived. Every time I think the rains are finally over, someone informs me that the monsoon season is coming up. How many monsoon seasons are there, really?? And it doesn’t matter what it’s doing outside, I’m always fighting a losing battle against mildew in my apartment. The humidity makes for an unbearably muggy and sticky summer too. On the bright side, there’s no need to worry about dry skin, even in the winter!


3. Learning Chinese

By the time I left Taiwan, I had taken more than 650 hours of Chinese class. That alone should be motivation enough to keep up my studies post-Taiwan, so that I won’t have wasted all those hours! But really, my Chinese studies have allowed me to experience Taiwan in a much more personal way. Even though I still feel like a foreigner wherever I go, being able to speak Chinese has allowed me to connect with people on a deeper level and better understand the nuances of Taiwanese society and culture. Furthermore, I’ve come to much prefer the Taiwanese accent to the northern Chinese one, so I’m glad I don’t have any of that Beijing harshness anymore when I speak. I find the different dialects and accents of Chinese fascinating, and I’m so glad to have had the opportunity to learn traditional characters and a new accent.  


4. My Shopping Struggles

Never before have I expended so much fruitless energy shopping. My size-nine feet are apparently ghastly large (who knew?), and the clothes are either of poor quality, made to fit a stick-thin frame, or high-priced international brands. If anyone ever asks me what to do to prepare for their Fulbright grant in Taiwan, I will tell them to go shopping and buy up all the clothes and shoes that they will need before leaving the land of cheap and plenty.


5. My New Insights Into Regional International Relations

I discussed this more in-depth in my piece last semester, but I think one of the most valuable aspects of my time in Taiwan has been gaining a deeper understanding of regional issues and political relationships.  There are certain aspects of international relations that must be internalized before analyzing any current issue, like lingering post-WWII distrust of Japan, ASEAN’s cautious consensus-building style of cooperation, or the stabilizing nature of the U.S. military presence and diplomatic relations in the region. I now feel confident that I will be a well-informed contributor to my master’s courses next year and have enough of a knowledge base to begin researching and writing my thesis in the fall.


    Of course, like Stephen Walt’s five-minute international relations B.A., this list is insufficient to truly understand how fruitful and enriching my year in Taiwan has been, but it’s a good start. I suppose I’ll have to reassess in five years and see what actually comes to mind when I think back to Taiwan. In all likelihood, I won’t remember any of the little frustrations and only have fond recollections of this exciting and eye-opening year abroad. I’m grateful to the Fulbright community for their support, and I’m humbled to have been a part of such an impressive group of scholars. I hope to be back some day to make more memories in Taiwan!





Kirsten Asdal graduated from the US Naval Academy in May 2013 withe a B.S. in Chinese. She will complete a masters in Contemporary Chinese Studies at Oxford University in 2015, then report to her first ship, the USS MICHAEL MURPHY(DDG112), to serve as a division officer.

Reflections on Identity and Regional Security

Friday, 05 September 2014 10:56

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. graduated from the US Naval Academy in May 2013 with a B.S. in Chinese. She will complete a master's degree in Contemporary Chinese Studies at Oxford University in 2015, then report to her first ship, the USS MICHAEL MURPHY (DDG112), to serve as a division officer. 


     My first four months living in Taiwan were very fruitful, and I am grateful for the new perspectives I developed through my experiences and studies. I have been taking a masters class on cross-strait relations, as well as auditing a Ph.D. class on Asia-Pacific security. Meanwhile, at Chengchi University’s MacArthur Center for Security Studies, I have been researching the new Chinese Coast Guard and related implications for regional security. I attended the annual conference of the Council for Security Cooperation in Asia-Pacific in Beijing, and I have been working on a subsequent research paper with a team of Young Leaders from the Pacific Forum on the usefulness of the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting. 

     Aside from my research, I have also been taking language courses. When I first began my Chinese class in early September, I could neither read nor write using traditional characters. Now, I can write responses using all traditional characters for our tests, which include recent Taiwan news articles. Outside the classroom, my roommate and friends have taught me the colloquial Chinese that is heard and used more frequently around the city. I’m happy with my progress so far, and I’m even happier to still have another 6 months to learn as much as I can. 
     Some people have told me that one may learn more about mainland China by looking at it from Taiwan than by actually going there. In some ways, I have found this to be true. Taiwanese people are open to discussing the sensitive political situation across the strait. Here we can have frank discussions about China’s rise, its foreign and domestic policies, and the future challenges it is facing. Furthermore, Taiwan has a mix of both Western and Eastern influences, so the perspectives here may be richer and more balanced. 
     I particularly enjoy the diversity of my classrooms, where I am surrounded by students from around the world, each bringing a unique perspective to our discussions. My classmates come from mainland China, Taiwan, Europe, Asia, and the US. In my Asia-Pacific security class, when the discussion shifts to American foreign policy in Asia, I get asked tough questions about what is right and what is best. I have really had to wrestle with these questions since leaving a comfortingly like-minded student body, which rarely questioned the United States’ rights and its responsibility to call the shots on the other side of the world. I look forward to sharing a more nuanced view of international affairs with my colleagues back in the US. 
     I also better understand and appreciate the uniqueness of the cross-strait relationship. First of all, while “the Taiwan issue” is absolutely central to Taiwanese politics, and the Taiwanese government’s position has a deep impact on cross-strait relations. In my cross-strait relations class, we’ve explored Taiwan’s sovereignty and how it can be explained given the constricting relationship with China. Another interesting question is whether international relations theory can be used to analyze the cross-strait relationship, which is neither fully international nor fully domestic. Our readings and discussions have given me a deeper understanding of the relationship’s evolution, from the Chinese dynasties’ rather weak claims to the island to a tense political deadlock between two (arguably) full-fledged international entities. 
     Outside of research and classes, personal experiences have also shaped my understanding of Taiwan and Asia-Pacific regional dynamics.  As Dr. Vocke, the Executive Director of Fulbright Taiwan, predicted, living in Taiwan has been very comfortable and enjoyable as a foreigner. Taiwanese people are friendly and helpful. Transportation is clean and easy. The island’s scenic landscapes are impressive. Moreover this democratic society feels somewhat familiar despite the language barrier. 
     The question of identity among Taiwanese is also an important part of the cross-strait relationship and the island’s political status. One can read about the issue of Taiwanese identity, but it is best understood through interactions with Taiwanese people. Until one visits Taiwan, it may be hard to understand just how distinctly these two societies have developed. Many Taiwanese individuals will say that they don’t identify themselves as Chinese and don’t wish to be citizens of China. At the same time, they also don’t think total independence would be a smart move because of the security ramifications that independence may provoke. I’ve encountered some who fear closer relations with China: even though it may make violence less likely, such a shift may make it easier for China to pull Taiwan in and justify reunification. My research center conducts so-called track two dialogues, which involve not entirely academic, but not quite official interaction. I didn’t realize it before, but even something as seemingly helpful as track two dialogues can be controversial in such a complex and delicate relationship. 
     At the beginning of the semester, I first posed the research question: will the newly established Chinese Coast Guard be used to increase regional stability or to continue elbowing around in the East and South China Seas? It has been interesting to pursue that question throughout the semester as I’ve watched regional developments unfold. While that question was rather easily argued either way when I first arrived in Taiwan, a series of recent actions by the Chinese have convinced me that China has made up its mind to aggressively secure its maritime claims against other claimants by using its increasing power. 
     The importance of these territorial disagreements is striking, and rather hard to understand for Americans like myself who are unaware of even one such dispute between the US and its neighbors (in fact they do exist, as I’ve learned, but they obviously are not that important). The Asia-Pacific territorial conflicts are not just political in nature; in fact they carry a deep historical and national importance for the people of the countries involved. Even though in some cases politicians stoke this fervor, its existence is not fabricated, and this has real implications for the possibility of violence erupting sometime in the near future. 
     There are plenty of regional agreements and organizations in place to improve relations and increase cooperation, like the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Declaration of Conduct in the South China Sea, and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. However, most are not effective enough to diffuse tension should a real threat of violence arise. The ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting is a relatively new framework that has successfully brought countries together to conduct non-traditional security training drills. Many hope the Meeting can use its early momentum to expand its work into traditional security, which is a much more difficult cooperation challenge, if only politically. 
     The U.S. presence in the Asia-Pacific is still critical for maintaining stability and security. The more the U.S. fails to reassure its friends and partners of its commitment, the more room China has to assert itself in a potentially volatile way. President Obama’s Rebalance to the Pacific policy is helpful only to the extent that it can actually be practically implemented. So far, the U.S. has been too bogged down in political gridlock and budget concerns to fulfill the promised rebalancing much beyond the military aspects. The steadily increasing tensions over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands is just one example of how the next few years will be critical to ensure regional security. Things can bubble up and boil over far too quickly, and all parties involved must continue to make efforts towards increasing cooperation and trust to reduce tensions. 
     From Taiwanese culture to regional security concerns, I have already learned so much living here in Taiwan, and I’m so grateful to have this opportunity. Taiwan is a really special place that is often overlooked as both a travel and a study destination, and I’m trying to savor every week here!


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