Open letter to Minister of Education Pan Wen-chung
Dear Minister [of Education] Pan [Wen-chung (潘文忠)],
On April 1st 2021, you could hear celebrations happening all over the world when, after more than a year of waiting, Huayu Enrichment Scholarship recipients were once again allowed into Taiwan to pursue further education in order to achieve our academic and professional goals. This also opened the way for more categories of overseas students to be considered to enter the country in the future, including non-scholarship-recipient Mandarin students.
However, what seemed to be a dream turned into a nightmare and our happiness and relief were short lived. COVID-19 cases started appearing in Taiwan in May, before we had even managed to set foot in the country, and we watched in horror as the situation escalated. No one expected such a situation to happen in a nation which contained the spread of coronavirus successfully and our thoughts were with the Taiwanese people who now had to experience what the rest of world had been experiencing for more than a year.
The increase of COVID-19 cases were extremely concerning and we have been watching, hoping, praying and wishing ever since that the quick and resolute actions taken by Taiwan’s Central Epidemic Command (CECC) would be helpful in eradicating the virus. Fortunately, the swift response from the CECC has paid off: COVID-19 cases in Taiwan are now decreasing fast and the situation has improved drastically. This outcome would not have been possible without the efforts of the Taiwanese people, who withstood the scourge of COVID-19 in an exemplary manner. International students like us agonized with the Taiwanese as the cases increased, and we have celebrated Taiwan’s success as the cases have been declining these days.
This is why we are writing to you, as the recipients of the Huayu Enrichment Scholarship (華語文獎學金) and non-scholarship language students, some of whom have been waiting since March 2020 when the borders were closed the first time, as well as Chinese language teachers. As the situation has been stabilized and the Level 3 alert will be lifted soon, we humbly ask MOE to honour its words and prioritize Huayu Enrichment Scholarship students so we can begin our studies this fall, alongside the degree students. We would also like to ask MOE to start reviewing the possibility for non-scholarship students to be able to study in Taiwan again.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, students from all over the world, who were given the chance to study in Taiwan, had to postpone their studies. Even if this is a precautionary measure to keep the Taiwanese safe, other countries (i.e. South Korea and Singapore) have also closed their borders but still allow international students in.
The reason we are writing to you at this point in time is because we feel that there is still a chance to begin our studies this fall, if the decision to let us in is made now. Those who have been awarded 12 months could make full use of the time that they were given as Huayu recipients and those who already have financial commitments in Taiwan will get a relief sooner.
Mandarin students have already been waiting for so long, and the continuous uncertainty is still an issue and difficult to learn how to live with. All we want is to begin our studies once and for all, and the fall term would be the ideal time for us to enter the country. Some language centers have even expressed that it will be possible to study online while in quarantine, which could be a solution to the time we have to spend self-isolating.
Mandarin Chinese has become more and more popular over the years. The language plays an important role on the international stage, and students from all over the world are determined to live in Mandarin-speaking countries to improve their skills in this language. Nations like Taiwan offer high-quality scholarships for international students, such as the Huayu Enrichment Scholarship (HES). This scholarship allows non-native Chinese speakers to stay in the country for 3 to 12 months in order for them to learn Mandarin and find out more about the beautiful island of Formosa.
The purpose of the Huayu Enrichment Scholarship is to “encourage talented young people to undertake Mandarin language courses in Taiwan and to promote knowledge, understanding and friendship of people in the global community”. Promoting knowledge of Taiwan is one of the most important ways for Taiwan to achieve international recognition. By allowing HES and other Mandarin students into the country, Taiwan can nurture future international ambassadeurs of the island, and this could subsequently lead to more important roles on the international stage in the future. Taiwan also has the opportunity to show the world that it welcomes all students even during pandemic times, which would raise the reputation of the country internationally.
Furthermore, since the scholarship is awarded by the government, the same government should not be preventing its awardees from seizing the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of broadening horizons and getting to know the culture and languages of Taiwan.
Another aspect of this has been that not allowing HES and non-scholarship language students into Taiwan, is affecting more than just the students. During the past year, language teachers have really been struggling and a lot of teachers are now unemployed because of the sharp decline of language students. All of the effort that has been made so far to further Taiwan's position as a reliable hub for Chinese language learning, is now fading away.
Not a lot of students will opt for learning a language online because unlike other subjects, there also needs to be immersion, you need to live and breath the language to fully be able to grasp it. There is also the concern of technical issues that will interfere with learning.
On the other hand, even if the situation of the pandemic forced Mandarin students to attend our lessons online, being physically in Taiwan would still allow us to have some day-to-day interactions with Taiwanese people and have real life conversations when buying food or other local products.
In addition, it should be taken into account that we will gladly obey and respect every social distancing rule there is, as well as the border measures of 4 tests, 14 days (21 days for some) of quarantine and 7 days of self-health management when arriving in the country. We care about the safety of the Taiwanese people, as well as our own and we will do whatever is required of us.
Finally, we would like to stress that choosing Taiwan to learn Mandarin Chinese is beneficial for the image of the country. This would fulfill the goal of turning Taiwan into an international center for the study and research of the Chinese language. Nonetheless, the pandemic has rendered it impossible for language students to move to Taiwan. This contradicts the very essence of the plan of the Ministry of Education. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this opportunity of making Taiwan a Chinese-learning hub remains unique, as students wanting to immerse themselves in this language are unable to go elsewhere to study the language. However, such a golden opportunity is not being seized. Online learning is the only current option for people who want to study Chinese, but it does not guarantee fluency. We should travel to Taiwan and meet Taiwanese people in order to better understand the culture and traditions. Only by living like a local can a language truly be learned.
We thank you for taking the time to read this. We trust that the Ministry of Education will prioritize us Huayu Enrichment Scholarship students as promised, and immediately prepare to allow Chinese language students to enter Taiwan as soon as the Level 3 alert is lifted. This in turn should pave the way to also allow non-scholarship to study in Taiwan again.
Chinese language teachers of Taiwan
Mandarin students including
Huayu Enrichment Scholars of 2020-2021 and Huayu Enrichment Scholars of 2021-2022