An eight-week intensive Chinese language course for participants in the U.S. Department of State’s Critical Languages Scholarship Program kicked off June 23 at National Cheng Kung University in southern Taiwan’s Tainan City.
A total of 23 U.S. undergraduates and graduates in diverse disciplines spanning culture, education as well as social and natural sciences are studying Mandarin at NCKU’s Chinese Language Center. This is the second consecutive year that the university has hosted classes under the U.S. government scholarship, which aims to foster American students’ knowledge of key foreign languages such as Arabic, Chinese and Russian.
In addition to completing the equivalent of one full academic year of Chinese language classes, participants will take part in a variety of cultural activities. The students have been placed with local families for their eight-week stay, and are scheduled to attend regular meetings with local language partners, participate in community activities such as reading for children and the elderly and visit major cultural and historic sites.
NCKU Vice President Chen Tung-yang said at the opening ceremony that the cultural immersion elements of the program promote interactions with local residents and students so as to provide participants with a deeper understanding of Taiwan’s history, culture and society.
According to Christine M. Y. Hsueh, director-general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Department of North American Affairs, the cultural activities will foster the students’ awareness of the shared values between Taiwan and the U.S., such as democracy, freedom of the press and rule of law.
John Slover, public affairs officer at the Kaohsiung Branch Office of the American Institute in Taiwan, which represents U.S. interests in the country, described last year’s scholarship program at NCKU as a big success. Participants should seize this valuable opportunity to cultivate their communication and language abilities as international collaboration holds the key to tackling the major challenges of the 21st century, he said.
Taiwan is an emerging hub of Mandarin language learning. There are 56 Chinese language centers in Taiwan, the majority of which are located in universities, while the number of foreign students studying Mandarin in the country rose from 12,555 in 2010 to 19,977 last year, according to Ministry of Education statistics.