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Oakland University students explore Taiwan through study abroad program


 

With grant support from Taiwan’s Ministry of Education, a group of 15 Oakland University students spent the summer studying Chinese language and culture at National Dong Hwa University of Taiwan, one of the country’s most prestigious institutions of higher learning. 

Students spent three hours each day studying Mandarin Chinese, which involved following a lesson plan and taking tests, “but conversations often went beyond the textbook,” said Jason Gierman, who graduated from OU in August with a major in Applied Statistics and a minor in Chinese Language. 

“We were still connecting things back to the book by using the vocabulary and grammar we had learned, but it was a great experience just speaking naturally amongst us students and the professor, making mistakes but using everything we’d learned to communicate as best as we could,” Gierman shared. “As I got more fluent, I got more comfortable just speaking freely like this, and it felt great to be able to keep up and contribute.”

Outside of class, students explored nearby towns, dined at various restaurants, visited movie theaters and took in scenery at numerous locales, including hiking at Taroko National Park. In early August, Dr. Chiaoning Su, an associate professor in OU’s Department of Communication, Journalism, and Public Relations, led the group on a visit to the Premier’s Office in the country’s capital of Taipei. 

“On a personal level, as a Taiwanese native, it is particularly meaningful to see my cultures merge, to see my students from Michigan are now exploring a city I grew up in,” said Dr. Su. “I hope this is just the beginning of a regular exchange between OU and Dong Hwa, and between higher education in the US and in Taiwan. We are living in a time when societies across the globe are facing a lot of uncertainties and challenges. I believe the understanding and trust built through interpersonal relationships will be the key to bringing stability and prosperity.”

Students also enjoyed connecting with the local Taiwanese people. Recent OU graduate Jenna Rubley found particular inspiration in less touristy places as they contained some of the most interesting people she met in Taiwan. 

“Hualien, the city our university is located in, is not as touristy as Taipei, the capital,” said Rubley, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Integrative Studies, along with minors in Chinese Language and International Studies. “What I admired about Hualien is its large population of aboriginal people, because for me, getting to learn about their culture and talking to them was worth more than seeing a building with fancy architecture. I think we learn our greatest lessons and make our most memorable experiences when we just appreciate what’s around us and look past the surface.”  

Gierman added that he gained an appreciation for what it’s like being a nonnative speaker in an unfamiliar country.

“It’s made me even more empathetic towards immigrants in the U.S. who aren’t entirely fluent in English since I at least somewhat understand how it can be frustrating struggling to articulate everything you want to say in a new language,” said Gierman. “The people I met in Taiwan were very patient with me as I was learning Mandarin, and I hope I can bring that back and be patient with English learners.” 

The study abroad was made possible through a $100,000 grant from Taiwan’s Ministry of Education to support Chinese language and culture studies at National Dong Hwa University for students of Oakland University. In addition to enabling students to study in Taiwan, the grant will be used to sponsor other academic exchanges, such as online art exhibitions, seminars and research projects. 

“We are truly grateful for this grant from Taiwan's Ministry of Education to support OU students,” said Dr. Hsiang-Hua (Melanie) Chang, associate professor of Chinese. “This grant project is not only an unprecedented opportunity for our students, but for OU as well. We have now established an official partnership with National Dong Hwa University, OU’s first partner in Taiwan, and we look forward to having more collaborations and interactions beyond the Chinese program and the grant project.”

Dr. Chang also acknowledged the efforts of Peggy Chiu, Computer Facilities Administrator in the School of Business Administration, who traveled with the students to Taiwan, a process that required an 18-day quarantine at a hotel with the students. 

“The staff and teachers of National Dong Hwa University also deserve a round of applause for taking good care of our students' study, daily life and field trips,” Dr. Chang added. “They even provided meals and medical care when some students contracted COVID and many students had to move to a quarantine location. We are especially proud of the students who traveled to Taiwan during this difficult time. They made a wise decision, and obviously their lives have been changed because of it.” 

Joining Dr. Chang in helping to establish the partnership between Oakland University and National Dong Hwa University were Alex Zimmerman, director of International Education, Executive Director of Global Engagement Rosemary Max, Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Britt Rios-Ellis and Stephen Filler, chair of the Department of Modern Language and Literatures.

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