Just at the age of twenty, Nguyen Thi Mai Phuong is quite lively in personality, always chatty, and can’t seem to stop talking. It’s hard to imagine that just a year ago, she was still a young girl who couldn’t speak Chinese, spending her days in a mobile phone shop in her hometown in Vietnam, earning a meager income by selling phones and accessories. “I want to go to college, but I don’t know how long I have to work to save up for tuition fees, and in Vietnam, it’s even less likely to work part-time and finish college,” she said. The gloom of wasting time seemed to linger.

Convincing Parents with Determination

During this period, Nguyen Thi Mai Phuong maintained her habit of listening to Chinese songs since high school. Coupled with the knowledge of Taiwan’s excellent study environment, she actively sought opportunities and scholarship information for studying in Taiwan. Therefore, upon learning that the International Foundation Program at ISU is a program combining one year of Chinese language study with four years of undergraduate education, she applied to the Department of Electronic Engineering and began attending cram schools to learn Chinese. However, her journey to study abroad was not without obstacles. The first challenge she faced after receiving the acceptance letter was convincing her parents to allow her to study alone in Taiwan.

In addition to emphasizing the stable living and studying environment in Taiwan, she also convinced her parents of her future four-year study and life plans, assuring them that she would return home during summer and winter vacations. However, seeing her parents unmoved, she further demonstrated her determination to study in Taiwan by committing to copy one Chinese song every day: “I like the songs of JJ Lin, and I love the determined feeling in ‘Blossom all the way.’” Finally, she convinced her parents to let her fly to Taiwan and embark on a whole new study life.

Learning Chinese in Daily Lives

To establish a comprehensive Chinese language and local cultural teaching program, the International Foundation Program began enrolling students only in the spring semester of 2023. In its inaugural year, the program adopted a select group approach, admitting twenty students from Vietnam. “We leverage the abundant teaching resources of the Chinese Language Center with the goal of assisting students in successfully passing the A2 Chinese proficiency test and obtaining eligibility for direct entry into the undergraduate program. At the same time, we aim to ensure that language does not pose a learning barrier for them when they continue their studies,” stated Dr. Wen-Shen Huang, the Deputy Dean of the Office of International and Cross-strait Affairs and the Director of the Chinese Language Center and the International Foundation Program.

The two-hour weekly courses such as “Taiwan in the Age of Globalization” and “Exploring Kaohsiung” are designed not only to introduce students to the cultural and geographical environment of Kaohsiung and Taiwan starting from the vicinity of ISU but also to facilitate their integration into Taiwanese life through introductions to local immigrant communities. Additionally, these courses incorporate experiential learning activities outside the classroom, where students are divided into groups and assigned tasks such as “Locate and recommend Vietnamese restaurants near ISU and suggest their signature dishes,” encouraging them to explore the surroundings of the campus. Furthermore, students are taken on field trips to experience using public transportation like buses, MRT, and light rail or riding YouBike to visit places such as Pier-2 Art Center. They later presented their findings and experiences in class, sharing how they explored Kaohsiung using public transportation.

Nguyen Thi Mai Phuong believes that these extracurricular activities provide excellent opportunities to improve her Chinese. By interacting and chatting with people outside of ISU, she can quickly enhance her ability to engage in everyday conversations in Chinese. “For example, when I joined in beach clean-up activities held by ISU, I would chat with other tourists at the beach or seaside. Some people worried that my Chinese wasn’t good, so they spoke to me in English, but I always asked them to speak Chinese.”

Learning Chinese in Daily Lives

Due to the various collaboration modes and internship opportunities available between comprehensive universities, technological universities, and industries, ISU integrates internal resources from affiliated companies to facilitate student part-time work opportunities. They organize job fairs on campus in collaboration with the hotels and the theme park within the E United Group. “However, considering the size of the Vietnamese immigrant community in Taiwan, many students may have relatives or friends in Taiwan who could introduce them to job opportunities. The role the ISU plays is to remind students to protect their rights and avoid engaging in illegal work,” Dr. Huang commented.

Through a friend’s referral, she works part-time on the late shift at a cinema and has gradually begun to feel the pressure of balancing work and study. To manage her homework well, she is considering finding another job that can be done during her spare time after classes while also focusing on her studies. After all, youth only comes once, and she wants to seize the opportunity to learn and pave the way for her future life.

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