Taiwanese Lack Confidence, Not Competitiveness

Taiwanese Lack Confidence, Not Competitiveness
Photo Credit: Michael O'Donnell CC BY SA 2.0

The News Lens international edition is sponsored by Tutor A B C

I nervously held up my placard when the chair asked for additional delegates to speak. My arms were shaking and shook even more when the chair said, “Argentina.” I didn’t want to speak because I knew I wouldn’t contribute anything to the discussion, but I still forced myself to do so. After a long list of other country names, it was finally my turn. I trembled as I walked onto the stage to give my speech, “Ar-Ar-Argentina believes that this committee should focus on integrating potential solutions as an universal standard and not just targeted towards specific countries. Thank you.”

Those were the only words I said throughout the entire conference.

This is what happened during the 2012 World Model UN Conference in Vancouver. I was part of the delegation from National Taiwan University representing Argentina. Our club chose me to be on the team hoping I would bring home the Best Delegate Award, an award that has been rarely achieved in the club’s past history.

However, not only did I fail, I failed terribly.

When I reflected on my failure, I examined all the reasons that may have led to it. Was I not capable enough to do well in the conference? No, I was one of the best on our team. Were the other delegates too good for me? Perhaps. But I knew completely what was going on and could have jumped in at any point. Then what caused my failure?

I realized it was because I was not confident enough.

The following year, a new team of students from our school attended the 2013 World Model UN in Melbourne. After they came back, we asked them what they thought of the conference and they all generally complained about their poor performance and seemingly incompetence compared to other delegates in their committee. These students were also the best in our club, and I knew they were not incompetent; they were simply not confident enough.

This tends to happen with many Taiwanese people that travel abroad for conferences, exchange programs or just vacation. We become very intimated and uncomfortable in a foreign and unfamiliar environment. Why does it happen? I do not know for sure, and I am eager to find out.

My hypothesis is that it is pertinent to our political and social history with regards to Taiwan being controlled and dominated by other countries. However, in this article, I will not discuss the reason of this phenomenon, but my opinion on this issue. I believe that Taiwanese people are capable of being successful on an international level, but we lack confidence.

Taiwanese are not confident enough in themselves, and to some certain extent, pessimistic about their and the country’s future. In 2012, a Gallup poll suggested that 26% of Taiwanese surveyed rated their future lives worse than their current lives, the fifth highest among all samples. In addition, many thought leaders and famous professionals believe that Taiwanese students have no competitive advantage in the international market, or that the Taiwanese education does not foster talented people. We are constantly told that we lack in many different areas, specifically language skills and critical thinking abilities.

In an interview with JT Hsu, managing director of The Boston Consulting Group in Taipei, he states that global communication skill is a critical problem for Taiwanese students. This leads to them being unable to effectively communicate their ideas in a logical and structured manner. Hsu also states that Taiwanese students are highly skilled at solving exam problems, but lack the critical thinking abilities to find the root cause of the problems.

On the other hand, the media also likes to repeatedly emphasize Taiwan being in a bad shape politically, economically and socially. We often see news reports of Taiwan being oppressed in international events, such as the Olympics, statistics and numbers of Taiwan’s unemployment rate, salary, pension or talented professionals leaving Taiwan to work for foreign companies. All they tell us is that Taiwan is a bad place to be and to be a citizen of.

But I beg to differ.

As truthful as those facts may be, I still think that Taiwanese people are very capable and have certain traits or core competencies to be leaders of the international community. But due to our lack of self-confidence, we tend to retract back to our comfort zones and try to not stick out too much in the crowd. We become very conservative and cautious when faced with challenges and competition. As a result, we have not been able to succeed and prosper as we wished.

To illustrate my point, here is a small story. I was studying in a café and sitting next to me were two girls having afternoon tea. The owner of the café happens to have several cats and they would wander around the shop. At one point, one of the cats jumps onto the table where the two girls are sitting and they are extremely frightened, not knowing what to do. After a few minutes, they decide to call the owner over to take it off the table. The owner apologizes and says hopefully it wouldn’t happen again. Ironically, the same cat jumps back onto the table ten minutes later and the two girls again face the same crisis. The owner comes over again, takes the cat even further away and embarrassingly apologizes again. The third time the cat jumps onto their table, the girls decide to switch to another table.

In some sense, this story is analogous to the way Taiwanese students or companies face challenges from other countries. We tend to avoid direct confrontation and resort to alternative ways of dealing with the challenges due to our lack of confidence. However, when we’re faced with the challenges again, we will not know how to approach the problem and handle the situation. Many times, we end up admitting to defeat or give up. What most people don’t understand is that we are actually capable of outcompeting other nations and competitors. We have just never tried.

Taiwanese students perform better than other students in school. In a 2009 study of over 9000 applicants to selective universities, two sociologists discovered that on average, white students were three times more likely to be admitted to a certain college than Asians, which consist mainly of Taiwanese, South Korean and Indian students. Taiwanese education, contrary to common misconception, is also very effective in educating students in the fundamentals of literacy, math and science. In 2012, the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) announced an updated version of the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), which suggests that Taiwanese first to ninth graders literacy scores rank ninth in the world. Furthermore, Taiwanese students’ math and science abilities ranked third in the world, following Singapore and South Korea, and outcompeting all western nations.

In fact, some western countries are trying to learn from our teaching methodologies. I once met a Caucasian American at a networking event who worked as an English teacher in Taiwan but was intrigued by Taiwanese students’ performance in math and science. He believed that there were certain teaching methodologies the United States could learn and benefit from, and that there were certain areas where Taiwan did better than the United States.

Another common misconception among Taiwanese is that the western world isn’t familiar with Taiwan or they undervalue Taiwan’s importance.

Yet again, I beg to differ.

From the perspective of foreigners, they are very impressed at how Taiwan is able to be a leader in the global high-tech industry despite being just an island. Taiwan is the largest producer of more than 20 products worldwide, including Mask ROM, Notebook PCs, Tablet PCs, Motherboards, LCD Monitors, Foundry, Desktop PCs and more. In addition, Taiwan is the second and third largest producer for more than ten products, including Digital Cameras, TFT-LCD Panels, IC design, Crystalline Silicon Solar Cells, OLED panels and many other electronic products.

Photo Credit: Michael O'Donnell CC BY SA 2.0

Photo Credit: Michael O’Donnell CC BY SA 2.0

Entrepreneurs and high-tech professionals in Silicon Valley also have a good understanding of Taiwan’s competitive advantage. Google Chairman Eric Schmidt came to Taiwan in 2011 to give a speech regarding the “unlimited possibility” of Taiwan. “I believe Taiwan has a chance to enter a new golden age of innovation, the era of the Internet, and that’s what I want to talk about," Schmidt said.

Furthermore, Schmidt stated that Taiwan has 95% broadband penetration, 26% market share of smartphones, of which half uses mobile Internet services, and the ninth fastest Internet connection speed in the world. They are all better than the United States. Although these metrics might have grown in the past two years, but it still remains that Taiwan has an enormous potential to be a global Internet hub.

So why, Taiwan? Why have we not been able to dominate the international stage? It is not because we are not capable, but because we are not confident enough. We fear facing challenges, competition and rivalry. We are afraid to take that leap of faith when uncertain of what comes next. We don’t know what the future holds for our country and us. But the truth is, nobody knows, and they are still moving forward to change the world. It is time for Taiwan to step up to the stage into the international spotlight. If we are confident that we will change the world, then we will.

Edited by Olivia Yang