Submitted by a reader from John Hopkins University

Last August, we, a group of “kids” from John Hopkins University, learned that Stanley Yen would be in New York to give a speech. On the morning of that day, we drove more than four hours from Baltimore to New York City for no other reason than to find the “answer”.

This was when the Sunflower Student Movement had just ended and the Taiwan mayoral election was coming up. Feeling helpless and anxious while watching the political mess in Taiwan from overseas, we started wondering what else we could do to help our country besides signing a petition. This is the question we traveled for hours to ask Mr. Yen.

After Mr. Yen returned to Taiwan, he mentioned the conversation we had that day in New York City during his interview on Sisy Chen’s show, “CTI Youth Forum”. Recently, our dialogue was unearthed and discussed wildly again on social media because Ms. Chen is about to publish a new book. But today, the “kids” that made the trip are here to finish the stories Mr. Yen started to tell.

Looking back on the years I have been in the U.S., I have realized whether it is China, Singapore, India or so on, countries have been eager to send citizens abroad for cultivation. They have also shown enthusiasm in drawing in more international talent to increase networking opportunities and global visibility.

Due to China’s booming economy these few years, their government has been generous in sending many “free” talents abroad. A lot of schools in China are also striving to collaborate with prestigious institutions in Europe and America.

I have seen many Chinese and Indian companies take up countless booths at international conferences. Aside from obtaining customer orders, they seize the chance to show their technique development and build a reputation for their companies. I even once came across the Singapore government that booked an entire corner of the conference site at the annual American Chemistry Meeting one year to promote and recruit for various companies and academic institutions in Singapore.

What about Taiwan? Though many schools on the island are in collaboration with schools abroad, there is a huge disproportion between Taiwan students who come to the U.S. and Americans who travel to Taiwan. The imbalance has also affected the will to cooperate between schools. But what went wrong?

A professor in the States once mentioned a case that happened on their campus. He said that a senior manager of their school’s exchange program reintroduced all of the students who applied to study in Taiwan to China. The manager’s reason was, “Since it is Chinese you’re planning to study, with China’s flourishing economy, simplified Chinese, and easier phonetic writing, it is just better if you exchange to China.”

Many of the older generation that have been living in the States for a long time have complained to me in private that a lot of overseas Taiwanese associations and leaders of international organizations are being permeated by the Chinese. The Taiwanese are gradually losing soft power abroad.

An elder told me with a heavy heart, “These days, Taiwanese international students only participate in major social events when it comes to job-hunting. But networking takes a lot of time. Many Chinese international students see these opportunities and concealed benefits, and start nurturing long-term relationships with ambition.”

He also said, “Not only is Taiwan lacking students who travel abroad, but if the ones who do refuse to expand their international network and understand all the channels in their field, then how will these students help the Taiwanese government or local companies when they are looking to collaborate overseas?”

Looking back on our conversation with Mr. Yen, aside from staying abroad to cultivate our international perspectives and not rushing back to Taiwan, we have neglected the importance of establishing global networks and understanding the different mediums in our respective fields.

If there comes a day when the Taiwanese government wishes to relocate Taiwan’s techniques to the States, do I have the ability to round up all the right talent to help out? Do I have the skills to act as the bridge of communication? Do I know how to apply for this technique to be relocated to the States? Am I familiar with related laws and regulations?

All these questions will become the responsibilities of Taiwanese international students and the key to Taiwan’s global soft power.

We all need to face this obscure international competition, but what else can we do for Taiwan? Other than the problems stated in this article, I look forward to reading more experiences and viewpoints that can help make our country a better place.

Translated by Olivia Yang