In 2015, the number of foreign students attending Taiwanese schools hit an all-time high. A record breaking 17.66% increase from 2014 was recorded by Taiwan’s Ministry of Education, with international students arriving from countries including the US, Malaysia, China, and the Philippines. Contributing to the climbing numbers, a group of students from Western Kentucky University recently traveled to Taiwan in order to learn more about Taiwanese politics and put into practice the Mandarin they have cultivated in the classroom. The students were also able to take part in events surrounding the Taiwanese presidential election in January, 2016, and were on hand to witness the victory rally of Taiwan’s first female president, Tsai Ing-wen.
Recently the Taiwanese government has made promoting education more of a priority to build an international reputation as a great place for foreign students from all corners of the globe to come learn Mandarin while simultaneously earning their degrees. After reaching the goal of attracting 100,000 foreign students by 2015, the Taiwanese government now aims for upwards of 150,000 foreign students by 2021.
International student exchange between the US and Taiwan is nothing new. In the 2013-2014 academic year, there were 21,266 Taiwanese students who studied in the US. American students have consistently been the third largest population of foreign students in Taiwan from 1998 to 2012. The outgoing president of Taiwan, Ma Ying-jeou, is also the only sitting head of an Asian nation to have participated in the International Visitor Leadership Program, an exchange program created by the US Department of State. Improved air travel connections have made it easier to go between the US and Taiwan, potentially contributing to the rising numbers.
Lian Eytinge is research intern at the East-West Center in Washington and a student at the University of Southern California.