Sat, Sep 29, 2012 - Page 8 News List

The upside of working holidays

By Chiang Sheng 江盛

Working holiday visas are a kind of reciprocal goodwill arrangement between countries. Programs like this allow young people to fund their holidays by working, and they promote mutual exchanges and understanding between the countries involved.

More than five years have passed since Taiwan and Australia established a bilateral working visa agreement. This kind of exchange is a developing trend in the global village. In addition to Australia, Taiwan has signed agreements that allow young people to go on working holidays in the UK, Germany, Canada, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea — seven partner countries altogether. The purpose is to enrich the world outlook and experience of young people from the various countries involved.

Australia is a big country with plentiful resources, and it offers a wealth of natural scenery and cultural attractions. It has an efficient infrastructure and is a relatively safe place to live. Its population density is just three people per square kilometer. Australia has long been a Mecca for travelers from around the world, and it is also the closest country to Taiwan that is English-speaking and has a Western culture.

The thousands of working holiday visas that Australia grants each year make the prospect of visiting Australia highly attractive to young people who are weary of Taiwan’s crowded lifestyle. Australia’s working holiday program opens a door that gives Taiwanese youth an opportunity to become more independent and learn about different cultures and ways of life.

Applicants for Australian working holiday visas must be between 18 and 30 years old. The visa allows them to stay in Australia for one year, during which time they can do short-term or temporary jobs, but the main point is that whatever kind of work they do, the purpose is to travel and have a holiday. For this reason, each participant may not work for a single employer for more than six months, and if they take part in language courses, the maximum time for study is four months. Applicants must also show that they have NT$150,000 or more saved up to cover the cost of the first part of their holidays.

Recently a Taiwanese magazine published a wantonly distorted report about a graduate from National Tsing Hua University who went to Australia and worked in a slaughterhouse, describing the graduate in miserable terms as a Taiwanese migrant laborer, and other media quickly took up the theme.

This incident provides an opportunity to consider what kind of mentality and motives would lead our media to publish such a warped report. It is an apt moment to take a look at the conditions faced by Taiwanese workers and by foreign migrant workers in Taiwan, and indeed to reflect on the kind of work ethics and educational philosophy that exists in Taiwanese culture.

Many young Taiwanese have gone on working holidays in Australia over the past few years, and magazines have often carried reports about it. Most of these have been pretty balanced in describing the joys and sorrows of the experience. Only in this most recent article have we seen such a distorted picture. People can always find ways of showing how superior they are. On this occasion, state-run universities were the selling point. Despite failing to show any cause-and-effect relationship, the magazine article had an immediate political and social impact. Still, the truth of the matter is gradually coming to light, and falsehoods will not last for long.

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