Cultural nomads boost Australia

By Peter MacGregor  / 

Sat, Nov 16, 2013 - Page 8

Watching a Taiwan Public Television Service (PTS) program on Tuesday, June 5, at 8pm I was intrigued by the discussion on children of mixed cultural backgrounds studying in Taiwan.

However, I was surprised that the discussion did not touch on the phenomenon of third-culture kids (TCK), also known as trans-culture kids or cultural nomads. Wikipedia has an excellent page on the origin and research upon the TCK and cultural nomads. TCK tends to refer to children accompanied by parents living outside their native culture, where the term “cultural nomads” broadens the terms of reference to also encompass young men and women living as international students, becoming employed and citizens within a new culture.

Over the years 1987 to 2010 I was providing international student welfare support in Melbourne and other east-coast Australian cities and regional towns. Upward of 50 percent of the hundreds of cultural nomads that my colleagues and I recruited were of Taiwanese origin, initially under my colleagues’ and my care, who were on a pathway to employment and citizenship. Few ran the full course. The stimulating forum on the evening of June 5 informally interviewed six children, high-school and university students, each with their non-Taiwanese parent.

They are children of stable mixed-culture families currently living in Taiwan, and therefore fitted the TCK category. Wikipedia has a most informative summary of the research on TCK’s collating briefly the outcomes of their formative years on the two areas of, one: “cognitive and emotional development” and two: “education and career.”

The PTS program focused on seeking out the opinions of the children and parents as to the differences between Taiwan’s and other [sic] Western cultures’ education systems and also the all-pervasive query as to how Taiwan’s education bears up in comparison.

Amongst the children, feelings were mixed, with children from Brazilian, Nigerian and American backgrounds pining for the shorter compulsory class time which leaves more freedom for self-development through sport and play, or just time with friends, while children of Italian and Singaporean background expressed appreciation of the need for longer structured learning hours in order to achieve a rigorous systematic information upload.

The non-Taiwan parents of these mixed-culture families generally recognized that in a Taiwanese school their child had to cram information at the expense of freedom to develop creative and innovative thought. They expressed the view that their children in missing out on an education system based in Western culture not only got less free time, but also less thoughtful time to pursue self-development within class.

The brief television program did not have the scope to delve into the opinion that these days methods of access rather than rote learning have become major facilitators to acquisition of useful information; nor the alternative opinion that a trained memory, by holding a greater body of knowledge, provides an exponential increase in the ability of the inquirer to undertake relevant exploration on the World Wide Web.

These academic and social issues which the impact on cultural nomads are attention-getters and ones in which I have been immersed for the past 25 years.

However, today I am more immediately curious as to the global socio-economic impact of international student programs on the cultural nomads’ extended family.

There is a huge expense and risk for a Taiwanese family in sending a child to Australia.

The investment targets one individual instead of being spread to benefit all family members. The economic return is usually never accounted. The emotional loss and deprivation to extended family, particularly grandparents, has all too often been ignored due to inadequate briefing at the initiation of the departure plans, and lack of counseling or assistance in maintaining filial communication after arrival.

From a national perspective in earning foreign currency, Australia has had everything to gain at the expense of hard-working Taiwanese families. A financial controller of a major Melbourne company some time ago brought to my attention a study which claimed that $1 earned in foreign exchange prompted a $19 stimulus to the domestic economy of a developed national economy.

During the years 1990 to 2010, each student landed in Australia represented a A$25,000 to A$45,000 (US$23,300 to US$42,000) input per year into the economy. In my professional role as parent-appointed guardian and later principal of an English-language school with an ever-increasing income by cooperation with offshore agents and Australian schools, we generated for the Australian economy from A$1.25 million to A$12.25 million of foreign-exchange income.

I estimate that the contribution from Taiwanese families progressively fell from 90 percent to 5 percent of total business, the decline being due to recruitment moving to other countries.

Yet Taiwan provided a total of A$43 million over the 20 years as the first year of arrival accumulated new business, but as the students’ families provided an average of four years’ living expenses plus student fees, the ultimate sum total would have been fourfold: A$172 million. Given the 1:19 stimulus ratio, the Australian domestic economic beneficial impact could be as much as A$3.2 billion.

Thank you, Taiwan.

Peter MacGregor is a vocational learning and ESL consultant.