Sun, Jul 27, 2003 - Page 18 News List

A journey of discovery

The Overseas Youth Chinese Language Training Program offers an invaluable opportunity for young Chinese brought up overseas to become acquainted with their heritage

By Ian Bartholomew  /  STAFF REPORTER

While not everyone participates in this program willingly -- parental pressure is behind some of the glum faces in the classrooms -- there are others who are fiercely eager to rediscover what they feel has been lost.

Lily Yang, who left Taiwan 17 years ago for Canada, talked about the "shame of not being able to understand" Chinese and the importance of this period of study for her.

Liao Hsin-ping (寥心平), one of the older students at 21, said that he had rejected learning Chinese in the past, but said now he was older, he felt it important to "try to retain my knowledge" of Chinese.

Even a 15-year-old student going by the name of J Jay, who knew no Chinese when he arrived at NTNU a month ago and was under the impression he was being sent to sports camp by his parents, felt that the experience of cultural education was useful. "I don't say much," he said, "because most of the time I don't know what's going on. But I might start learning Chinese in future."

The wide range of ages and abilities, and with as many as 15 to a class, means the learning process is not particularly structured, but the community atmosphere fostered by the school means students still get plenty of time for practice outside class. Liao said he shared his dormitory room with a student from Germany and one from Japan.

"They don't speak such good English, and I don't speak Japanese or German, so we use Chinese. Talking with other students is one of the most valuable parts of this course," he said.

In one beginning level class, the students learned vocabulary and culture while drinking tea and eating traditional snacks. Liao, who is doing an internship at NASA, said he felt the program had given him a taste of various aspects of Chinese culture.

"And I have learned to make all kinds of free souvenirs for my friends," he said, referring to the many craft classes offered as part of the program.

For North American students, many of whom have visited Taiwan before now, the island remains a Wild East of chaotic traffic and uncomfortable squat toilets. "I couldn't live here," said a student from Toronto, "It is far too hot and the air is so dirty."

Others have chosen to go on to university or graduate studies in Taiwan, perhaps finding society here more amenable than in their adopted homes. The classrooms of the Overseas Youth Chinese Language Training Program are a museum of the overseas Chinese mentality.

From those fiercely seeking to regain their heritage, to those reluctantly accepting a two-month confinement in a country whose language and culture they have long since rejected, the products of the Chinese diaspora are all here.

For the former, the program provides an invaluable opportunity to learn more about who they are, and the option of balancing a new identity with an old one; but for the latter, boys such as J Jay, many are caught in a battle of cultural identity in which they are merely pawns.

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