For Tokuya Kumagai, learning Hoklo (commonly known as Taiwanese) is the best way for him to show his passion for the country.
"I want to learn Hoklo because I love Taiwan," he said yesterday in faultless Hoklo after only studying for three months.
Kumagai was one of the 45 contestants from 14 countries, including Slovenia, Poland, Japan, South Korea, Macedonia, the UK, Vietnam and the US, to compete yesterday in the 12th annual Mandarin and Taiwanese Speech Contest for Foreign Students held by Rotary Club district 3250.
"I believe speaking Hoklo is the most direct way for me to really understand the country and its people," he said, adding he would also recommend that his friends in Japan come to Taiwan to learn Mandarin.
Contestants were asked to deliver a five-minute speech related to their experiences studying language in Taiwan, with the winner taking home a NT$8,000 cash prize.
Eighteen-year-old Rhaissa Bittar from Brazil, who has been studying Mandarin in Taiwan for three months, said in her speech that Taiwan makes her heart happy, adding that the colorful food at the traditional market by her house was just one of the reasons.
"The vendors in the market are always very kind and hospitable. They always let me try different food. My neighbors also often ask me to drink tea with them," she said.
Christina Walters, a 17-year-old high school student from Minnesota, said she would consider pursuing a university degree in Taiwan.
Walters is currently the only full-time foreign student at George Vocational High School in Taipei.
"I became very interested in Taiwan when I started watching Taiwanese television shows online. I also really like Taiwan's music and fashion," she said.
Walters said that she had been a huge fan of Taiwanese boy band F-4 since watching the popular TV show Meteor Garden, which starred the group.
One Indonesian student said she chose Taiwan over China for her language studies because "Taiwan is a free country and the people are very kind."
Another student from Poland said she planned to pursue a degree in international politics at National Cheng Chih University after she finishes her one-year Mandarin language course at Tamkang University.
Stella Yang, the president of Rotary Club District 3520's Minsheng chapter, said that compared with their Taiwanese counterparts, foreign students were a lot more self-confident and independent.
"They are not afraid to show themselves," she said, adding with a laugh: "We find that foreign students who speak Mandarin or Taiwanese well often have a Taiwanese girlfriend or boyfriend."