The number of international students in Taiwan has increased significantly in recent years, mostly because of a worldwide increase in Mandarin education and efforts by the Ministry of Education to attract students to Taiwan.
Statistics show that the number of foreign students in Taiwan hit a record-high 17,742 last year, 3,263 more than the previous year.
Of those, 5,259 people from 117 countries were pursuing degrees here. Students from Vietnam comprised the largest group, followed by those from Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan and the US.
PHOTO: KO SHU-LING, TAIPEI TIMES
Jennie Wu (
The reasons international students choose Taiwan over China vary from student to student, she said, but many come here because Taiwan is a freer society, people are friendlier and the teaching is more flexible.
A large number of international students have enrolled at National Taiwan University, National Chengchi University, National Taiwan Normal University and Ming Chuan University, she said.
Ayrat Sabirian is one of them. The 19-year-old Russian is a junior at Ming Chuan University's International College. He said that before arriving in Taiwan, government bureaucracy and red tape had been troublesome. Luckily for him, his father has a business partner in Taiwan who took care of the matter for him. The person, a Taiwanese, also serves as his guarantor.
The reason he chose Taiwan over China was political, Sabirian said.
"I appreciate Taiwan's full democracy and human rights," he said. "I never thought of going to China. For me, it is more of a place to visit."
Sabirian's older sister, who came before him and studied at the same college, also played a role in his decision, he said. She is pursuing a master's degree at Yuan Ze University in Jhongli (中壢) in Taoyuan County.
The Moscow native said he gets by with his self-taught Mandarin and has had no problems making friends. Had he more time, he said, he would have liked to enroll in a language training program.
Sabirian works part-time for a company that imports wine from Ukraine. He said he hoped his experience would help him become a better businessman.
With increasing global interest in China, Taiwan has become a center for Mandarin language education, said Ellen Chen (
"They come here to prepare themselves for working with the Chinese or in China," she said.
The surge in international students is also attributed to scholarship incentives provided by the Ministry of Education and extensive educational fairs organized to recruit students, she said.
Ming Chuan's International College boasts the second-largest population of international students in the country. Most of them are in the undergraduate program, Chen said.
In addition to pursuing degrees, statistics show that about 2,300 exchange students from 70 countries are studying in Taiwan, mostly from Japan, South Korea, the US, Germany and France.
As of December, 10,177 foreign students were enrolled at the 26 Mandarin language learning centers in Taiwan.
These students come mostly from Japan, the US, Indonesia, South Korea and Vietnam.
Tess Fang (方淑華), division chief of the Mandarin Training Center at National Taiwan Normal University, said that student enrollment at the center had grown steadily over the past eight years.
While about 1,300 students enrolled at the center in 2001, the figure jumped to more than 5,700 in 2006 and 6,000 last year, statistics provided by the center showed.
Among them, students from North, Central and South America increased 208 percent from 2001 to 2005, followed by European students at 95 percent and Asian students at 75 percent.
Asian students took the lion's share of the center's student body, at 66 percent, followed by students from the Americas, at 20 percent, and Europe, at 11 percent.
Fang also attributed the growth to the global interest in the language and promotional efforts.
Ted Glomski, of Minnesota, said he chose Taiwan over China because he had already been to China and wanted to give Taiwan a try.
The 23-year-old came because of a nine-month scholarship from the Ministry of Education and the recommendation of a friend here.
Glomski, who has been here for five months, said he has had no problems making friends. Standing 190cm tall, Glomski said one thing he found difficult was buying clothes. Apart from missing his friends and family back home, he misses Mexican food and his black Labrador dog.
After finishing the program at the center, he said he would like to get a job in Taiwan in the technology sector or at a computer company and then go to graduate school, either in Taiwan or elsewhere.
Jay Dring, a 22-year-old from Grimsby, UK, studied in China for a year and lived in Taiwan for half a year before coming back in September. He also received a scholarship from the Ministry of Education to study at the center and completed the program just in time for the Lunar New Year.
One aspect of his stay in Taiwan he found somewhat challenging, he said, was creating an environment that is conducive to learning the language.
"You have to make sure you befriend as many people as you can and not just hang around with the people of your own country," he said. "It is not that easy to make friends with local students, although we are located on campus in a university. It's still a little bit isolated from the local students."
Dring said he would like to get a permanent job here, either in the business sector, in finance, or perhaps a part-time job in a law firm. Should he fail to find employment, he would perhaps consider going to China, he said.
"There are a lot of opportunities over there," he said. "It is quite easy to get quite well-paid jobs with little qualifications."
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