Turkish comedian and TV host Ugur Rifat Karlova said he feels he has become a “real Taiwanese” after getting his Republic of China (ROC) identification card last month under an amended immigration law that allows foreigners with “special talent” to gain citizenship without having to renounce their original nationality.
“From now on, no one can call me laowai (老外),” said Karlova, referring to an informal Mandarin word for “foreigner.”
“After I got the ID, I felt like a Taiwanese and I wanted to do more things for Taiwan, the future of Taiwan,” said Karlova, 37, one of 23 foreigners who became citizens under the Standards for Defining High-Level Professionals for Naturalization (歸化國籍之高級專業人才認定標準), which went into effect in March last year.
“It was a sense of belonging that money can’t buy, a sense of happiness of being at home,” he added.
Despite having stayed in Taiwan for only 12 years, Karlova, better known by his Chinese name Wu Feng (吳鳳), said he hopes his naturalization will encourage other foreign residents to contribute more.
“I want to tell all foreigners that if you come to Taiwan, you need to cherish the society here,” Karlova said, adding that he wants to send a message to the public that foreigners can create more value for Taiwan, given the chance.
Karlova is the host of a TV travel show called iWalker, which won him a Best Host award at the Golden Bell Awards in 2012. He was the first foreigner to win the award.
He was recognized by the government for distinguished achievement in the field of art and culture, one of six categories of achievement for which foreigners can retain their original citizenship while receiving an ROC identity card.
His naturalization made Karlova the first foreigner to be granted citizenship in that category.
One of the biggest benefits of gaining ROC citizenship is that he can express his views about Taiwanese politics, society and culture on what Karlova describes as “more legitimate grounds.”
Karlova also feels pressure to live up to this recognition of both his reputation and the international image of Turkey, he said.
After graduating from Ankara University’s Department of Chinese and Sinology in 2006, Karlova came to Taiwan on a scholarship and attained a master’s degree in political science from National Taiwan Normal University.
He chose Taiwan because his teachers and schoolmates who had previously been to Taiwan had good things to say about it, he said.
Karlova entered show business after being invited by a scout to play the late George Leslie Mackay, a respected missionary in Taiwan, in a TV program. He married a Taiwanese woman three years ago and they have a two-year-old child.
Karlova said he plans to promote exchanges between Turkey and Taiwan by encouraging more Turkish businesses to invest in Taiwan, inviting YouTubers to come and promote Taiwan and introducing Turkey to Taiwanese.
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