At the Taipei Service Center of the National Immigration Agency, Hoang Oanh is explaining to a Vietnamese woman, who has just arrived in Taiwan after marrying a local man, how to apply for residency.
Hoang easily earns the woman’s confidence with her fluent Vietnamese — and her knowledge of the problems facing new immigrants.
Hoang herself immigrated from Vietnam almost 20 years ago. The past two decades have seen her go from being a stranger in a foreign land, where even basic communication was a problem, to the nation’s first naturalized government employee.
Before she came to Taiwan, Hoang worked as an accountant at a factory in Ho Chi Minh City after graduating from high school in 1994. It was there that she met the factory owner, a Taiwanese man, whom she married in 1995.
Her husband had to stay in Vietnam to look after his factory, but he wanted his children to grow up in Taiwan.
As a result, Hoang, who now goes by the Chinese name Yen Pei-ying, ended up living with her Taiwanese parents-in-law. Communication became an immediate problem, despite Hoang having learned some basic Chinese in school.
The language barrier led to frequent misunderstandings with her new family, Hoang said, adding that her loneliness and inability to fit in left her more than once considering getting a divorce so that she could return home.
However, Hoang said she soon learned that she was not the only one facing culture shock and linguistic obstacles. She heard stories of similar problems from other Southeast Asian women who immigrated to Taiwan after getting married.
With new determination, she began to hit the books at a night school for adults to learn Mandarin.
Eventually she enrolled in the Open Junior College under the National Open University, while also volunteering as an interpreter at the immigration agency, where her hard work and patience earned her the respect of her colleagues and superiors.
When a position for a full-time counselor opened at the agency earlier this year, Hoang, who had just graduated from college, was the natural choice.
She was the agency’s first employee of Vietnamese descent and caught the attention of Vietnam’s representative office in Taipei, which invited her to take part in a conference on Vietnamese women in Hanoi last month.
There she spoke about the status of women in Taiwan, and the National Immigration Agency’s efforts to promote Southeast Asian languages and culture as the number of immigrants from that region continues to rise.
For her part, Hoang said she will do her best to contribute to building friendship between Taiwan and Vietnam.