Dear Minister [of Education] Pan [Wen-chung (潘文忠)],
We are writing to you as recipients of the 2020-2021 Huayu Enrichment Scholarship (華語文獎學金). We were generously awarded this scholarship to support our Mandarin studies at Taiwanese institutions; unfortunately the COVID-19 pandemic has meant we have not yet been allowed to enter Taiwan. We want to share some of the difficulties we have faced in the past year, humbly ask for your help in solving them and hopefully convince you of what we can bring to Taiwan if we were able to begin our studies.
Among us are budding academics, content creators, engineers, scientists, tech entrepreneurs, musicians, artists and educators from all over the globe and more than 20 countries. This is not including the many other scholars we have not been able to reach.
We all share a passion for learning Mandarin and an affinity for Taiwan’s open society and vibrant cultures. We would love to begin our studies and one day serve as cultural ambassadors for Taiwan, but as non-degree students we currently cannot do so.
We recognize that your first duty as elected officials is to protect the Taiwanese people. Your caution and leadership during the pandemic has clearly saved many lives, and Taiwan’s public health leadership has become the world’s gold standard. As you continue to open the country to foreigners (e.g. workers and degree-seeking students), we ask you to not forget us and the contribution we want to make.
We first applied to study in Taiwan in February last year, choosing it over other language learning destinations for many reasons. Unfortunately, since receiving the award in April/May, we have been waiting for close to nine months without resolution.
While the borders remain closed to us, it has been impossible to plan for our eventual studies in Taiwan. Moreover, there is uncertainty about going at all: Some people have already felt the need to forfeit the scholarship; others will have to do so if the borders do not reopen in time for their academic term.
It is not just a question of plane tickets: We have rearranged our lives into a holding pattern to keep the hope of going to Taiwan alive. This has included turning down opportunities or new responsibilities, such as resigning from jobs or not taking new ones, organizing short-term accommodation and repatriations while waiting for updates, with all the anxiety that comes from waiting without knowing.
This is hopefully where you can help.
First, we would be thankful for greater communication from the government. We understand that the pandemic’s course cannot be predicted and nothing is certain, but until now updates have been few and far between.
We have tried seeking information from the Ministry of Education, Taipei Representative Offices (TROs) and our universities, sometimes receiving contradictory answers. More frequent and consistent updates, preferably from one source, would ease anxiety and help scholars, TROs and universities get on the same page.
Second, we would appreciate the option for all [scholarship awardees] to defer their studies to the next academic year. Some TROs have offered this to those in their region, but many have not been offered the same by their TRO, which has caused much anxiety as the next academic term approaches. Extending the offer of deferment to the 2021-2022 academic year to all [awardees] would be of huge help, otherwise many will have to forfeit the scholarship entirely.
Of course, for most of us, the ideal outcome would still be to enter Taiwan within this academic year. Given the severity of the pandemic, we understand the weight of this request; naturally we are ready and willing to adhere to all quarantine and public health measures to protect Taiwan and its people.
We humbly ask to be considered when you discuss the next stages of border openings.
Finally, we request reconsideration or clarification of some of the scholarship rules in light of the pandemic. For example, we have been told that registering for online courses run by Taiwanese Mandarin training centers, or entering the country on anything but a student visa might lead to loss of the scholarship.
We were all lucky to be chosen by you as Huayu Enrichment Scholars, considered promising students of Mandarin and future cultural ambassadors for Taiwan. We want nothing more than to vindicate your faith in us. We humbly ask you for your help.
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