Toppers Tour around the World: Taiwan


Not everyone can say they remember where they were when Taiwan elected their first female president, but one group of WKU students can recall being in the streets of Taiwan after the results poured in. 

Timothy Rich, WKU assistant professor of political science, and Yufen Chang, assistant professor in the Chinese Flagship Program, took several students to Taiwan on a faculty-led study abroad trip over winter break. 

Starting as a hybrid class led by the two professors, the goal of the trip was for students to put their Chinese language usage to the test as well as to learn about the democratization and politics of Taiwan, according to Rich.

“Students did not need to have any Chinese language skills nor any background in Taiwanese politics to take part in this program,” Rich said.

Spending most of their time abroad outside of a classroom, students were able to partake in meeting with four political parties, think tanks, a survey center, a newspaper, the election commission and multiple other organizations and groups. 

Heather Carpenter, a sophomore from Lancaster, who’s in the Chinese Flagship Program, said this was her first study-abroad experience. She said her main drive for going on the trip was to practice her Chinese. 

She said the entire experience as a whole was memorable for her and the lessons she learned about politics, language and culture made the trip worthwhile. 

“Everything was so amazing,” Carpenter said in an email. “There were some days that were hard, because we had so much to do and we were constantly ‘go, go, go,’ but I’m still glad it was like that or else I wouldn’t have been able to experience all that I did.” 

Carpenter said the class’s focus on Taiwan’s national election and being able to go to various political party headquarters piqued her interest. On the day of Taiwan’s elections she said they were able to watch the people vote, went to where the votes were counted and attended Tsai Ing-wen’s victory rally. 

Ing-wen, part of the Democratic Progressive Party and Taiwan’s first elected female president, vowed in her victory speech to “preserve the status quo in relations with China.” She also added that Beijing must respect Taiwan’s democracy, according to the BBC. 

“When Tsai Ing-wen won the presidential election, we went to her victory rally; so it will be really cool to say that I was there when the first female presidential candidate of Taiwan gave her victory speech and international press conference; and at one point, I was even 5 feet away from her,” Bailie Hunter-Smith, a sophomore from Fort Mitchell said. 

Although these students were originally in Taiwan for studying purposes, they were able to do some touristy things and visit Sun Moon Lake and a Hot Springs hotel, Hunter-Smith said. 

Although this was a trip placed in a Chinese speaking country, students from various levels of experience participated.

“I think the best part of studying abroad is how much I learned,” Carpenter said. “I learned so much from class and I learned more of the language as well as the culture from being immersed in it.”