I got a scholarship! Which was kind of surprising to me since the whole application experience felt like a series of shots in the dark. Much mystery surrounds the Huayu Enrichment Scholarship (HES), which sends international students to study mandarin in Taiwan. Who’s gotten this before? How many do they give out? What sort of person do they want to give this to? WHO KNOWS!?
I still don’t know the answers to some of these questions, but I have applied successfully for the scholarship, so I figured I’d share what I’ve learned.
The Huayu Enrichment Scholarship: Background
The purpose of the HES is “to encourage international students (Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macao SAR students are not eligible) to undertake Huayu courses in the Republic of China (Taiwan); in order to provide them with opportunities to increase their understanding of Taiwanese culture and society, and to promote mutual understanding and interactions between Taiwan and the international community.” Essentially, this is a scholarship to bring foreigners to Taiwan and to send them back with a better understanding of Taiwan’s language, culture, and place in the international community.
The most difficult part of the application was applying to the Ministry of Education approved Mandarin language center. This required choosing a school, which meant a lot of research, then applying for that school, which took a surprising amount of work. This is the official list of approved institutions. I chose the Mandarin Learning Center at Chinese Culture University because of its curriculum, its location, its rolling terms, and the homestay option. I’ve also heard that there are a lot of Korean and Japanese students there, which is an advantage in my mind because it means I’ll be less tempted to speak English. There’s also this .pdf guide which is difficult to find (thus the link!) but has a ton of useful information on studying in Taiwan as well as all the approved schools.
Since I was homeschooled until college and was still a few months away from earning my undergraduate degree when I applied, I didn’t have a “certificate of highest certificate” or a transcript. (Homeschooling is fully legal in the US, and the vast majority of universities, including the Ivies, respect homeschool diplomas.) I dragged up the CV/resume thing I’d mailed to colleges when I was in high school and typed up an official-looking letter that essentially said “colleges respect my education and I’m sure you will too — also, I’ll have a degree by the time I get to Taiwan”.
NOTE: The school I applied to required tuition up front before they sent me an acceptance letter, which was required for my Visa. I had to front 750$ that wouldn’t be paid back for 6+ months.
Here are the questions I was asked (I wrote them down right after the interview):
- “Why do you want to study Mandarin?”
- “Why, if you switched Mandarin schools, would you want to do that?” (and where I was thinking of switching to)
- “Why did you pick the Mandarin school you did?”
- “What do you want most out of your time in Taiwan?”
- “What do you plan on doing with Mandarin in the future?” (and some follow up questions about using Spanish in museums, my work in museums, etc.)
- “Why are you interested in East Asia?” (this one seemed to be for me specifically since I’d been to Taiwan before)
The whole point seemed to be to establish whether I was interested in Mandarin and Taiwan and not simply looking for free money to go chill in Taiwan for a few months. They also seemed to try to find out whether I had really thought this through — what I wanted out of the scholarship, what I wanted to learn Mandarin for, why I wanted to switch schools, and so on. I’m not sure about the “Why are you interested in East Asia” question, but it might be meant to catch warning signs that someone’s got a weird racial or cultural fetish or has some other reductive, harmful opinion of the region as a whole. (Thankfully, my interest in East Asia boils down to “I don’t know that much about it and I really feel the need to understand the world”, which seemed satisfactory.)
Getting the Scholarship (yay!)
I was given a time frame for when I’d be told if I’d gotten the scholarship or not, and I heard right on time. I was given nine months of HES!
Students can get a 2-month summer scholarship or 3,6,9, or 12-month scholarships. To get the 12-month scholarship you need to be at an intermediate level of Mandarin already. It’s hard to spot in the application, but you’re assumed to have advanced beginner to intermediate Mandarin for the 9-month scholarship, too. You’re required to take the TOCFL level 3 test, which is pretty much impossible to pass if you’re starting from the ground up. If you fail the test, your last $850 is withheld. (I’ll be sure to write an update on how this goes.)
The scholarship period is from September 1st through August 31st of the following year. I assumed this meant you could begin any time during that window, but I learned I was expected in September. I requested to start in December in order to finish the summer work season, visit family in the US, and train on the Lady Washington. My request was granted, although I could tell it wasn’t common for people to ask for different dates. (Many Mandarin schools seem to operate on a quarter schedule, so starting on an “odd month” would be impossible for many MOE approved institutions.)
Regular orientation happened while I was working at Stomping Ground, so I went to an earlier, alternate orientation. There were only two of us: me, and one student who was leaving a few days later for the summer term. We got the run-down on scholarship details and living-in-Taiwan details, asked questions, took some official photographs, then went out to lunch in Boston’s China Town.
That’s all I’ve got to report for now! I leave for Asia in three weeks and for Taiwan in eight. I’ll be keeping you updated on my experiences with MLC, Taiwan, and the HES scholarship, so if you’re curious, make sure to subscribe/bookmark/come back in three months or so.