University of Illinois Students Came to TCU to Study Chinese, and They Learned a Lot


“Hualien is the most beautiful place in Taiwan. It has diverse cultures and beautiful sceneries and moreover, Hualien is a good place for learning Chinese and gaining volunteer experiences.” Professor Eric from University of Illinois spoke highly of TCU, so he came to Taiwan, from the US this summer, with three of his social work students. From June 19 through July 13, these American students studied Chinese at TCU’s Chinese Language Center and served voluntarily at various organizations, such as Children’s Sunday School on the East Coast, God Power Association Limited, Tzu Chi’s recycling stations, Jing Si Books & Café, etc. They also visited several social welfare organizations in Hualien, and held discussion sessions with the faculty members and students of TCU’s Department of Social Work. Professor Eric felt Taiwan has been doing well providing social work services, and he really wanted his students to gain firsthand experience regarding how Taiwanese social workers serve the needy and how they work in the community.

Professor Eric came to Taiwan in 2014 and studied Chinese at TCU’s Chinese Language Center for eight months. He witnessed how Tzu Chi’s volunteers serve the needy and he also took part serving them in person. Professor Eric said, “many American friends of mine feel that only Protestant or Catholic churches care about the needy, but I have seen that Buddhists also care about the needy and have done as much as Protestants or Catholics.”

Two of his students had never been overseas before, so Professor Eric wanted them to know more about other cultures and explore their ways of living. In his opinion, Hualien is his top choice, in terms of people’s friendliness and cultural diversity.

The students knew very well that being more knowledgeable about Taiwan, learning Chinese, and interacting with local people through volunteer services are the keys. They brought American snacks for children at the Sunday School on the East Coast. In addition, they sang American songs, played games with them, and used maps and photos to introduce their hometowns.

The American students offered American snacks in four flavors, namely salty, spicy, sweet and sour. While serving snacks, they taught English without adding any pressure to the youngsters. They also let the youngsters know where they were from, by using maps and photos, and asking TCU’s social work students to interpret for them from English to Chinese.

The teacher at the Children’s Sunday School on the East Coast, Ms. Chun-Hwa Zhu, was grateful to the American students, who interacted with her students, inspired them to get to know other countries and enhanced their learning experiences.

Faculty members and students of the Departments of Social Work of the two universities, held sessions to go over challenges faced by the US and Taiwan. Social workers in the US put a lot of effort into dealing with drug abuse problems, while their Taiwanese peers are on the way to building a society that faces aging.

Yvonne Lee, director of TCU’s Chinese Language Center, pointed out that the Center is the top choice for those who come to eastern Taiwan to learn Chinese. Eastern Taiwan has beautiful landscapes and traditional indigenous cultures, which attract overseas friends who love nature and culture. Moreover, the Center attends to learner’s needs and comes up with custom-made courses. Taking University of Illinois students as an example, the Center arranged for them to interact with social welfare organizations, take part in volunteer activities and visit various organizations, to fit their needs. Another example is the camp for Singaporean and Malaysian teenagers. Every year, more than one hundred teenagers take part in the Youth Humanities Camp. The Center instills Tzu Chi’s humanistic culture into every course and activity, assists participants to acquire updated and comprehensive information, and moreover, enables them to gain firsthand experience regarding local landscapes and cultural heritages by visiting various places.

TCU’s Chinese Language Center provides diverse programs for students to learn in a friendly and warm environment, and the programs are highly regarded by international students. More than 90% of Center’s students passed the latest Test of Chinese as a Foreign Language which was held in May 2019. Furthermore, three students have acquired needed Chinese skills and been admitted to undergraduate/graduate programs at TCU, National Dong Hwa University and National Cheng Kung University, respectively.