Bring the World to Your Home:The Taiwan Hostfamily Program
Esther Tseng /photo byJimmy Lin /tr. byBrandon Yen
For international students in Taiwan, “home” may be a plural concept. Usually defined by birth, home may nevertheless be established by chance. These students’ old homes may be far away, but the families that welcome them in Taiwan give them second homes. Thanks to their hospitable and caring host families, they are able to relish Taiwanese cuisine, experience Taiwanese culture and enjoy the scenic beauty of this welcoming country.
In order to provide overseas students in Taiwan with a friendly environment that facilitates learning and cultural exchange, the Ministry of Education began to promote the Taiwan Hostfamily Program in 2010. Since then, this program has seen 5,634 students from 103 countries and territories across the world hosted by 3,248 families throughout Taiwan. The aim is to enable foreign students to adapt to life in Taiwan and to allay their homesickness.
Passionate and caring host families make overseas students feel that Taiwan’s greatest attraction is its people. (photo by Jimmy Lin)
More than homestays
According to the Ministry of Education, there were 45,143 overseas students enrolled in higher education in Taiwan in the 2010‡2011 academic year. By 2018‡2019, the number had soared to 126,997, which indicates a globalizing trend in Taiwan’s education.
As an executive assistant at the Southern Taiwan University of Science and Technology, Gianna Hsu has been responsible for implementing the Hostfamily Program for ten years. She says that after training, host families can take in international students who are assigned to them by a matching process. Each year the program also lays on exchange activities for the overseas students, such as learning to bake red tortoise cakes and pineapple cakes, or visiting the Zhulu Aboriginal community in Chiayi’s Alishan Township, or Hsinchu’s Xiangshan Wetland, to experience local cultures. Since 2017, there have even been immigrant families joining the hosting scheme.
Judy and Peggy Chen in Caaguazu, Paraguay, with their Paraguayan friend Verónica Lima Pappaseit, who studied at the National University of Kaohsiung. They were on their mission to “Deliver Love to Latin America.” (courtesy of Annie Sun)
To Paraguay with love
Annie Sun, who until her retirement worked in the Division of Student Affairs at the National University of Kaohsiung, got involved with the Taiwan Hostfamily Program through her work. She joined it in 2010 and has never looked back. To date, Sun has hosted more than 40 overseas students. Her own two daughters were very well taken care of by the families they stayed with in Canada when they went there on study tours from junior high school onward. As a result, Sun is keen to welcome foreign students to Taiwan and to make them feel loved, too.
“Students who come here are just like our own children. I don’t treat them as guests.” Remembering the Vietnamese student Pham Thu Ha, the first she ever hosted, Sun says: “After Ha went back to Vietnam to get married, all of us flew over and attended her wedding in Hanoi. In October this year, Ha brought her child to Taiwan to see us.” Sun has thus been upgraded from “host mum” to “host granny.”
Verónica Lima Pappaseit—a Paraguayan student also hosted by Sun—was full of ideas and plans. In the summer of 2013, Sun’s daughters Judy and Peggy Chen visited Lima and her family in Paraguay. Wishing to help poor people in Paraguay, they gathered donations of 200 kilograms of used clothing from their schools in Taiwan and acquired a sponsorship from the courier company DHL, while Lima handled the customs procedures in Paraguay. In total they made three trips to accomplish their mission of “Delivering Love to Latin America.”
Annie Sun observes that in delivering the donations, her daughters not only realized how much Taiwanese people loved Paraguay, but were also moved by Paraguayan people’s gratitude to Taiwan. Their story was even covered by Paraguayan media. Their experience let them truly understand the saying, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
Annie Sun and her family went to Hanoi, Vietnam, to attend the wedding of Pham Thu Ha, whom they had hosted. (courtesy of Annie Sun)
DIY activities such as making rice vermicelli or glutinous rice balls give overseas students a taste of Hakka culture.
Cultivating a global perspective
Judy Tsai, who teaches at Chung Shan Industrial and Commercial School in Kaohsiung, has served as an advisor to many Southeast-Asian students, as well as to overseas students who come to Taiwan to learn Mandarin under the Rotary Youth Exchange Program. Even though she was already in contact with many international students at work, Tsai joined the Hostfamily Program because she wanted to create an English-speaking environment at home. She invites students to dine with the family, regaling them with homemade oriental dainties such as silkie chicken soup or congee with pork and preserved egg. Once, a student from Mongolia named Zaya volunteered to cook for the whole family. But the eagerly awaited feast turned out to be plain rice with boiled eggs, cucumbers and tomato salad—a far cry from their idea of Mongolian cuisine!
Tsai brought Tamara, an Austrian student, along on a camping trip. Tamara was astonished: “It’s like moving house! Is this typical in Taiwan?” Camping in Austria, by contrast, is a much simpler affair. A German student was shocked when visiting a Buddhist temple: “Why is there a Nazi symbol here?” On closer inspection it turned out to be the swastika, but in Eastern culture this is a sacred and auspicious symbol.
Tsai finds that hosting foreign students does not necessarily help her family improve their English, because many of the students are not from English-speaking countries. Nevertheless, the Hostfamily Program has enabled her children to cultivate a global outlook, exposing them to an abundance of cultural differences and learning opportunities.
Students from four different countries celebrate their host father Chen Boren’s birthday. (courtesy of Annie Sun)
Neer, an Indian student Judy Tsai hosted, arranged for Tsai and her children to visit a high school in India to promote Taiwanese culture. The head teacher gave them a very warm welcome. (courtesy of Judy Tsai)
Taiwan is my second home
Some families even join forces to organize activities for the students they have taken under their wings. Highlights have included bike tours at night, climbing Mt. Hehuan, dragon boat racing, “anti-drooling ceremonies” for four-month-olds, and trips to Taipei’s Raohe Night Market, where they can taste a great variety of Taiwanese street foods. Erica Lü, who has been hosting students for four years, says: “With seven or eight families all together, we really do go crazy! We hope to enrich the students’ experience in Taiwan, but in doing so, we also add spice to our own lives. Many host families never thought you could have so much fun in Taiwan!”
These friendly interactions have cemented Taiwan’s place in the international students’ hearts. Zeng Xingling says that she was hosting two Solomon Islands students, Stephanie and Patricia, when their country severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan. They showed their indignation by changing their Facebook profile pictures to photos of themselves with Taiwan’s national flag, writing that they would always support Taiwan. And they told their host mother, “We’re family.”
Occasional disagreements, however, can arise between host families and their students. For example, once when Judy Tsai was hosting a student from Burkina Faso, just hours before he was due to leave Taiwan the student asked Tsai to take him to Kaohsiung’s Lotus Pond, even though he would risk arriving late at the airport. Tsai obliged and drove him to the pond in a great rush, only to find that all he wanted to do was to create a Facebook “check-in” in front of the entrance, with the comment: “I have conquered the place!” Tsai expressed her displeasure, and in the end the student apologized for his behavior.
Judy Tsai went to a primary school in Bangkok to promote Taiwanese culture. The students’ feedback letters demonstrate their new appreciation of Taiwan. (courtesy of Judy Tsai)
Blessed with new friendships
Yet more often host families form enduring friendships with those students from far away, and the students, in turn, come to regard Taiwan as their second home. Annie Sun was host mother to Pawan Kumar Yadav, an Indian student who came to Taiwan to do a master’s degree in electrical engineering at National Cheng Kung University. Upon graduation, Yadav chose to stay in Taiwan to work.
Yadav says that his master’s project was beset with tremendous difficulties. His supervisor Liang Tsorng-juu gave him encouragement and support. When he finally received his degree, Yadav felt that he had learned a valuable lesson in life.
Working in Taiwan now, Yadav thinks first of his host family no matter whether he is house-hunting or has other worries on his mind. Now that Annie Sun’s two daughters live and work far away from home, the family’s get-together coffee time at nine each night is no longer what it used to be. Whenever Sun mentions this, Yadav always tries to comfort her by saying: “Don’t forget you’ve got a son in Tainan.” This never fails to bring sunshine into her heart.
This year, the Southern Taiwan University of Science and Technology, which is tasked with implementing the Taiwan Hostfamily Program, has established an online system to match overseas students with host families in Taiwan. Both training and student matching can now be completed online, which allows more convenience and flexibility for both sides. This program invites you to “Show your family the world, and show the world your family!” Are you interested in joining them?
To express her gratitude, Anke, a German student, gave Judy Tsai a photo album chronicling their shared memories. (courtesy of Judy Tsai)
Judy Tsai (right) taught Mandarin to Hannah May Tucker, from Australia. Over the course of one year, Hannah’s Mandarin improved considerably. This photo shows them with host mother Hong Huiyi (left) and Tsai’s daughter Mandy Su.
Retrieve from Taiwan Panorama