Middlebury College opens school in Taiwan
MIDDLEBURY — Three and a half years after Middlebury College abandoned in-person Mandarin Chinese language instruction in China due to COVID-19, the college is preparing again to educate language students in a place where Chinese is spoken by natives.
This time, however, the college is taking its education in China beyond the mainland Peoples Republic of China, and also starting a school in Taiwan.
The May announcement that Middlebury will open a school abroad in Taiwan came after seven academic semesters of contending with COVID and continued international travel restrictions barring Mandarin Chinese language students from pursuing Middlebury’s programs in China. The last time the institution’s programs in Beijing, Hangzhou and Kunming hosted Middlebury Schools Abroad students was January 2020. Finally, though, Middlebury is scheduled to restart its school in Beijing this month
The the newest addition to the college’s Schools Abroad program, a Chinese school housed at National Sun Yat-sen University in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, is due to start hosting students next spring.
“A delegation from Middlebury visited Taiwan in late January/early February and met with administrators at several of the island’s top universities,” said Middlebury College Dean of International Programs Carlos Vélez-Blasini.
“After much deliberation, we decided to create a partnership with the National Sun Yat-sen University,” he added.
The new school in Taiwan will host its first cohort of an estimated eight to 10 students in Spring 2024.
Although the official Middlebury School Abroad in Taiwan is new, the option to study abroad in that nation is not.
It was first introduced as a solution to both abide by China’s zero-tolerance COVID policies and maintain the college’s “robust study abroad program in Mandarin to complement the offerings of the Middlebury Chinese Department and the Middlebury Language Schools.”
“During that time, in consultation with and with the help of the Middlebury College Chinese Department, we allowed Middlebury students to enroll in study abroad programs and universities in Taiwan,” Vélez-Blasini said.
“In fact, the Chinese Department has for some time been suggesting that Taiwan should be an option for their majors,” he added.
“Taiwan is an amazing place with a rich and unique culture and top-notch educational institutions. We are confident that our school there will be on par with our other schools around the world,” Vélez-Blasini noted.
Middlebury’s Chinese language students will benefit greatly from this new school, Associate Dean of International Programs Liz Ross said.
“Students will be able to immerse themselves into the Taiwanese culture through curricular and co-curricular programming,” she said.
Vélez-Blasini said that during the pandemic, students of other languages — specifically Spanish — benefited from more than one study abroad option with Middlebury College.
“As borders around the world were slowly reopening after the pandemic, we were able to take advantage of having multiple sites for Spanish speakers, for example,” he said.
Middlebury’s announcement comes amidst heightened tension among the United States, Taiwan and China.
“We are well aware of the increased tensions among China, Taiwan, and the U.S. In light of these concerns, we have had several conversations with experts in this area, including, among others, our own faculty with knowledge of the region, members of the U.S. State Department, and our security team at Global Rescue,” Vélez-Blasini said.
While implementing the program, the Middlebury team considered the possibility that Mandarin Chinese language students might be barred from attending the Middlebury School Abroad in Mainland China due to international tensions and conflict.
Middlebury is prepared if heightened tensions demand more safety precautions, Vélez-Blasini said.
“What is important is for us to have clear contingency plans in place. Our current assessment is that our students in Taiwan will be safe,” he said.
“The location is exciting. Taiwan is a modern, open, highly educated, technologically advanced society that has also managed to remain deeply grounded in its historical past,” Ross noted.
“Within the confines of a relatively small island, one can find large, modern, cosmopolitan cities only one-to-two hours away from smaller, historically rich cities and towns.”
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