By William Ysaguirre
Twenty five of Belize’s brightest young minds will leave Belize this weekend for Taiwan, where they will swell to 155, the number of Belizeans studying there.
Twenty-one of them have received university scholarships under Taiwan’s International Cooperation and Development Fund (ICDF) Scholarship Program, for which the instruction will be in English; and four others were awarded scholarships under Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) scholarship program, at universities where all teaching is in Mandarin.
Jasmin Thompson of Belmopan, who earned her Associate’s degree in Biology at the University of Belize, will now aspire for her Bachelor’s in Agribusiness at the National Chung Hsing University. Jasmin was busy packing when The Reporter spoke to her; she said she was really excited to be going to Taiwan as she knows there are many other Belizeans studying there, and she won’t be alone, even though Taiwan’s language and culture are alien to everything she has ever known. Ever since she went for her interview in early June and learnt a couple weeks later that she had been accepted, she has been preparing for Taiwan, even learning a few phrases in Mandarin. As an ICDF scholar, her university instruction will be in English, but she feels it is important to learn the country’s language to better adapt to living there for the next four years. Jasmin won’t be the only Belizean at National Chung Hsing University, as Zeida Montero will also be preparing for her Master’s thesis in Agriculture there.
Daina Balan and Sean Reyes will both study for their Bachelor’s in Tropical Agriculture at the National Pingtung University of Science and Technology. Daina, a 19-year-old graduate of Muffles Junior College in Orange Walk, where she majored in Biology and Natural Resources Management, told Reporter she knows she had the full support of her parents, who have encouraged her to focus on her studies and not to concern herself too much about how they are getting on back home. She is confident she will be able to communicate quite easily with them via Skype and emails, and so feeling home-sick won’t be a problem.
For Ricardo Gideon, who leaves to pursue his Master’s in Educational Leadership and Management Development at the National Chung Cheng University, the departure will be bitter-sweet as he leaves behind a wife and five year-old daughter. Ricardo has been teaching at Escuela Secundaria Tecnica Mexico for the past seven years; he told The Reporter he is happy that he was able to get study leave approved by the school management, which means his wife will receive 80 per cent of his normal salary while he is away for two years. She is also a teacher pursuing her Bachelor’s at Galen University, and Ricardo said that while they are not happy about the separation, they feel it is a worthwhile sacrifice for their future career advancement and the well-being of their family, and he intends to remain fully involved in his daughter’s upbringing via the modern communications media. Ricardo is a late addition to the student cadre, as he only got the news of his scholarship two weeks ago, which have been a rush of preparations to complete all the appropriate paperwork for his trip.
Henry Galvez, a 20-year-old graduate of Sacred Heart College in San Ignacio, looks forward to doing his Bachelor’s in Computer Science and Information Engineering at the National Dong Hwa University. Galvez graduated four years ago, and said he had begun working for a bachelor’s degree in Architecture at UB, but found it hard going as he had to pay transportation costs each day to go to school. He is overjoyed at getting the full package of tuition, book allowance and a living stipend for his five years of study in Taiwan. Although Galvez is an ICDF scholar, some courses are available only in Mandarin; and he and some other ICDF students will do an extra year to learn to read, write and speak Mandarin, before commencing their studies in their chosen field. They include Solange Blanco, who will pursue her Bachelor’s in Environmental Biology and Fisheries Science at the National Taiwan Ocean University and Amir Cawich – studying Civil Engineering at National Cheng Kung University.
The ICDF offers scholarships in 22 subject areas which Belize’s Ministries of Education and Foreign Affairs have indicated are important to the economic development of Belize.
These include agriculture, public health, business administration, engineering and information and communication technology.
Although Mandarin is the official language of Taiwan, these courses are offered in English at universities catering to foreign students.
Randee Sheppard will read for his Master’s in Aquaculture Technology and Management at the National Taiwan Ocean University.
Stephen Swift will pursue his Master’s in Business Administration at National Chengchi University, where Rashad Bohn will also do his Master’s program in International Studies at the College of International Affairs. Alex Orellana and Anika Smiling will study for their bachelor degrees in International Business and Trade at Ming Chuan University, where Karina Bol will read for her Master’s in Business Administration in International Trade.
Nicole Weatherburne will read for her Master’s in Information Systems and Applications at the National Tsing Hua University; and Karina Garbutt and Delsie Ku will pursue graduate studies in International Human Resource Development at the National Taiwan Normal University.
Gabriela Ochoa will do her Bachelor’s in Medical Laboratory Sciences and Biotechnology at the Kaohsiung Medical University, while Selma Bermudez will read for her Master’s in International Health at National Yang-Ming University.
Johanna Pacheco will read for her Master’s in Environmental Sustainable Development at the National Central University, and Jason Parham will study for his Bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering at Kun Shan University.
The Taiwan MOFA scholarship program does not limit students to the 22 areas of the ICDF program, and students may chose any field of study, providing they meet the matriculation requirements of the university to which they may apply.
Instruction however is only in Mandarin. Four lucky scholars who chose this option include Omar Hernandez and Irwin Puc at National Cheng Kung University, Hector Cambranes at National Taiwan University, and Philip Codd at the Feng Chia University.
Students in this program are encouraged to apply to more than one university, since they are not guaranteed acceptance at any one institution.
At the end of the one-year Mandarin enrichment program, students must pass a Mandarin language proficiency test, before taking up studies in their field.
Taiwan’s Ambassador to Belize, H.E. Benjamin Ho, had presented the 25 lucky students with their scholarship packages at an orientation meeting jointly hosted by the Belize-Taiwan ICDF Alumni Society at the Chateau Caribbean in Belize City on Saturday, August 8. He congratulated the successful scholars, and welcomed them to Taiwan, noting that 256 Belizean students have received scholarships to study in Taiwan over the past 10 years, of which over 120 of them have completed their studies and returned to work in Belize, in government institutions, in hospitals and schools, and in the private sector. He encouraged them to enjoy their time in Taiwan, to focus and master their chosen field of study, but not to remain closeted and to get out and learn more about Taiwan’s culture and people, to make the most of the Taiwan experience, “to gather ye rosebuds while ye may!”and to bring all this back when they return home to help develop Belize.
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Wilfred “Sedi” Elrington, was present at the award ceremony and he urged the students to become ambassadors for change, and to come back and transform Belize.
Belizeans Monica Leal, Damitha Russell and Orlando Lopez are studying in Taiwan, but were back home to brief the new students on the do’s and don’ts of living and studying in Taiwan, with useful hints on clothing, housing, food and budgeting their student’s allowance or stipend provided with the scholarship.