60th Anniversary Celebration of Education Exchange
June 5, 2017
Last week, I had the privilege to participate in Fulbright Taiwan’s 60th Anniversary celebration in Taipei, which consisted of a Gala Dinner and Thought Leader Forum on “Leadership Challenge: Equity, Ethics, and Globalization.” In the past 60 years, Fulbright Taiwan has financed "over 1600 Taiwan grantees to the U.S. and 1400 U.S. Grantees to Taiwan." Check out Fulbright Taiwan's Program Annual Reports here for more info.
In Chinese culture, 60 years represents the completion of a full cycle of life and comes with much fanfare. This number is derived from multiplying the twelve zodiac animals by the five terrestrial elements: earth, wood, fire, metal, and water. 60th birthday celebrations, for example, are considered significant milestones and thus call for a large family gathering with ample gifts, “longevity noodles”, dumplings, red envelopes with money (hong bao), and more. In our case, Fulbright Taiwan celebrated with a gathering of all the 2016-17 Fulbright ETAs, American and Taiwanese Fulbright Scholars, Students, Fellows, Teachers, Board Directors, and foreign diplomats. There was also no shortage of food: the gala dinner consisted of appetizers, about five entrees (lobster with pasta, pork chops, and steamed grouper, just to name a few), and multiple desserts, including zongzi and peanut and sesame mochi!
The highlights of the 60th Anniversary celebration, however, came from the Fulbright Thought Leader Forum, which took place the following day at the Howard Civil Service International House. The Vice President of Taiwan, Chen Chien-Jen, Harvard professor and political philosopher extraordinaire, Dr. Michael Sandel, and Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institute, Dr. Richard Bush, were just a few of the exciting speakers who were in attendance. Participating in one of Dr. Sandel’s world-famous lectures was an unforgettable experience; I was awestruck when he managed to make a room full of 300+ cross-cultural and multi-generational audience members engage in debate about controversial topics such as same-sex marriage, nuclear weapons, and whether an app is a better match-maker than one’s parents. One of my LETs, Sarah from Huludun, was thrilled when she saw that Dr. Sandel was one of the keynote speakers. Sarah told me that she audited his online Harvard course, “Justice,” (available via edX) and watched many of the speeches he’s delivered around the world. (I have since also enrolled in his “Justice” course.)
Hearing Sarah’s excitement the night before the Forum, I knew that we would be in for a treat. Now I understand the reasoning behind all of his accolades and the resonance of his philosophical views (which roughly fall under the umbrella of what's known as "communitarianism"). Now more than ever, his calls for a more inclusive society and engaging with people who harbor different opinions and world-views are vital. One of his quotes from the forum particularly stood out to me, “Deep mutual respect comes not from avoiding, but engaging with the competing moral views of others.” His interactive lecture demonstrates the possibility of reasoning together in public spaces about big moral issues in a respectful – not divisive – manner. His words were a welcome tonic for such divisive times. After listening to Dr. Sandel’s talk, I’ve added a couple new books to my reading list: Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? (2011) and J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis (2016). After his talk, I managed to get an autograph from him on the Forum program (after fighting my way through a large crowd of people surrounding a flustered-looking Dr. Sandel).
In addition, we heard from an impressive line-up of Taiwanese scholars during a Round-Table Discussion, including Academia Sinica Research Fellow, Dr. Yun-Han Chu, Chairman of the Social Democratic Party, Dr. Yun Fan, Founder and President of Junyi Academy, Shin-Chou Fang, and NGO Lawyer and NTU professor, Dr. Ching-Yi Liu, among others. Topics spanned the gamut from inequities in education in Taiwan, to human rights issues in Taiwan, and the U.S. Presidential Election. The event ended somewhat anti-climactically, as everyone simply trickled out of the venue and parted ways after very brief closing remarks. Nonetheless, it was bittersweet to wrap up the final Fulbright Taiwan conference and yet another reminder of how little time we have left remaining at our schools. It’s hard to believe! I'm really going to miss Taiwan.