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Hurdles for 'salmon' looking to swim back to Taiwan schools

In Los Angeles last week, Education Minister Chiang Wei-ling (蔣偉寧) gave reasons why Taiwanese colleges are ideal for “compatriots living abroad.”

Chiang was at the 2012 “Salmon Homecoming” (鮭魚返鄉), a fair for 15 Taiwan universities offering seats to Taiwanese Americans. It was the first of its kind in the U.S., part of a concerted effort to boost matriculation. Taiwan's aging population and shrinking birth rate are producing severe enrollment problems for once-crowded Taiwan universities. Meanwhile, the talent drain continues unabated as locals seek education and job opportunities overseas.

The Ministry of Education's roving spotlight has now landed on a previously unmined student demographic — Taiwanese American undergrads — and the Los Angeles fair was aimed at tapping into this newly considered resource.

As one local media outlet reported, the booths were “packed with crowds interested in studying in Taiwan.” But for LA media, the verdict was more complicated.

“The pitch was perhaps more attractive to parents,” wrote Frank Shyong of the Los Angeles Times. “Their children hung back, thrusting hands deep into jeans pockets and adjusting headphones.”

There are many excellent reasons for Taiwanese Americans to study in Taiwan. The education minister offered some: new all-English degrees, quality professors, and tuition and costs that are now far below the soaring fees of U.S. liberal arts colleges.

Parents had other reasons too. One mother surnamed Luo said that her children had been educated in the U.S. from primary school up. If there's a chance for her teens to study Chinese in Taiwan, she'd strongly encourage them to take it, as doing so could boost their competitiveness in the job market, she said.

But if Luo's children should jump at the chance, there are considerable hurdles along the way of their so-called homecoming.

One is that our government still thinks of their demographic as “overseas compatriots,” instead of Taiwanese Americans. The difference is that “overseas compatriots” are viewed as Chinese who have happened to live elsewhere for a period of time, while Taiwanese Americans signifies that they are in fact citizens of another country. Most Taiwanese Americans who wish to study in Taiwan for an extended period must register as an “overseas compatriot,” which means they are asked to perform identical duties as Taiwan citizens.

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