[Tuesday, January 08] How it is to be a foreign PhD student in a not-recognized country

It has been already several days that I thought of this topic. I was also wondering whether I should write a post about it. I kind of feel not legitimate to talk about it, but in another way, it concerns me directly, and I may not feel so unlegitimate!

But anymay, let’s get into the topic! If you have been following my stories from last August, you may know that I am a PhD student in Taiwan, but I’m not Taiwanese. To complete, I’ve come to Taiwan before a great number of times, from highschool to MS, for more than 7 years now. And as you may know, Taiwan isn’t a highly recognized state, even if you have heard of Taiwan somewhere.

As every year, the President of China claimed the territory of Taiwan at the beginning of the year. As my Taiwanese friends said, “it’s the annual bullshit he is obliged to say in front of its army, and to be legitimate to rule China”. It’s true that objectively, the risk for China to declar a war to Taiwan aren’t high, it would be a suicide for all parts with only negative outcomes for everybody. But yeah, the threat is here, but this year, this time, the atmosphere has been kind of different.

Generally, the President of Taiwan doesn’t really care about this “annual-bullshit discourse”, because it’s bullshit. Taiwanese don’t really care that much habitually, what is more important here is to have higher salary. What is different is the reaction of the President of Taiwan, who lost the last local elections. And it’s like, “there’s nothing more to loose, so let’s say what I really think”. So she responded to China, in a non-habitual direct way. The whole country (yeah, I say country for Taiwan, kind of habit from me) listened to her, and very surprisingly, except the old political opposants, almost everybody is supporting her. I guess it’s because she said, and found the right words, to speak for everybody. It was even more surprising that it’s rare from her!

I won’t go in the details of the conflict between Taiwan and China (let’s be more specific: between Taiwan and the government of China, which is continuously claiming Taiwan). I think it would be more interesting for readers to know how it can be for a PhD foreign student to be in Taiwan in this context.

To be honest, if I’ve been here for almost two years without going back to visit my family, and if I accept to work more than 8 hours non-stop per day, and if I’m still crazily happy in these conditions, it means that it’s an extremely pleasant context to be in a PhD program here. I’m thankful for my professors, always supporting me, for the college institutes which are always organizing interesting talks and workshops, and for Taiwanese government, who is paying me and covering my tuition fees for 4 years. Morally and physically, it’s a very supportive place to concentrate on my study. Therefore, in myself, I have the feeling I cannot be completely silent about what is happening!

Maybe the main reason for which I can’t be silent is because I have to give something back. We could think that the best way to do so is to produce high-quality research – and it is. But I didn’t only have the opportunity to do some research here. It’s also an opportunity for me to fully develop myself and my life, and not being “only” a PhD student. That’s why I think I need to give something else back.

Of course, I have a lot more ideas and comments about the situation. But I think these ideas are better remained personal. I’m not a Taiwanese citizen, even if I live here. I can’t speak for Taiwanese, since I can’t speak as a Taiwanese. The best position for me is to respect Taiwanese people’s choise, no matter what they choose. Consequently, I hope Taiwanese people’s choices can be respected, and that the whole world can understand and support the simple idea!

I thought of only one way to help for this idea, without going too far in expressing personal opinion’s that neef to remain personal. The President of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen, posted a picture with the prominent sentence of her talk. At the same time, she called for an international support. I wish this call can be shared to the whole world, so that noone can say they didn’t know. What she did was genius – I think. She only posted on her Facebook the picture in Mandarin Chinese. To check whether the world was caring about Taiwan, she let everybody translate the same picture in other languages. Do you know what? It has been a success! So I want to share with you the English and Chinese part, maybe you will share it to your colleagues in the lab, to your friends, your family, or maybe on your own blog!

For now, this is the “Taiwan consensus”. Maybe this Taiwan consensus will change one day, under the will of Taiwanese people, and we will have to respect it. Maybe the China consensus will change one day. But it is not the case for now!

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