China has been a hot topic for many reasons, from stories like the development of 5G, pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, its infamous trade war with the United States, to most recently, the Covid-19 virus pandemic that has changed the world and life as we once knew it. Nevertheless, long before it became a trending topic, China was already on my mind. An anecdote of failure, serendipity, and international relations.
A Brief Look Into The Case Of China And The World
As an international relations student, China’s rise in leadership within the global community is an interesting phenomenon to look at and study. Over the past 50 years, China’s approach to foreign relations has changed drastically. Its position has moved from one of not even being recognized as an official member of the United Nations (it was only accepted into the UN with an official seat in 1971) to the world’s second-largest economy and ever more influential country. So when the time for picking my semester abroad destination came, Beijing seemed like the obvious place to further my studies, pursue my passion for international relations, and acquire new language skills. Surely enough, this decision was soon met with a rejection from the partner university in Beijing as well as with an unfortunate yet important realization.
A Personal Realization
Have you ever heard the phrase “what is personal is political”? Well, let me tell you… The inverted affirmation is also true. National and international politics (and thus relations) will always have very personal impacts on people’s lives. Whereas in some cases it is a matter of life or death, my case was not, but it might as well have prevented me from experiencing a devastating situation like the outbreak of the Covid-19 virus in China and its spread across the world while sending me to one of the safest countries and most effective in dealing with the virus.
China or Taiwan?
You see, China’s Grand Strategy is based on three pillars. One of them being “State sovereignty, national security, territorial integrity and national reunification” meaning leave China to China and acknowledge the One-China policy which asserts that there is only one sovereign state under the name of China. In reality… You see… There are two nations that claim China in its official name and in that affirmation is where I found the root of my unique situation. Let me explain.
On one side there is China (aka The People’s Republic of China) under the leadership of Xi Jing Pin and only 2103 kilometers Southeast there is Taiwan (The Republic of China) under Tsai Ing-wen’s government. This is the part where I tell you that Taiwan sees itself as its own independent nation and not a part of China. No, not even under the “one country, two systems” as in Hong Kong’s case. Nope, not even when ethnically both Chinese and Taiwanese to a certain extent come from the same group. In fact, Taiwan actively seeks to differentiate itself from mainland China. An example of this is that at the moment, Taiwan is aiming to have English as its second official language by 2030, a move to show itself not only as an open, international community but also to further develop its own identity. While simultaneously, promoting the learning and passing down of as many native and/or indigenous languages to the younger generations as possible.
Diplomatic Relations and Going Abroad
So what does all of this have to do with me trying to go to China for my semester abroad? Well… If a country wants to establish formal diplomatic relations with China (PRC), it must not recognize Taiwan (ROC) as its own independent nation. If it does not, then there are consequences such as not having a formal trade with those nations nor letting their students in Chinese universities. So, most countries in the world have chosen China’s side. Except for 14 small countries that do recognize Taiwan as an independent nation and thus do not hold official diplomatic relations with the PRC.
One of those 14 small countries is my home country, Guatemala. So when the letter of rejection from my university in Beijing showed on my inbox, it felt like an unexpected hard slap on the face. Truth is, I had been oblivious to the real-life consequences and the implications that being a Guatemalan citizen could have had on my decision for the semester abroad destination.
Nevertheless, the abrupt change in plans did not stop me from going on a semester abroad. I soon adapted and continued on with my life. However, not without first reflecting a little upon how international relations and the lack of formal diplomatic relations led me to the bumpy start of my semester abroad.
My Experience in Taiwan
Fortunately for me, Taiwan welcomed me with open arms. Here, on this island, is where I have not only had the greatest of lucks as I am furthering my studies, pursuing my passion for international affairs, and learning Chinese. On top of that, I get to live in one of the safest places around the world in terms of the COVID-19 pandemic. I also get to see first hand how a tiny nation demonstrates huge resilience, proficiency, and leadership in dealing with the crisis.
Their success has been to such extent I am still attending lectures at university and my daily life has not changed much apart from the social distancing, wearing masks, better hygiene habits, and regular temperature checks. In Taiwan, I am not only finding more inspiration to work for a peaceful, democratic, and fair present and future but I have a renewed passion for international relations.
My experience abroad, would not have been as good as it has so far been if it had not also been to the much support I have received from both universities and the people around me. One of the many reasons I chose to attend Karlshochschule was due to their international component. The Karls does not only have an international and diverse student and staff body but it also highly encourages students to go abroad and provides them with much-needed support.
My semester abroad experience has been… to put it in simple words, a fantastic journey filled with many unexpected turns. Turns that make me always reflect upon my identity, my goals, and the communities I have encountered throughout my life.
If you want to know what I am up to, do not forget to add the Karlshochschule to your Instagram as I will be posting more updates on my semester abroad in Taiwan. And… If you have read this far, I want to thank you for taking the time to read about my experience and also to congratulate you! It has been shown that the average person would read a blog post for less than 40 seconds but you… you have now read for over 5 minutes.
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