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Monthly dinners between undergraduates and graduates creates a successful model for cultural exchange

[alaya_dropcap]I[/alaya_dropcap]n May students from National Chengchi University’s Bo-ya Residency College held their second dinner with students from the College of Social Sciences’ international programs in Asia-Pacific Studies. Students from the Master’s level program (IMAS) joined returning Doctoral students from the IDAS program. The monthly events were designed by the headmasters of the Bo-ya Residency College and professors at NCCU to enhance the experience of the undergraduates and offer new perspectives on university, Taiwan, and life.

Bo-ya emerged from former NCCU President Wu’s desire to see professors and students interact with each other more. What resulted was a Harvard-style learn-and-live environment. Students in Bo-ya live on campus for two years, following a specific curriculum of events and courses. The undergraduate students participate in family-style events and dinners, cutting across age and gender.

IDAS’s Dr. Kuan Ping-yin is one of the faculty members who acts as a “master” for the student groups. Bo-ya dines communally once every week, approximately 14 times per semester. Dr. Kuan, recently placed as the program’s director, decided to open the meals up to his international students.

“I thought I should put two things together” he laughs, explaining how the monthly dinners came about.

Normally Bo-ya’s dinner guests deliver speeches or give talks about “big issues” that impact society, but for this event, Bo-ya’s professors decided that mingling with graduate-level international students during dinner would be just as valuable as an experience in and of itself.

The consensus among the IDAS students is that it is a worthwhile effort. Mark Schriver is the student representative of IDAS for this academic year and corroborates Dr. Kuan’s appraisal.

“For both parties that participate, it benefits in getting students out of their bubble” or in the case of IDAS students, from “the shell of their research environment” he states.

“The Bo-ya students get to interact with students they’d usually not see otherwise.”

Lee Yi-zhen is in her second year at Bo-ya and has been working with her classmates to recruit new students.

“I joined bo-ya because the courses here seem great, the teachers are from different departments, and I think it may give me perspectives of different fields… the two-year dorm room guarantee is also a strong appeal” she adds.

She enjoys the monthly dinners because it helps broaden her understanding of the world.

“It is really nice to know more about a country from the people there, especially when I barely know the country.”

Bo-ya students aren’t just getting a broader experience of the world from home. Their understanding of their home island is enriched from the experience. Lee adds, “another great thing about having dinner with international students is we can exchange our feelings and observations about Taiwan. There are really many interesting observations that I never think about before.”

After only two dinners it appears the faculty responsible for these monthly cultural exchanges have hit upon a successful model, and their students are enjoying the experience with their international guests.

“Plus it’s pretty fun for the invited group” adds Schriver.

Dr. Kuan hopes that this year’s experiments with student interaction at the Bo-ya dinners can serve as a test platform for a potential international residential college, where Taiwanese and international students will live together and take common courses.