National Dong Hwa University
You don't need to sit in a classroom to learn. At National Dong Hwa University, students explore every nook and cranny of rural Hualian County, sparking new enthusiasm and creativity.
Wandering LessonsBy Shaun Yu
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 511 )
As usual, a strong smell wafts from the Chung Hwa Pulp Corporation factory on the banks of Mugua River in Hualian City.
A year ago, Lee Hsin-yun, then a senior at the Department of Sinophone Literatures of National Dong Hwa University, regularly came here with a group of fellow students to help community members clean up the neighborhood. The activity was part of the university's "Wandering Hualian" Program. Lee, now a graduate student at National Cheng Kung University in Tainan, asked the local residents of Hualian whether they were mad about the air pollution caused by the pulp mill.
Much to her surprise they responded that the air pollution was tolerable, and because the paper mill paid regular cash rewards to the community, organized neighborhood events, and provided jobs, they did not dislike this major employer.
"If it hadn't been for the deep involvement with the community and the friendships cultivated over time, our outsider notion of justice would probably have been the exact opposite of what the local residents believe," Lee says with a sigh.
The "Wandering Hualian" program encourages students to create projects that take them to different parts of Hualian County, where the university is located. It also helps them build their own capabilities, in particular creativity, through their travel experiences.
The program may well be called unprecedented in that it leaves all planning for several dozen trips to the students themselves, inspiring them to come up with ideas and tap into their creative potential.
Wandering in Search of Creativity
The students are forced to keep looking for points of interest in Hualian that enable them to learn while traveling and gradually nurture their aesthetic appreciation and executive capabilities. Simple, undemanding wandering and travel serve as tools to entice students to embark on a journey of personal growth to build creative skills and spread their wings to meet the challenges of the future.
The "Wandering Hualian" program, which Lee drew up single-handedly, attended and led, was spawned by the Ministry of Education's "My Little Wild Campus" grant funding program for creative labs. Chen Wen-ling, professor at the Department of Advertising at National Chengchi University, serves as "My Little Wild Campus" program director. "Wandering Hualian" counts among its 20 sub-projects and is funded by a NT$1.3 million grant from the Ministry of Education.
Using the mechanism of a "Window on Wandering," the program gives Dong Hwa University students the chance to understand Hualian County at a deeper level, gets them indirectly involved in the program, and sparks their curiosity toward this region.
Thanks to the ministry grant, the students can venture off campus every weekend to do some creative wandering, and draw up more plans to wander.
Eight students, who act as "Wandering Hualian" project leaders, proposed an activity outline for a whole semester and applied for a grant of around NT$200,000. Then they set up four groups under the themes of mountains, ocean, industry, and railways, which proposed one project each. At least 20 students needed to join a project before it could be launched.
"We take a hands-off approach and let the students play around with the 'Wandering Hualian' program," says Chen Chin-ching, head of the Department and Institute of History, who serves as the supervisory professor of the program. Chen and fellow mentor Yi-Chun Wei, an assistant professor at the Department of Sinophone Literatures, strongly encourage students to embrace the unfamiliar, learn to be self-motivated and live a passionate life. "We stay out of it on purpose!" Chen frankly admits.
Letting Students Take Control
Through the "Window on Wandering" platform, students become better acquainted with the unique features of Hualian County's 13 towns and villages. The county is divided into three regions – north, central and south – and four projects have been drawn up for each region, for a total of twelve sub-projects. The planning and execution of the projects brings the university into close cooperation with local communities, which also helps the school to develop a more distinct profile.
The first stop on the tour is Fenglin, a Hakka village. Although located only some 10 kilometers away from the university campus, it is unfamiliar countryside for the students, most of whom hail from other parts of Taiwan.
Therefore, Lee and her teammates have put together a project that familiarizes the students with the local Hakka culture: They embroider an owl on Hakka fabric, or tour local restaurants, footstalls and other eateries to publish a "Dong Hwa Food Guide" for Fenglin. The guide could bring throngs of hungry students and their friends to Fenglin. Almost 10,000 students are studying at National Dong Hwa University.
The railways group asked an expert for extracurricular activities at Rail News, a bi-monthly magazine for railway aficionados, to come to Dongli railway station in southern Hualian County to document the history of the old and new station buildings.
They also made a bicycle tour from Yuli to Fuli, the county's two southernmost townships, along a dedicated bike trail. Upon arrival in Fuli in the afternoon, an expert from the local history society took the students around the Fuyuan community.
For Lin Hsin-ping, deputy editor-in-chief of the campus newsletter and a sophomore at the Department of Sinophone Literatures, the project has created some unforgettable memories. Returning from one of their outings, students arrived in the Hualian City suburb of Ji'an Township, a place they thought they knew well, only to unexpectedly find a precious cultural heritage site: Between the Hualian Railway Cultural Park and the village of Jiye, they discovered the old Japanese-era site of the local railway station.
"We are now launching a movement for the preservation of Jiye Station. We hope that the Taiwan Railway Administration won't destroy this old site," explains Lin, who grew up near the Confucius Temple in Taipei City, describing the trip as an eye-opening experience.
The students also invited author Liao Hung-chi, a Hualian native and founder of the Kuroshio Ocean Educational Foundation, to speak about whales, dolphins and their habitats. They also went out on the sea and looked at the Hualian coast from a boat.
The students named their project "Roving, Seas and Villages." Traveling southward to Jingpu, a small fishing harbor of the indigenous Ami people at the mouth of the Siouguluan River, they sat around a campfire at night, attentively listening to the true sounds of the indigenous community. The next morning as the sun rose behind Shihchiu Island right off the coast, they used a map to tell the fishing harbor's story and set sail aboard a traditional bamboo raft.
"Reciting poetry on Chongde Beach at dawn was indescribably romantic," raves Lin about this memorable trip.
Tolerance and Democratic Decision-making
Aside from traveling, the students keep refining their "business model." Half a year into the program, they introduced the new concept of "workshop groups" for more democratic decision-making. From "oligarchic closed door meetings" among the eight senior-year students who are project leaders, decisions became a matter of collective consensus among as many as 80 students, including freshmen.
In the past Lee and the other seven project leaders would decide where to wander and which experts to invite as speakers or tutors without having to ask the other program participants for approval. "But now that the 'workshop groups' have been introduced, the twenty members of each team need to unequivocally approve a budget proposal before it can be sent to the accounting office. Only then can the school appropriate funds," Lee notes. Basically this means inviting all participating students to set the direction of their "Wild Campus" activities.
Many years of psychological and pedagogical research have already confirmed that changes in one's environment can spark creativity. But it still comes somewhat as a surprise that a program like "Wandering Hualian" which advertises itself with the bold slogan "you can also learn from wandering" has won the support of Education Ministry experts and truly allows students to learn the skill of creativity.
"The inclusiveness of this program has already reached a level that no one could have imagined before," comments Huang Jui-sung, assistant professor at the Graduate Institute of Animation and Multimedia Design of National University of Tainan, after attending a presentation on the mid-term results of the "Wandering Hualian" program.
Translated from the Chinese by Susanne Ganz