Putting University Social Responsibility into Practice: NTUST X Project LET’S Go!

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While the hot summer months mean a break time for most university students, there is an increasing number who wish to do something meaningful during their summer vacation. Volunteering in social projects has become “the thing to do” for a new generation of students, and the NTUST X Project LET’S Go! has been benefitting from this drive: More and more students are joining this project which supports under-resourced schools in remote areas of Taiwan by sending local and international students to teach in summer camps.

The Project LET’S Go! (PLG) thus puts into practice two concepts that have gained momentum in recent debates on the roles of universities: University Social Responsibility, also dubbed the Third Mission of Universities, and Internationalization at Home. The mission of PLG is to engage with under-resourced schools and the communities around them, and to bring together local and international students in a unique service learning experience.

The program which was founded Ten years ago by Dr. Ying Wannie Wang, who joined Taiwan Tech as an Associate professor two years ago. From very humble and quite difficult beginnings, the project has grown into a series of summer camps that are held every summer in four rural schools in Taiwan. This year, 60 volunteers from 12 countries, and four rural schools with around 200 pupils were involved: “Our project has many dimensions” says program director Wannie Wang,  “we do not only build long-standing relationships with schools, but also reach out to the local community and the families. And, equally important, this projects helps to build very strong connections between the students who participate in this project.”

The Dongao Elementary School in Yilan County on Taiwan’s scenic East Coast is one of the partner schools of Project LET’S Go!. The school has about fifty kids, mostly from Aboriginal families, who are left at their own devices during the 2-month summer holidays. The summer camp offers lessons on English, arts, music, and science, in addition to extra-curricular activities, which volunteer teachers prepare in a one-week intensive teacher training program that precedes the summer camp.

“I joined this program because I am curious. I like to do things that I have never done before. I always thought that teaching kids was easy, but now I realize that it is a huge responsibility. This is a great learning experience’ says Mohammad Kor from Iran who studies Engineering in a Master program at Taiwan Tech. He is one of the 18 students – coming from Taiwan, Iran, India, Malawi, Mexico, Malaysia, Indonesia, Portugal, and the US –  who are teaching in Dongao this summer. The low teacher-student ratio in each camp, one of the key features of this program, allows volunteer teachers to engage closely with the kids who are challenged with an all-English curriculum.

The number of international students at Taiwan Tech has increased to 1400 in 2019, i.e.  12% of its student body which is the highest rate in Taiwan.  But internationalization is not only a number’s game. Incorporating the idea of internationalization into the formal and informal curriculum is one of the aims of Taiwan Tech, and that is what the Project LET’S Go! is all about.

Author: Dr. Stefanie Eschenlohr, Taiwan Tech Office of International Affairs