Student spring break of different kind in Taiwan


Rather than lazing his spring break away on a beach this year, 3L Adam Nguyen decided to do something active. For a mere $500, he joined a week-long tour of Taiwan during which he discussed politics with the Taiwanese Vice-President, learned firsthand about the conditions of Taiwanese indigenous peoples, and shopped for pig intestines and stinky tofu in Taiwan’s “night market.”

The trip was organized by 2L Holly Yoshinari, Delegation Chairperson of the Harvard Asian Law Society. HALS has been sending delegations to Asian countries for the past eight years, with the aim of enabling students to learn directly about Asian legal, political and economic institutions. This year’s delegation was made possible by the generosity of HALS sponsors such as The New York Times, Simpson, Thacher & Bartlett; Wilson, Sonsini, Goodrich & Rosati; Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison; and Cleary Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton.

Nguyen knew little about Taiwan only a few months ago, but now discusses Taiwanese history, foreign relations and current affairs with an impressive depth of understanding. His learning started with a series of pre-trip lectures that introduced the group to their destination country. The lectures were given by Frederick Lin, an East Asian Legal Studies scholar, and Hui-wen Chen, visiting researcher. Each Delegate was also required to present on an aspect of the trip, and their research was compiled in a final booklet.

Nguyen said his favorite event on the trip was a private audience with the Taiwanese Vice-President, Lu Hsiu-Lien, LL.M. ’78. Vice-President Lu answered the group’s questions in a “very open, personable” manner, and expressed regret at her inability to visit Harvard because U.S. policy prevents Taiwanese officials from traveling to the United States. Three-L Thomas Cheng, HALS Co-President, said he was intrigued by Vice-President Lu’s suggestion “that Asian countries cooperate closely with each other with the view of achieving EU-type integration.”

Lu also made known her strong support for Taiwanese independence. Indeed, the sensitive subject seemed to pervade nearly all of the group’s encounters. Thomas remarked that, “What surprised me most was the extent to which cross-strait relations with China dominate every aspect of Taiwanese politics and society. Taiwanese politicians are not so much defined by their liberalness as by their views on the issue of reunification.”

The group met with many other political and legal heavyweights, including the Ministers of Justice and Foreign Affairs, the President of the Judicial Yuan, professors at the National College of Law, several Justices of the Constitutional Court and the Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-Jeou, S.J.D. ’81.

One of the group’s most popular events was a meeting set up by 3L Niclas Ericsson with the Association for Taiwan Indigenous People’s Policies, which monitors the status of aboriginal tribes. Two-L Darcy Paul said she found the experience especially authentic because the Association operated out of a “small, overcrowded” apartment “where a couple of the members evidently made their residence.” The Association revealed that until recently, the Taiwanese government had referred to aboriginals using the Chinese character for animals, while school textbooks described them as head-eating barbarians. Although the Taiwanese government has started improving the situation of aboriginals, discrimination remains a serious concern.

The Delegates also experienced a firsthand challenge to freedom of the press when a newspaper office was raided by the government while the Delegates were visiting The Taipei Times, Taiwan’s largest newspaper. The government alleged that the newspaper possessed information on Taiwan’s secret military defense program. Interestingly, the Times editors sided with the government and supported the raid.

For the last three days of their trip, participants shed their business suits and spent time sightseeing, shopping and visiting their friends and families. Nguyen and five others traveled to eastern Taiwan, where they soaked in stunning views of mountains and visited the Taroko Gorge, the Taiwanese version of the Grand Canyon and a top scenic attraction.

Delegates agreed that perhaps the best aspect of the trip was the formation of enduring friendships. The trip allowed 16 students to get to know each other closely while sharing in an adventure that many deemed a highlight of their time at HLS.

Next year’s host country will likely be either Vietnam or the Philippines, a choice to be made by the new Chairperson, 1L Chingwin Pei. She added that partake in this extraordinary opportunity, you must be actively involved in HALS and demonstrate “your commitment to the Delegation.”

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