National Chi Nan University
Lin Li-chan is Taiwan’s first “new resident” legislator — an immigrant from Cambodia who has since helped shape Taiwan’s immigration policies. Since her arrival via marriage over 2 decades ago at the tender age of 20, Lin has lived an extraordinary life learning and expanding at a rapid speed, transforming session after session to become her most confident self. The key elements driving this progress are the empowerment powers of formal education and her sponge-like ability to learn and adapt.
Before she joined the legislature, Lin was studying at National Chi Nan University’s (NCNU) Master program for Nonprofit Organization (NGO) Management. Now, she’s enrolled at NCNU’s Department of Southeast Asian Studies, advancing marriage rights for immigrants and advocating for the rights of Taiwan’s new residents.
In the 2016 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices compiled by the US Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Lin represented two of the markers that Taiwan was highlighted for — as a woman in government and as an immigrant, becoming the pride of both Taiwan and Cambodia.
Lin was introduced to her husband by a matchmaker, and during their first encounter, they got engaged, purchased engagement cakes, and said goodbye at the airport. The 2-hour whirlwind meeting was so fast-paced that many details were omitted or misconstrued, including where her fiancé comes from.
When asked by relatives and friends, her mother guessed “China” because he spoke Mandarin. Their Cambodian community was not familiar with Taiwan, so Lin began learning about her future home by watching Taiwanese television shows and dramas. Her expectations were somewhat dashed when she moved into a crowded Sanheyuan, the traditional U-shaped courtyard home of Taiwan.
“When it rains, it pours outside but drips inside as well. There is a hole in the roof between the kitchen and restroom area, so we place a plastic basin there. I started to realize that life in Taiwan was different than what was portrayed on TV,” she recalls.
After marriage and relocating to Taiwan, Lin tried to seek work at two hair salons. The first boss was distrustful of foreign-born spouses and quickly fired her; the second decided to cheat her out of proper wages by paying her a monthly salary of just over NT$1,000. This led her to choose to volunteer her time at school for four years straight once her kids reached school age.
Such events and encounters became the catalyst for her returning to school: “When my kids are doing homework, they come to me with questions, and I often respond with, ‘stop asking so much’ and if that doesn’t deter them, I would hold up a clothing hanger intimidatingly. ” The threat is enough to seal her daughter’s lips, but she would remain unsatisfied for days.
“It gets even better when they start asking me about sentence construction. I tell them to just wait for the teachers to do the corrections.” She wasn’t aware then that sentence practices were corrected differently than multiple choices, and this misunderstanding triggered a rupture in mother-daughter relations for the next 6 months.
The daughter then begins to enquire about other things, such as “did your country ever teach you Mandarin? Why don’t you know anything?” Once, upon finishing preparing a meal, Lin walked by a window and overheard her son being lectured by his older sister on their mother’s home country not speaking Mandarin. Lin furiously rushed out and began yelling “who says I don’t know Mandarin? I’ll read it to prove it.”
That incident also made Lin see the clear merits of going to school herself after the hard years of raising their kids to adulthood. Beyond the pursuit of expanding one’s horizons and holding academic degrees, it was necessary because she was a mother and an immigrant and going to university would best prepare her for equipping her kids for their lives ahead.
She started studying at the Department of Beauty Science of Changhua-based Chienkuo Technology University, then enrolled at the Department of Social Work and Child Welfare at Taichung’s Providence University. She joined NCNU’s Master program for Nonprofit Organization (NGO) Management during the program’s inception year, becoming its first immigrant student among some 20 students.
She passionately enjoyed going overseas for annual teaching assignments during the master’s program, which led her to pursue her Ph.D at NCNU’s Department of Southeast Asian Studies, ambitiously taking on additional courses in business management and economics as well.
This brings her tally up to 3 schools, 4 departments, and 5 areas of studies — a record that Lin is proud of and happy with. “People think of school as a one-track career path, like what my college teacher used to say, beauty science professors need to study the same field in both undergraduate and graduate years. But I said ‘No,’ I wanted to study different things, interdisciplinary stuff that made me happy.”
The self-motivated lady had a rough start in her academic journey though, having to almost beg to be accepted to one of the schools. This is why she never took university for granted, taking supreme care to never miss any classes and often becoming the only student to approach the instructor directly.
She also became a teaching assistant, reasoning that she could earn some extra cash while learning even more. “I was making up to NT$300,000 per year at Chienkuo Technology University by seeking out all the opportunities available. I found the experience delightful, basically like getting paid to learn, because all the instructors will impart their knowledge when you are willing to work with them.”
Lin would joke with her fellow students, “don’t you dare quit on me, because if you guys aren’t around to help, I won’t make it either.” She was elected class representative for 8 semesters over 4 years, establishing several student associations while volunteering time for social work. This made her well-suited for legislative responsibilities.