When Li-Hung Chang had the opportunity to earn a college degree at the University of North Georgia, he jumped at the chance. Well, he really flew.
Chang is from Taiwan, but arrived on North Georgia’s Dahlonega campus in August to study criminal justice and become a member of its Corps of Cadets.
“UNG is the best senior military college in the whole nation,” Chang said. “And UNG has various leadership programs, so I can enhance my leadership. And UNG also values the importance of the second language, so I also want to learn other languages besides Chinese and English.”
Adjusting to life in the States hasn’t been easy, but he’s gotten used to things and learned all along the way.
“With the freshmen, for us, it's more about teaching them what the military is and giving them an understanding of what it means to be a leader,” said Staff Sgt. Joshua Kruger, military science instructor at the university. “We start out with more of teaching how we assess a good leader in the military based off of leadership attributes and competencies. So they learn what those attributes and competencies are so that they know what to emulate to be a successful leader in the military.”
Apart from the intricacies of the military and what it takes to become a leader within it, Chang is learning more basic things.
He speaks English well now — understanding professors and classmates was difficult at first — and is planning to learn Spanish or Arabic in the coming semesters.
“I'm not really confident in speaking English because we don't usually speak English back in my country,” Chang said.
But because English isn’t his first language, he’s had to be sure he’s a stand-out student, just so he’s able to get by.
“Like in sociology class, I'll read the textbook before our teacher teaches so I can learn the basic concept about the class,” Chang said. “So when the teacher is explaining the details I can know more about it.”
He’s also had to get used to the size of things like cars and trucks in the U.S. He said back in Taiwan, a small island off the eastern coast of China, the cars are much smaller.
But while Georgia has Taiwan beat on lifted pickups and Yukons, Taiwan is winning the population game: Though the island has less than a quarter of the land of the Peach state, Taiwan has more than double the population with 23.8 million compared to Georgia’s 10.5 million.
And the food is a lot better. He’s gotten by in Dahlonega with plenty of meals from Chick-fil-A and chicken dumplings at home.
“Honestly from the beginning, and it's like this with most all of our foreign exchange students, you can tell it's a new experience for them,” Kruger said. “They're still feeling the area out and getting used to the culture, but as we progress into the semester, you'll see them open up more, cutting up, laughing, joking around with fellow students and cadets.”
He said Chang “blends right in” with the rest of the students now and he doesn’t “even recognize the difference anymore.”
“You'd think there would be a barrier, but there's really not,” Kruger said. “They learn everything and are taught everything the same way and pick it right up.”
Chang won’t be in the U.S. long, though. Even though he’s the first four-year international cadet to attend the university — most are only there for a semester — he’s planning on returning to Taiwan.
“After I graduate from UNG, I'm planning to go back to Taiwan and serve in our army,” Chang said.
He’s interested in aviation and hopes to fly helicopters in Taiwan.
Chang has always been at the top of his class. He was at the Republic of China Military Academy for a year and Chungcheng Armed Forces Preparatory School before that, both of which are very selective schools.
Republic of China?
Taiwan and mainland China are in an ongoing fight over sovereignty, with the mainland — the People’s Republic of China — considering the island only a territory of the Communist nation. Taiwan — called the Republic of China — has its own democratically elected government, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.Recently, Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, has argued for a more independent Taiwan. The dispute has at times been a global issue, as China seeks to expand its influence in the South China sea.
“He wouldn't be here if he wasn’t one of their outstanding students,” said retired Army Sgt. Maj. Terry Baumann, military program coordinator at North Georgia. “Every exchange cadet we have, from Taiwan or wherever they're coming from, they're always top cadets.”
And it’s not just that he’s smart, competitive or disciplined. Chang has a true passion for service.
“I think it's really proud to be a soldier or be an officer in the military in my country,” Chang said. “I don't want to be a teacher or something. That's also good, but I want to protect my country.”
Since he’s been at North Georgia, he’s learned a lot about the military, but a big part of coming to the States to earn a degree was learning about the culture here, getting an experience different from what he could have gotten in Taiwan.
“I wanted to learn the difference between these two cultures,” Chang said. “If I'm in Taiwan, I can also learn English, but I can't really learn American culture. So I chose to come here and learn American culture as well as improve my English ability.”
Not only has he gotten a chance to experience a different culture, he’s gotten to do it alongside other students not in the Corps of Cadets. At many other military colleges, cadets only interact with other cadets. But on a daily basis, Chang is in class with civilians.
“In my school (in Taiwan), there are only military cadets,” Chang said. “But at UNG, there are civilians and cadets, and we learn in the same class. So we can exchange our opinions or experience about different aspects.”
At North Georgia, there are also mountains nearby and places he can enjoy, which he said has been one of the best parts of coming to the U.S. In Taiwan, he rarely had time to enjoy the outdoors, but while at school in Dahlonega, he finds time to do just that.
“On weekends, I will go outdoors to do outdoor activities like hiking,” Chang said. “Or, I will plan to find some friends to go camping.”