Lecturer helps Vietnamese in Taiwan overcome stigma, language barrier

By Hai Hien   May 6, 2020 | 05:05 am PT
Huynh Xuan Trang offers free Mandarin classes to help Vietnamese brides and migrants adapt to life in Taiwan.

Looking at a calendar page filled with pencil scribbles, Trang recalled first moving to a new country. The teacher, now residing in Taipei, said it was the homework submitted by a student in her free Mandarin class on Facebook who had moved to Taiwan to work as a house maid.

"Many Vietnamese who come to Taiwan cannot speak Mandarin and struggle to integrate. I hope my language course can open more employment doors. Some who move here live in very remote areas and can't even afford to buy a pen and a notebook," she said.

Huynh Xuan Trang during an interview with local media in Taiwan. Photo courtesy of Trang.

Huynh Xuan Trang during an interview with local media in Taiwan. Photo courtesy of Trang.

Trang was born to a poor family of eight kids in Cai Be District, southern Tien Giang Province. She moved to Saigon to work as a blue-collar employee after finishing middle school but her income was not enough to support her family back home.

At 21, she tied the knot with a Taiwanese man and moved to Taiwan in 2001. In the early days of marriage, she distributed flyers at intersections and worked as a waitress to help make ends meet.

Once, a customer complained the restaurant hired only foreigners who did not know Mandarin, which caused Trang to immediately enrol in a Mandarin course at a nearby church. A few years later, she took an elementary school graduation exam and went on to attend high school, taking further classes in Mandarin.

In 2012, she was injured while climbing the restaurant stairs and had to stop working. Stuck at home, she decided to take a cosmetology course.

After four months, she considered opening her own beauty parlor, renting a room of about six square meters built 20 years previously. Witnessing the shabby state of the premises, her husband told her: "No one would come get a makeover at such as a shabby place."

Determined, Trang decided to tackle the damp walls herself, gaining confidence with each new lick of paint.

To continue supporting herself financially, Trang worked late into the night, which made her husband angry. In 2016, they filed for divorce, leaving her empty-handed and sleeping in a shop after hours.

In this most difficult period, Trang met an inspiring life coach who, caring for a terminally ill cancer patient, assured her: "When you feel the most miserable, look to those less fortunate than yourself. In helping them, you will find the meaning of life."

Trang realized how lucky she was and that she could use her Mandarin skills to empower other Vietnamese women struggling to adapt in Taiwan.

"I will try to help others using my skills," Trang promised herself.

Trang teaches Vietnamese migrant workers in Taipei how to write in Mandarin. Photo courtesy by Trang.

Trang teaches Vietnamese migrants in Taipei how to write in Mandarin. Photo courtesy of Trang.

The first thing that came to mind was teaching Mandarin to migrant workers and Vietnamese brides. Hoping to open a classroom of her own, Trang bought 10 chairs.

But not until five years later in 2018, when her work stabilized, did the new seats enter use. At its peak, Trang's weekly free Sunday classes included up to 20 students newly arrived in Taiwan. In 2017, she created a Facebook group that specializes in teaching Mandarin to Vietnamese, attracting 1,000 learners.

Besides offering free courses, Trang also taught her students how to adapt quicker to their new lives and used her own pocket money to buy textbooks, pens and other equipment.

"I had a more comfortable life after overcoming the language barrier between me and my in-laws thanks to Trang's free class," said Nguyen Thi Trang, a student residing in Taipei.

Over the last two years, at her beauty parlor, the 40-year-old has also provided free vocational training.

In 2019, Trang became the first Vietnamese certified to teach community service lecture to the elderly and children of New Taipei, assisted by a Taiwanese government agency.

Huynh Xuan Trang holds a social work lecture for senior citizens in New Taipei City, Taiwan. Photo courtesy of Trang.

Trang conducts a community service lecture for senior citizens in New Taipei City, Taiwan. Photo courtesy of Trang.

Now, Trang lectures two to three times a month, with her classes funded by the government. Besides, she travels with her friends to remote areas to massage and cook vegetarian meals for lonely elderly citizens.

Also in 2019, via the Department of Immigration, Taiwanese media reported on her positive volunteer programs.

"I believe this is my way of repaying society for helping me pursue and make my dream come true."

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