The year after graduating from college, I taught English in rural Taiwan through a Fulbright Teaching grant. Taiwan’s rocky coast, lakes and excellent hiking reminded me a lot of Maine; in fact, observing the similarities of life in Taiwan increased the appreciation I felt for my home state.

Unfortunately, the Fulbright program, operated by the State Department, is in trouble. The proposed federal budget includes a 47 percent cut to the program.

The cuts will affect the 8,000 grants offered in 160 countries each year. The 13 percent cut to the Taiwan Fulbright program specifically will halt the progress of a strong organization, which has blossomed from 12 teachers in one region of the country to dozens of teachers stationed across the island in the past 10 years.

While in the Fulbright program, a former classmate, who had been teaching in mainland China, came to visit me. My friend experienced a unique form of culture shock; she acted as if she had stepped into an occupied zone of China – like Tibet or Xinjiang – and worried that Taiwanese people would judge her for living in Beijing.

My friend’s experience taught me how Americans studying or working abroad are influenced by the politics of their country of residence. Even if she disagreed with the Chinese government, my friend still lived in a society that told her Taiwan was a province of China. The truth is Taiwan is for all intents and purposes independent from China. Indeed, after two days in Taipei my friend remarked that Taiwan didn’t seem to be part of China at all.

The Fulbright program increases Americans’ understanding of our strongest democratic ally in Asia. Please call your members of Congress to oppose the budget cuts.

Casey Welch

Fulbright English teaching assistant in Taiwan, 2007-2008

Old Orchard Beach