It is a pleasure for me to contribute this brief introduction to the autobiographical account written by my student An-ting Liu. I first met An-ting three or four years ago when she enrolled in my undergraduate course at Princeton University on Civil Society and Public Policy. This is a course on how democratic societies hold themselves together through the mechanisms of civil society – mainly voluntary organizations. An-ting was one of the best students in the course even though she was one of the youngest. She was clearly deeply interested in how social activity facilitates cooperative behaviors and diminishes social conflict. She wrote her term paper on the role of voluntary and religious organizations in providing relief in Haiti. And at this point she managed to learn French. She was at that stage quite shy, however, and I did not get to know her very well even in a group of 20 or 2 students.
But at the end of An-ting’s third year of college she approached me and asked if I would supervise her senior thesis – at Princeton all seniors are required to write a research paper that usually runs from 100 to 120 pages in length. The senior thesis is a major undertaking! Her plan was to work in Geneva, Switzerland for the summer, and to develop a thesis project out of her interest in Haiti (and thereby to use her French). But her supervisor in Geneva suggested that the role of NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) in Cambodia might be more interesting to study. And so at the end of the summer An-ting got on a plane and went to see what was happening in Pnom Phen.
There she discovered that NGOs, especially those funded from outside the country, were doing very important work in reconstituting Cambodian society. But she also discovered that Prime Minister Hun Sen and his government were quite hostile to the NGOs and their employees (whether indigenous or foreigners), since they threatened the autocratic control of the Hun Sen regime. So An-ting formulated a thesis on the attempts of the regime to pass legislation restricting the role of NGO, and traveled again to Cambodia to interview NGO leaders. The result was an exceptional thesis that won a prize from the Woodrow Wilson School when An-ting graduated. Readers both in Cambodia and internationally were astonished at how much she had been able to learn, and how brilliantly she analyzed the conflict between the NGOs and the government.
After graduating from Princeton, An-ting decided to remain in the United States, even though I had hoped she would return to Taiwan. She took a job as a business consultant here in Princeton, and I think she learned a great deal about the commercial sector that year. But she did not find consulting a very fulfilling role in life, and she began to think (and to discuss with her parents) what she might do if she returned to Taipei. School reform in the United States is one of my interests, and she discussed with me the possibility of adapting U.S. models of reform (primarily the approach used here by Teach for America, which recruits bright college graduates to teach in public schools) to be used in Taiwan. So she moved back to Taipei and, with the encouragement of her parents, began to explore the feasibility of beginning a privately-funded school reform program at home. This has led to her establishment of Teach for Taiwan, a fully original transformation of the “Teach For” model to Taiwan.
An-ting for me has been the model student. She is, obviously, extremely bright and articulate (in at least three languages), energetic and entrepreneurial. Teach for Taiwan is likely to be a very important organization over the next few years. It is extraordinary that such a young person should achieve so much so quickly. But what is truly exceptional is that An-ting is so reflective about her life’s journey. I do not read Mandarin, alas, so I have not read this text (although I ha