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UD student brings research to life through study abroad trip to Taiwan

By Lucy Waskiewicz ’24

For University of Dayton junior Benjamin Bitner, what started as a research paper in a Chinese language course led to a summer in Taiwan.

Bitner, an accounting major from West Alexandria, Ohio, with minors in Asian studies and Chinese, spent summer 2023 studying abroad in Taipei, Taiwan.

He was inspired by a research assignment in the Chinese Civilization and Culture course taught by Judy Yang, associate professor in the Department of Global Languages and Cultures. Yang prompted students to examine a Chinese concept or practice they found interesting.

Bitner chose to investigate the perception of LGTBQ+ people in mainland China.

"I did a deep dive into LGBTQ+ studies in China and how people there react to same-sex marriages and same-sex relationships," Bitner said. "But they didn’t generally include Taiwan, which has legalized same-sex marriage."

Bitner, who identifies as gay, was curious to engage with a more progressive East Asian culture. Studying in Taiwan allowed him to strengthen his Chinese language skills and also get a firsthand look at the LGBTQ+ experience in Taiwan missing from his research.

"It made sense for Benjamin to compare his own experiences in a Chinese-speaking society to what he had read," Yang said. "Being immersed in that culture and interacting with the people there was the best way for him to find out."

Bitner trip

Bitner studied intermediate Chinese for 11 weeks at National Taiwan University, the top-ranked university in Taiwan.

He also worked with Taiwanese LGBTQ+ activists at the Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association, the first organization dedicated to queer resources and education in Taiwan.

"I was able to meet and discuss the perspectives of the Taiwanese LGBTQ+ population with its oldest LGBTQ+ hotline, which serves a variety of needs within the local community," Bitner said. "It not only improved my language but gave me the experience of hearing from actual LGBTQ+ identifying Taiwanese people."

Bitner also said his ability to speak Chinese improved "tenfold" during the summer. He compared a language miscommunication with a convenience store employee on his first day in Taiwan to helping an English-speaking woman order food from an airport restaurant on his last day.

"It felt like a totally full-circle moment to go from that tough first day at the store to essentially acting as a translator for this woman in the airport at the end of the summer," he said.

Bitner said the support he received from UD was pivotal in his decision to study abroad. From having Honors Program Director Laura Cotten Howell review his application to consulting with Assistant Professor of Geology Charles Wu, who studied at National Taiwan University, Bitner said there was no shortage of faculty and staff willing to help.

"Even though I was in the Chinese program, having UD staff from all departments, all those little outreaches on campus, was what made me more successful in going abroad," Bitner said.

Bitner received the UD Anderson China Studies Fund scholarship, which supports student leaders wishing to advance international relations through a study abroad experience in Eastern Asia.

"In each of my classes, I encourage students to study abroad on day one," Yang said. "By studying abroad, you are exposed to new perspectives, learn how to navigate different cultures, work with diverse people and discover new opportunities. You will develop valuable skills that will prepare you to succeed in a global world."

Bitner plans to be the first in his family to graduate college, then pursue a career in finance or business with an emphasis in Chinese so he can continue to use and learn the language.

Bitner called his experience in Taiwan "life-altering." He hopes to return in the future.

"I could have let my doubts about factors like finances stop me from doing something I was interested in, but here at UD that’s not really an option," he said. "Nothing is impossible. If you have a goal and you want to do something, as long as you’re willing to buckle down and work hard toward it, there are so many resources available and people willing to help you."

For more information, visit the UD education abroad and Chinese language program websites.

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