South Dakota’s Ambassadors of Excellence will travel to Taiwan to perform, experience culture

South Dakota's Ambassadors of Excellence will travel to Taiwan to perform, experience culture by M. Jill Karolevitz For 12 years, Dr. Bruce Milne, professor of education at The University of South Dakota, has been one of the driving forces behind the Ambassadors of Excellence program for high school students each summer at USD. And over the years at USD, he has also become acquainted with many graduate students from Taiwan.

With that connection, it�s only natural that a trip to Taiwan by the Ambassadors is being planned for Dec. 27 to Jan. 7.

The South Dakota Ambassadors of Excellence is a group of high-ability, talented high school students in grades 10 through 12, who come from approximately 35 communities around the state. Ambassadors assemble for two weeks each summer at USD for academic study in enrichment classes, most of which focus on the arts and humanities.

A vital part of this summer program is the annual South Dakota Ambassadors Show, featuring singing, dancing and variety acts. This high-energy performance, patterned after �Up With People,� will be taken on tour in Taiwan.

Plans for the trip began with Milne�s growing interest in Taiwan, due to his association with Taiwan graduate students at USD.

�They�ve come to USD as grad students working on their doctorates,� he said. �I have worked with a number of them for several years, and my interest in Taiwan has grown. In many cases, the students have said ?you�ve got to come visit�.�

Milne, along with 43 Ambassadors from this year�s �Class of 2000,� and 11 other adult chaperones, including past Ambassadors, accepted the invitation this year, and their travel plans are in the making.

In Vermillion, Milne is coordinating the trip with assistance from several students, including Ophelia Hsu, a Taiwan grad student at USD. Her husband, Yichung, teaches tourism and recreation management at the National University in Taipei, Taiwan, therefore, he�s assisting with travel plans there.

�We also have contacts with the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office,� Milne said. �They�re opening up the doors for us. Governor Janklow is also supportive and an intern at Senator Daschle�s office who�s working with foreign relations has been helpful, too. We�re building a strong foundation for this trip so when we get to Taiwan, we�ll have a lot of friends there.�

Travel with the Ambassadors of Excellence is nothing new to Milne. In past years, he has accompanied Ambassadors to Australia, Hawaii, England, Scotland, Wales, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Holland, Belgium, Denmark and many major cities in the United States. They have performed before world and national conferences in education of gifted students, in schools and on public �free stages� in their travels. In Taiwan, the plan is the same, to perform in various schools, universities and public settings. Milne will also give lectures at the National University.

The trip, however, will be more than a showcase of South Dakota talent. It will also be a true cultural exchange in every sense of the word.

�We want the people of Taiwan to show us their country,� Milne said. �We want them to share what they�re proud of � their schools, shrines, cities, museums and landscapes.�

Taiwan is the largest of the island chain that lies between Japan and the Phillipines. Roughly shaped like a tobacco leaf, it is 394 kilometers long and 144 kilometers broad at its widest point. As much as two-thirds of the 14,000-square-mile island is dominated by mountains that fall away steeply to the Pacific Ocean on the east coast. To the west lies a coastal plain, where most communities, farming activities and industries are concentrated.

Tentative plans are for the South Dakota travelers to circle the island, visiting schools, national parks and museums. The experience will give them a sense of the Orient on an island that�s roughly one-sixth the size of South Dakota and home to 23 million people.

The Ambassadors will arrive in Taiwan at Taoyuan, the island�s major center of manufacturing and home of Chiang Kai Shek International Airport. They will visit the zoo and celebrate New Year�s Eve in Taipei, the capital city, travel to Taichung, one of the island�s main business centers in central Taiwan, and Tainan, Taiwan�s oldest city, rich with historical sites and more than 200 temples, including the Confucius Temple, built in 1666.

At Taitung, the major city of southeastern Taiwan, they will be surrounded by pristine mountains and bright blue seas. And they will be very close to Taiwan�s many different settlements of indigenous people when they visit Hualien in the heart of eastern Taiwan.

The Ambassadors� families may have a chance to experience their travels as well, according to Milne. Bob Hegge, a former Ambassador, now a program director for KELO-TV, will also travel with the group. His plans are to film some of the tour which will be broadcast back to South Dakota during the time the Ambassadors are in Taiwan.

The South Dakota travelers, who are paying their own way, will be staying with host families in Taiwan. Part of their preparation has included studying the Chinese language through the Rural Development Telecommunications Network.

�I want the kids to be able to greet their host families and know something about the language,� Milne said. �The whole cultural experience is what we�re after.�

Milne firmly believes the Taiwan experience will provide the Ambassadors a greater awareness of their own abilities, along with a sense of cultural diversity that exists throughout the world. In a letter to Yichung Hsu, the USD professor told his Taiwan friend what the trip was all about.

�Bringing 55 souls to Taiwan will build a tremendous cultural awareness in these kids,� Milne wrote. �In the fact that they are bright and talented, they will become leaders in their schools, state and nation. The more understanding we provide for them, the greater they become aware of what can and needs to be done ? they will make a difference.�

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