Valerie Soto ’23 is seeing new things during her second trip to Taiwan.

Soto is currently studying in Taiwan through the Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) program. She is in the Tamsui district.

“This place is known as the coastal district because it is a fishing town that was once a Spanish settlement. Tamsui, also known as Danshui, is surrounded by beautiful mountains and scenery,” she says.

Soto originally intended to study abroad in China in 2020, but her plans were interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. She later received the opportunity to visit Taiwan in fall 2022 through China Educational Tours (CET) Academic Programs and couldn’t wait to go back.

“This experience allowed me to realize the importance of transcending Chinese beyond the classroom environment, experiencing the language within a cultural context and learning its linguistic nuances,” she says.

Soto’s previous study of the language inspired her to pursue the CLS program. After studying French, Latin and Spanish in high school, she decided to challenge herself with Chinese, which she had heard was one of the hardest languages to learn. She continued with this personal challenge at Wofford when she enrolled in Chinese 101.

Soto then declared a major in Chinese with a concentration in Asian studies. She also spent the summer of 2022 enrolled in a Chinese immersion program at Indiana University-Bloomington.

While studying through CET, Soto expanded her scope of study as an intern in the international affairs department for The Garden of Hope Foundation in New Taipei City, a nonprofit organization that focuses on assisting survivors of domestic violence and sexual abuse.

Soto is attending Tamkang University to further her language skills. Later, she will attend the University of Massachusetts-Amherst to pursue a master’s degree in Chinese. She also has been awarded a teaching assistantship, which will allow her to teach while studying for her degree.

Soto says Dr. Li Qing Kinnison, professor of Chinese, and Dr. Yongfang Zhang, associate professor of Chinese, were influential in her confidence and proficiency as a Chinese speaker.

“I would definitely encourage other students to apply,” Soto says. “I am confident they will find this program to be a life-changing experience.”