Hsu Wen-han is the first student in six years from Chutung High School in Hsinchu County to gain admission to National Tsing Hua University. (Wang Meng-hsiao)
Hsu Wen-han, a graduate of National Chutung Senior High School in Hsinchu County, is the first student in six years from that school to get into a top-rated national university. After his consistently good performance throughout his three years of senior high school, his acceptance into National Tsing Hua University was well-deserved.
Hsu Wen-han, who entered the BA program in the Engineering College (where there is no division of students by department or major field for the first year) under the Stars Program, vividly remembers how he felt last March when he was called down to the principal's office. Since he had never been there before, he was really nervous, but it turned out that the principal just wanted to tell him the good news that he had been accepted by Tsing Hua. In an instant his worries resulting from his failure to be accepted into the Department of Physics at National Central University under the "recommendation" system dissipated into thin air.
Wen-han had earlier worked very hard to get his materials together for the recommendation to NCU, though he knew full well that the Department of Physics required at least Level 13 in mathematics (tests are given in five fields, with the highest level in each subject being 15), while he had only a Level 12, and the total of all his levels was only 64, so that there was not much hope of making it. But he still felt very disappointed by the rejection. And he naturally assumed there was no chance whatsoever of getting accepted by the even more demanding Stars Program at Tsing Hua, but applied anyway simply because he didn't want to disappoint a teacher who had been encouraging him. He never expected he would hit the jackpot.
"I'm really happy that I can study at Tsing Hua. At least in the future I'll have a leg up in the job market," says Hsu. His elder brother and younger sister both attended private vocational colleges, with tuition at well over NT$100,000 per year. Though his parents haven't given him any pressure in this regard, he still plans to take a part-time job over winter vacation to earn his own tuition.
During the three years that Hsu, who is more mature than most kids his age, studied at Chutung High School, his principal didn't know that he is of indigenous ancestry, otherwise he could have gotten an upgrade of 25% on his total scores for entry into university. He then certainly could have gotten into National Taiwan University, which would have been a real landmark for Chutung.
Hsu's mother is Atayal, and his father was born in Kinmen; both are blue-collar workers. While there is no question he comes from a disadvantaged part of society, he has decided to make a go of it on his own. "My father always told me that there are indigenous people in the mountains with few resources and very bad living conditions, so they're the ones who really need the government's help. Right now both my parents have jobs, and I've got all my limbs in one piece, so I have to rely on myself. Anyway, I don't want people to think that the only reason I got into Tsing Hua was because of the additional points."
Hsu, who graduated four years ago from Yuantung Junior High School near Wufeng Township, was delighted that he could come out of a remote rural junior high and test into a nationally-backed high school. But after entering Chutung High School, he found that a lot of his classmates had given up on themselves, and he felt very troubled. In particular, classmates from Hsinchu City who had set their sights on the top boys' and girls' high schools in the city felt exiled ending up in the more rural Hsinchu County, and it was hard for them to make the psychological adjustment.
Wen-han doesn't consider himself to be especially smart. After entering high school, he pushed himself to study very hard, and even after finishing first in his class in the first mid-term examinations, he worried he wouldn't be able to stay at that level. During his first two years, every evening after finishing dinner he would hit the books again at seven and study until one or two in the morning. "I really don't know how I could have stood it back then, and the pressure only got worse in third year. I was really depressed, and was stressed out a lot of the time." Luckily he likes sports and plays a lot of tennis, which certainly helped blow off some of the steam.
The fact that Hsu made it into a top national institution was very encouraging for Chutung High School, which had not had a student go on to National Taiwan University, Tsing Hua, or Chiao Tung for the previous six years. "The Stars Program was like an adrenalin shot for us. After Chutung produced six stars last year, including Wen-han, this year the graduating students all feel like they have a real shot at a first-rate school, which helps them to buckle down and get focused," says Chutung principal Chiang Chia-heng.
Chiang transferred to Chutung three years ago from Shihting High School in Taipei County. Comparing the educational resources of the two counties, she notes that Taipei County is considered a top county educationally, and although Shihting was relatively remote within the Taipei County scheme of things, more than half the students came from urbanized areas of the county like Chungho, Yungho, and Hsintien (all suburbs of Taipei), with quite decent standards. Moreover, the Taipei County Government could always be relied on to come up with funds for special projects. In contrast, Hsinchu County offers little help to her school. "The county government doesn't have a big budget. There are more students in Hsinchu County than in Hsinchu City, but spending on education is lower in Hsinchu County. They think that the three nationally-backed high schools in the county should be entirely funded by the central government. Yet it is Hsinchu County kids that we are educating."