Where is Taiwan headed in the 21st century? Who will come here to live, work, and invest? How will Taiwan stay relevant on the world stage?
Many people in Taiwan may want to debate these weighty questions, but David Chang ’99 is actively working on an answer. After working in politics and law in New York state, he moved back in 2010 to work on projects that would impact Taiwan. Through the translation platform WordCorp and his new project Crossroads (www.crossroads.tw), David hopes to make it easier for companies and individuals to come to Taiwan and for companies and individuals in Taiwan to make their mark on the world.
“Communication is the Achilles’ heel of Taiwan,” says David. In person, David is a ball of energy, a tall, earnest presence with black-rimmed glasses. He leans forward when talking, as though compelled by the urgency of the issues he is working on. “If you’re a smaller country, that’s a weakness you can’t afford to have. You need to communicate well to seek support from other countries, so language is the common element that can bond us all.” To further communication in Taiwan, David founded WordCorp (一元三思有限公司, www.wordcorp.net) in 2010 with classmate Sijung Lai ‘99, a professional translation platform that “seeks to connect East with West through proper communication and exchange.”
Like so many TAS alumni, David first grappled with questions of culture, communication, and exchange at a young age. Born in Pennsylvania, David grew up in the Los Angeles area where he went to elementary and middle school. When his family moved back to Taiwan, he started high school in Taipei at TAS. “Coming from middle school in the US, I went to a pretty good school district, but we were still confined to our community,” recalls David. “Coming to TAS was a very different cultural experience for me. We went on so many trips to countries around Taiwan in Asia and other places. Mr. Thomas who taught me English was one of my favorite teachers. He took us on a trip to Greece once, and that was a memorable life-long experience that exposed me to other countries, different cultures, and religions.”
David also found a strong sense of identity at TAS that is common to many alumni and third culture kids. “TAS was always a solid foundation that I could come back to. It’s a culture of its own – going here, you are neither Taiwanese, neither American or wherever you come from; you’re in a strange in-between place. After all these years, the only people who understand that place are TAS kids, and that experience has contributed to why I’m doing what I’m doing with Crossroads, to bridge the gap in some way.”
What is Crossroads?
“Crossroads aims to be a one-stop shop without language barriers which will allow everyone to know about services they can use to relocate, resettle, and invest in Taiwan,” explains David. For example, any foreign business, particularly startups and SMEs [small to medium-sized businesses] with limited resources that might want to set up a branch in Taiwan will have a whole host of questions like how to set up a business, how to do accounting, how to relocate and find office space, and more. Individuals who land a job at an English cram school will need to know how to apply for work permits, residence visas, and ARCs. Without a local hand, the transition can be rough. David believes Crossroads can ease that transition into Taiwan, connecting the dots for people who may not even know where the dots are.
For the past two years, David has been building relationships and working with government ministries, legislators, businesses, and the foreign community to understand the needs that Crossroads would fulfill, resulting in the beta version of Crossroads which went live in July 2018. “Our beta website is focused on simplifying government processes. We break down the entrepreneur visa application into five easy steps, and we will hopefully expand to covering other government programs that encourage people to come to Taiwan,” explains David. Eventually, Crossroads aims to work with the Taiwanese government to make it easier to apply for residency, work permits, dependent visas, and much more. Citing model countries like Estonia, which recently pioneered e-citizenship and e-residency, David firmly believes that Taiwan has a long way to go to encourage foreign residents and investment.
At the same time, traffic does not have to be one-way – if some Taiwanese companies want to set up a branch or gain investors in Silicon Valley, they may need help with customizing their pitches and refining their delivery. Consultancies both in Taiwan and overseas can help. “It’s about connecting people across cultures and making it easier for them to access services,” summarizes David. Ultimately, the goal of Crossroads is to help Taiwan stay relevant globally by enabling more interaction between Taiwan and the world.
Nearly two years after they first started in spring of 2017, David is working with a team of two other full-time employees and three consultants, and he has big dreams for the future: “I hope that if people believe in the mission of Crossroads, they will join the community as a member to contribute original content or to provide services. I see Crossroads as a nerve center for activity, where government and business and foreign communities can come together.”
Barriers and Opportunities
Why doesn’t something like Crossroads exist already? David thinks that is the result of an interesting disconnect between the international, English-speaking community and the local Taiwanese community. As he sees it, the two communities have their own independent events and resources, with very little overlap, which handicaps Taiwan’s ability to present itself well to a global audience. “When we were working with the government on how to market Taiwan globally, we found that they had no integration or engagement with the foreign community here, because of the language factor and the intimidating prospect of interacting with foreigners,” David says. “In the end, how are you going to do global outreach if you’re not engaging foreigners who are already here in your community? If you’re only using the local perspective, you’re not going to do a great job.”
For the foreign community in Taiwan, David hopes that through Crossroads, they will have a bigger and more unified voice to communicate with local organizations, communities, and governments about local issues: “Premier Lai recently announced the government’s intention to adopt English as an official language of Taiwan, and you have the local bureaucrats deciding what it means to be teaching English. So now is a perfect time for the foreign community to have a voice – these are the people who have been teaching English and working with their children, and the existing system hasn’t given them a chance to speak up.”
Returning to His Roots
David has many friends and TAS classmates who live in the US, but he always had a feeling he wanted to move back to Taiwan. After graduating from University of California Santa Barbara with an interdisciplinary major in Law and Society, David went to work for a New York state senator. Of his beginnings in politics, David says, “I got very interested in how it’s involved in our everyday lives, whether we have a say in it or not. I started work in politics at a point when Asian Americans weren’t the most represented demographic because I wanted to explore that and how to make a difference.” David also helped set up a pilot program in Newark, New Jersey to help ex-offenders get back into the workforce and break the cycle of recidivism by working with private employers and using tax credits as an incentive.
Even though his career was flourishing on the East Coast, David came back to visit his parents every year, and the feeling that he could do something to help Taiwan persisted. “Taiwan is such a special place in the region, it’s a passionate place,” he says, using the Chinese term 熱情. “You keep hearing stories about how to come back and help Taiwan with what you learn overseas, and that stuck with me. Coming from my background with a place like TAS, if we have all these resources at our fingertips, can we think about how to use that for something that helps everyone?” Crossroads seems like a good place to start.