Carolyn Tsai

Carolyn teaching students

Fulbright ETA Grant, 2013-2014

Little Katherine looks at me, eyes wide with amazement, when she hears me speak Chinese. ‘You can speak Chinese too? So where are you really from? Which country do you belong to?’ I assure her that I am American, and that Americans who can speak different languages do indeed exist. But some confusion still remains in her eyes; and I see within it a reflection of my own questions about identity.

“Elementary school students are like mirrors; their questions so earnest and clear that you can see your own actions, emotions, and thoughts reflected as you struggle to answer them. That is why, though I applied to this scholarship expecting to be teaching, I have done even more learning. My students have pushed me to reflect on my Taiwanese American identity, and teaching them alongside a Taiwanese co-teacher has tested and strengthened my cross-cultural communication and collaboration skills. Every day, they greet me with their open minds and never-ending questions, inspiring me to view every situation from different perspectives, to reflect on myself and my own prejudices, to think beyond the easy answer, and to constantly, constantly question.”

“Later, I tell Katherine I’m still learning a language, just like her, and ask if she’d like to teach me. She eagerly launches into writing Chinese characters, and in her eyes I see the reflection of someone inspired to adopt the same childlike enthusiasm for learning in all aspects of her life.