Dipping into Taiwanese culture

Laura Wang

Fulbright Scholar Laura Wang

By Marissa Payne, The Daily Iowan

University of Iowa Fulbright recipient Laura Wang has landed in Taiwan this month, with Hawkeye spirit in her heart and the desire to be immersed in Asian languages and culture on her mind.

The Fulbright program provides grants for individuals to study in a foreign country for a year. Recipients use the grant to conduct research on a topic of their choice or instruct locals through an English teaching assistantship.

Since arriving to Taiwan on Aug. 1, Wang has participated in a month long orientation program. Wang said she attends workshops every day, which cover topics ranging from cultural differences to classroom management.

Despite not having any formal teaching experience, Wang is excited to be on the other side of the desk when she starts her new role next week. She has led a summer camp for local children this week in preparation of her first day of teaching.

“I don’t really know what to expect,” she said. “I don’t know what the kids will be like, I don’t know … how their behavior will be, so I’m really excited to learn.”

Wang is one of 15 UI students to be awarded a Fulbright.

“I think she won because of persistence, versatility, and her ability to juggle and multitask and be successful in everything that she did,” said Writing Center Director Carol Severino, Wang’s former boss.

As an English major and a lifelong lover of writing and reading, Wang did not waste the opportunities that the City of Literature has to offer. She worked as both a Writing Fellow and Writing Tutor in the Writing Center, Severino said.

Severino said she believes Wang’s understanding of the writing process gained through her work in the Writing Center will make her a strong teaching assistant in Taiwan.

“The writing fellow or writing tutor … also has writing assignments that they’re struggling with … so there’s that element of empathy,” she said.

To combine her love of the written word with her Chinese heritage and knowledge of the language as a Chinese major, Wang hopes to organize writing groups for Taiwanese children.

In addition to working in the Writing Center, Wang said, she gained experience that will aid her work as a teaching assistant by working with the International Writing Program and Iowa Youth Writing Project, a nonprofit organization.

“Now that I’m here learning a lot about education in a different country, I’m also reigniting my interest in nonprofit work, maybe even being an ESL teacher when I come back or trying to find something where I can work with Chinese/Taiwanese people,” she said.

Karen Wachsmuth, the UI associate director of international fellowships, said Wang is not the only Hawkeye representing the UI in Taiwan.

Fulbright scholar Destinee Gwee will also be a teaching assistant in Taiwan. UI alumnus Brett Burk, a 2015 Fulbright scholar, is also still in Taiwan, Wachsmuth said.

Wachsmuth said she is excited about Wang’s work and the other scholars’ contributions in Taiwan.

“Having this lineage of University of Iowa students in Taiwan is exciting [for the scholars] to be able to mentor and prepare each other before they leave … have a group of friends once they are there, and share teaching methods and advice,” she said.

Although Wang is far away from the Midwest, her involvement in Iowa City’s literary scene and knowledge of Asian culture will translate into a year to remember.

“The University of Iowa has so many opportunities, and I will forever be grateful for that,” she said.

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