UI student awarded Fulbright to teach English in Taiwan

Destinee Gwee

Destinee Gwee, a recent graduate of the UI with a B.A. in biochemistry and Chinese, is the winner of a Fulbright Teaching Assistantship to Taiwan for 2016-17. 

Destinee Gwee, a recent graduate of the UI with a B.A. in biochemistry and Chinese, is the winner of a Fulbright Teaching Assistantship to Taiwan for 2016-17. As the former coxswain of the UI Rowing Team with a background in healthcare, she plans to encourage students in the community to lead active and healthy lifestyles by developing group exercises and promoting healthy eating. In addition to volunteering as a conversation partner at nursing homes, she plans to organize a youth team to participate in the annual Dragon Boat Festival that takes place each June.

Hometown: Iowa City, Iowa

Degree and field of study: B.A. in biochemistry and Chinese (University of Iowa)

What will be the focus of your project?

I will be teaching English to elementary school children. For my community engagement project, I plan to start a club to promote healthy living and positive body image with school-aged girls, either at the school at which I am assigned or at a local community center. I will use my fitness and coaching experience as a coxswain on The University of Iowa rowing team to carry out this project and will use it as an opportunity to teach English outside of the classroom. This year I am volunteering with Girls on the Run, a community program geared toward encouraging healthy lifestyles in adolescent girls. Additionally, if assigned to an area with rowing or dragon boats available, I plan to use my experience on the rowing team to organize a youth team to take part in the Dragon Boat Festival, a national holiday which takes place each year in June. I also plan to volunteer as a conversation partner in a retirement home. As the families of many Taiwanese citizens originally emigrated from the Fujian area of China, many members of the older generation speak Hokkien in addition to Mandarin. I hope to use my background in Mandarin as a bridge to learn more about Taiwanese culture and the dialect of Hokkien.

What drew you to this field of study?

I'm interested in promoting health and wellness, both physical and psychological. I want to work with adolescent girls for multiple reasons; one, it's easier to form healthy habits at a young age than it is to change bad habits later on in life, and two, learning how to love oneself can be a powerful skill for anyone to possess, but I believe it is especially necessary to remind girls how to do this.

I am interested in learning more about Taiwanese culture/history and the Hokkien dialect. Also, as Dr. Wachsmuth would say, I've got a soft spot for old people. Working on an inpatient psychiatry unit this year has reminded me that we often neglect our elderly in the states. Conversely, in my experience, the elders in Asian communities are revered and respected for their wisdom. I would like to observe and compare the treatment of the elderly in Taiwan to that which I've already seen in the U.S.

How do you see this Fulbright grant advancing your work?

The experience of teaching English in Taiwan will significantly improve the quality of care that I will be able to provide to my patients as a future physician. Following the Fulbright, I will attend medical school. My long-term goal is to become a physician in underprivileged Mandarin-, Laotian-, or Thai-speaking communities, as well as to work with Doctors Without Borders. Each day in Taiwan, I will learn how to help students express themselves in a second language similar to the way I will help patients express their health concerns. I will learn about Taiwanese culture and views on health care and incorporate those lessons into my future practice of medicine. In learning how to effectively teach English as a second language, I will learn how to better communicate with future patients from diverse backgrounds.

Would you have any advice for future students interested in pursuing a Fulbright?

Do what makes you happy, not what you think is going to look good on a resume or on an application. If what makes you happy also looks good on a resume, great! But if you think you should force yourself to do things you hate just because you think it'll look good, don't. Whether or not you are passionate about something is easy to see in a personal statement or an interview.

The highly competitive Fulbright Program, created by U.S. Sen. J. William Fulbright in 1946 and sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, provides grants annually for international research and teaching in an effort to foster global partnership and cultural exchange. For more information on applying for a Fulbright through the University of Iowa, visit our Fulbright page.

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