Chi-Ann Lin, from Newington, Conn., is a social studies teacher at Staples High School in Westport, Conn. She was the 1999 recipient of the Alma Exley scholarship and received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education with honors from the University of Connecticut. She serves on the scholarship program’s selection committee. Posted Sept. 7, 2008.
Being a teacher has provided me with some amazing opportunities. Several years ago, I volunteered to teach the East Asian Studies course at our high school. On a personal level, I felt that this was my chance to learn about my own ethnic background. Although my parents are immigrants from China and Taiwan, I knew very little about the history of their home countries having been born and raised in the United States. Although I still have much to learn, I am now able to understand further the struggles they have faced as they left their families, became citizens of the United States, and entered a vastly different culture.
My genuine interest in the region has led me to apply for various programs available to teachers. Last fall, I traveled to Japan as part of the Japan Fulbright Memorial Fund with a group of 200 teachers from each of the 50 states. As part of this fellowship, which was created to strengthen the relationship between Japan and the United States, we attended lectures given by educational and political leaders and had the wonderful opportunity to visit and observe classrooms in the elementary, junior high, and high schools. In addition, this past summer, I participated in a Yale PIER (Programs in International Educational Resources) Institute focusing on cultural exchange through trade along the Silk Road. The field study following this course led us to the cities of Xi’an and Dunhuang in western China, Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, and Istanbul, Turkey. These incredibly rich experiences overseas have inspired me with ideas for the classroom, stories to share with my students, and new outlooks on the world.
As an Asian American, I feel an especially strong obligation to provide my students with an accurate and meaningful curriculum that will inform them of a region that is sometimes misunderstood. This commitment has strengthened further as I see more Asian American students enroll in the East Asian Studies course each year with desires of understanding their own culture and history. And each year, as I attend the Alma Exley Scholarship reception to congratulate the new recipients and to reunite with past recipients, I am again reminded of the important obligation we have as educators to serve as role models, especially for our minority students.
I also hope that my travels abroad will inspire my own students to explore the world beyond their hometowns and familiar borders. Perhaps one of the most important lessons I have learned as a teacher is the importance of being a lifelong learner. I therefore hope that this is just the beginning of my exploration of the world. These hopes that I hold for myself as well as my students are essentially the same hopes embodied in the spirit of the Alma Exley Scholarship, a program that encourages cultural understanding by supporting teachers of color in the public education system.