What a year of teaching in Taiwan has looked like for an OHIO alumna and Fulbright scholar – and why she is staying for another
When Alexis Karolin, B.A. ’22, was placed to teach English as a foreign language in Taipei, Taiwan through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, she had no clue what lay ahead. Now, a year later, the OHIO alumna has grown personally and professionally while immersing herself in Taiwanese culture.
Karolin graduated in Spring 2022 from Ohio University’s Honors Tutorial College (HTC) with a bachelor of arts in history and a certificate in law, justice and culture, and a certificate in Asian studies. Soon after graduating, she headed to Taipei to dive into teaching English to Taiwanese students.
From weekly K-pop dance sessions with students, grabbing a steamed bun on her commute home, and teaching evening dance class to coworkers, Karolin has taken the opportunity to fully experience Taiwanese culture throughout the past year.
“My day is different every single day,” she said.
Karolin teaches grades 1, 2, 5 and 6 at Wenchang Elementary in Taipei, Taiwan. Taiwan has a policy known as the “Bilingual 2030” plan aimed toward increasing English proficiency across the country. To support the policy, the subjects that Karolin teaches, life skills, math games and design thinking, are taught in English. Wenchang is the first school in Taipei to start a bilingual curriculum.
Karolin also takes Chinese classes to continuously learn the language and experience the culture of a classroom in Taiwan similar to her students.
“It’s a super cool experience,” she said of living in Taipei. “There are so many things about this city that I love.”
One of her primary goals going into the program was to develop a better sense of cultural competence and understanding of the region by living in an Asian country in order to better understand those who she wants to work with and advocate for in the future.
During her undergraduate career at OHIO, Karolin conducted research on Asian American and Pacific Islander history. She established an archival collection that documents the founding of three Asian American organizations in Athens through an internship with the Robert E. and Jean R. Mahn Center for Archives in Alden Library.
“One of the reasons I came to Taiwan is because I wanted to learn more about Asian culture that you can’t really learn from a textbook, something that you can really only learn from a truly immersive experience,” she said.
Karolin credits her time at OHIO for helping her build the confidence to take on the international experience. On top of her research, she served as a learning community leader, taught cardio dance classes at Ping Recreation Center and participated in the Swansea University Exchange program in Spring 2020.
“Being at OU was a great experience for me because it was the first time I was introduced to issues about diversity, politics, and justice, and how we can create a more equitable society, and also recognizing how my experiences are different from other people based on my race,” she acknowledged.
She attests to the sense of support that OHIO provided for her and remains in touch with professors and staff members who helped her over her four years.
“It’s really awesome to have a whole team of people at a University who really just want to best for you and are invested in your success,” she said.
Sense of identity strengthened
As someone of Asian American descent, Karolin’s time in Taipei has allowed her to explore her own identity and expand her perspective. She was born in the Hunan Province in China and adopted in 2000.
“It’s very interesting living in an area where everyone is Asian and looks like me,” she explained. “I have never had that experience before. Being a racial minority in the U.S. leads you to tend to focus on the minority part and what makes you outwardly different. Coming to Taiwan, being an ethnic majority here is like a complete reverse.”
Long-term, Karolin hopes to use her experiences in Taiwan to serve as a better advocate and professional.
“Part of the Fulbright program is sharing your culture with students, so I came to terms with I’m not Asian, I’m not American, I’m Asian American – and a lot more comfortable with the middle ground of being Asian and American,” she said.
The Fulbright program runs for 11 months. There are opportunities to extend your grant in the Fulbright program. After applying to extend, Karolin was recently accepted to continue teaching in Taiwan for another year.
“I will be back in Taiwan in August to start all over again,” Karolin said.