Jeffrey Shieh – Overseas Program Coordinator and Language Teacher

Uchinada Town, Kahoku District, Ishikawa Prefecture, Japan

I am also an advocate for foreign language education in the U.S., and believe that the myopic monolingualism of so many Americans is a detrimental weakness to their success in this rapidly shrinking and globalizing world.

shieh.jeffrey1Who are you?

I am a 25-year-old, 2nd-generation Taiwanese American working as a Coordinator for International Relations on the Japan Exchange & Teaching (JET) Programme in Uchinada Town, Ishikawa Prefecture, Japan. I am a Christian, was brought up in the Evangelical Formosan Church, and am the eldest child of a pastor. Born and raised in the Los Angeles county area, I grew up speaking Taiwanese at home and English at school. I studied French in high school, and went on to UC Berkeley to double major in Chinese and Japanese Languages and minor in Korean Language. I am an amateur musician and like to play the piano, flute, clarinet, and bassoon.

What do you do?

Currently, I work in the town hall of a Japanese town of 27,000 people. My job is to organize events with an international and/or multicultural focus, such as Halloween parties for kids, Christmas dinners for adults, multi-lingual speech contests, and monthly salons where foreigners and Japanese meet and learn about each other’s cultures. I also teach Mandarin, Korean, and English to the townspeople, and from time to time visit five elementary schools, talking to the kids there about America, Asian Americans, and other international issues. I also help out at the local church by playing piano/keyboard for their youth group. I am also an advocate for foreign language education in the U.S., and believe that the myopic monolingualism of so many Americans is a detrimental weakness to their success in this rapidly shrinking and globalizing world.

Why are you proud to be of Taiwanese heritage?

Taiwanese Americans, although relatively few in number compared to other ethnic API populations in the U.S., have been innovative pioneers on the frontier of numerous fields, including (but not limited to) politics, law, technology, physical sciences, architecture, cinema, music, and art. The Taiwanese are a resourceful and creative people, and through their hard work and diligence they have overcome ethnic, linguistic, and cultural barriers to become a population that not only contributes to, but also greatly enriches American society. I am proud of my linguistic heritage in the Taiwanese language (aka Minnan or Fukien) as well. Not only does Taiwanese boast one of the oldest histories of the many Chinese languages, it is also a current, vibrant, and expressive lived language that has continued to evolve and thrive in the face of numerous obstacles (just like the people who speak it). And I am immensely proud of Taiwanese food. The myriad of amazing foods that claim Taiwanese heritage show the creativity and genius of the chefs who created them. Only someone crazy could say no to “gu-bah-mi” and “bah-tzang”!

What does the future of Taiwanese America look like to you?

I see Taiwanese America as growing increasingly more diverse. Although many of our parents immigrated to the U.S. as businessmen or graduate students in science, law, or economics, our generation has branched out from those fields and integrated ourselves into all parts of academia and American society. The passionate activism of many Taiwanese Americans has played an invaluable role in raising awareness about the issues that affect the Asian American community. On the global front, Taiwanese Americans have also been doing their part to teach others about the differences between Taiwan and China, and Taiwanese and Mandarin, and that may influence the course of world politics in the near future.

On the other hand, I admit that I am also concerned about Taiwanese Americans losing parts of their cultural and linguistic heritage to the hegemony of the English language and American culture. While I recognize that it is the unique blend and mix of Taiwanese and American cultures that makes us a unique community, I believe an equal balance between the two is necessary to preserve the Taiwanese side. I myself have resolved to in the future teach my children Taiwanese culture and language, and encourage others to consider doing the same.

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One Response to “Jeffrey Shieh – Overseas Program Coordinator and Language Teacher”

  1. David L Chen

    Jeffrey,

    Thank you for your advocating of foreign languages in our country. I have taken mandarin on saturdays for four years plus two quarters of college mandarin at UC Irvine. I took 3 years of Japanese in high school in washington state where I grew up. I am, and currently am starting to teach Taiwanese “reading fundamentals” having already background in chinese characters, zhuyin, pinyin, hiragana, and katakana. Although still enriching my Taiwanese vocabulary…I am trying to teach Taiwanese “reading fundamentals” using Daighi Tongiong Pingim (臺語通用拼音),Pehoeji (白話字), Extended Bopomofo (注音) and Chinese Characters.

    I have experience with Chinese Characters from Mandarin classes and currently take Taiwanese at Taiwan Center learning Tongiong Pingim. But I have learned the tones as well…so I can teach people tools for independent study.

    Thank you for being proud of Taiwanese heritage and keeping it alive for your children.

    I too am Christian, but I find internal conflict between my Taiwanese identity and serving God via my Christian identity.

    I go to Saddleback Church in Orange County, and lately many of the Taiwanese I meet whether 1st generation or 1.5 generation seem to have no care or desire to teach Taiwanese. The Christian “Taiwanese” call themselves Chinese a lot and don’t think/consider Taiwanese of any significant. In fact they propagate this “Mandarin” as progressive and mainstream.

    The majority of Taiwanese who actually are proud of Taiwanese and their heritage are not Christians.

    Some Christian Taiwanese I meet don’t care, and think if Jesus is coming back…it all doesn’t matter because we are God’s people and we should just love love love. Who care’s about this identity in God’s perspective…or something ludicrous.

    I have been very troubled…I mean I draw as close to God as I can, yet the Taiwanese brothers and sisters I meet in Christ…the vast majority of the believers that I have meet so far are pro-Mandarin and totally disregard Taiwanese…and just see it as a language that will die in the next generation. They call themselves Chinese instead of Taiwanese, advocate Mandarin, and don’t even consider an option to want to teach Taiwanese when “everyone speaks mandarin”.

    The people I meet at Saddleback Church in OC, want to do missions outreach in China, and feel a heart to China…no pride in Taiwan.

    David L Chen

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