I grew up in the land of apple pie, Friday-night football games, and white picket fences. Some weekends, I would drive up to D.C. and see tourists decked out in their new Washington D.C. souvenir T-shirts, posing along the National Mall – all while munching on their great American hot dogs. Whether intentional or not, in my distinctly American neighborhood, I was fully immersed in its popular culture, traditions, and the overall lifestyle. At home, however, I was integrated into a sometimes haphazard blend of two cultures. Since both of my parents are from Taiwan, they taught me Chinese at an early age, and I spent my weekends attending Chinese school, memorizing vocabulary words, and being shuttled to various Taiwanese-American events throughout the Washington D.C. area. Participating in STEP has helped bridge a connection between these two distinct parts of my identity, ensuring that both the Taiwanese and American portions can come together as one and be equally represented in the person I am today.
STEP Taiwan aims to minimize the urban-rural educational gap in Taiwan by connecting volunteers with young students living in Taiwan’s disadvantaged communities. We are a completely student-run non-profit based in the United States that provides English education support through camps and our own curriculum. Throughout the school year, our volunteers work alongside our partner organization, Boyo, to participate in article translation efforts, audio book recordings, and a pen-pal exchange in order to promote language and cultural education.
By bringing these English-speaking Taiwanese-American volunteers to rural areas of Taiwan in summer and winter camps, STEP not only bridges educational gaps, but also fosters cultural connection and integration. The children in these communities benefit from cross-cultural interaction in both tutoring and mentoring relationships. Volunteers become positive role models who can provide students a glimpse of various cultures and lifestyles. Likewise, STEP volunteers learn equally as much from the students and the largely Bunun community they live in for the duration of camp. STEP volunteers have built memorable relationships that transcend our camps and lead to year round connections.
Through the bridging of cultural connections between elementary-school students and my fellow college-aged peers, STEP has given me the chance to share my own unique Taiwanese-American perspective on the world around me, while also giving back to Taiwan and developing strong ties to the country in which my parents were raised. After experiencing what I learned through STEP last summer, I’ve been working to build a sense of community here in the United States. The impact of STEP is truly lifelong – by granting me the opportunity to cultivate a strong sense of Taiwanese identity through this common ground, our volunteer endeavors, and our efforts in the mutual exchange of cultures between Taiwan and America, I’ve recognized the importance of embracing the Taiwanese portion of my identity. After all, the expression of the Taiwanese-American identity incorporates both sides – you can’t have one without the other.
Anna Wang is a second-year nursing major at the University of Virginia. In her free time, Anna enjoys discovering new restaurants on Yelp, playing the piano, and traveling.
Editor’s Note: The STEP Taiwan Summer Program application is currently open.
STEP, Students for Taiwanese Educational Progress, is a volunteer-run 501(c)(3) non-profit organization founded in 2016 . Based in the U.S., we are operated by volunteers and students who are passionate about driving sustainable change through mentorship and education.
Our mission is to minimize educational inequality in Taiwan by connecting student volunteers with students living in Taiwan’s disadvantaged communities. As a proud partner of Boyo Social Welfare Foundation, we create programming designed around a flexible, student specific educational model. To date, our content has been distributed to over 2000 Taiwanese children.