Susan Tsay – Retired High School Language Teacher and Writer

Houston, TX

In 1986, I co-founded the Houston Taiwanese School of Language and Culture with a group of like-minded Taiwanese Americans. In this venture I created teaching materials that would enlighten children of Taiwanese descent about Taiwanese language, culture, and traditions.

tsay.susan1Who are you?

During World War II, my father went to Japan to study for a degree in pharmacy. I was born in Nagoya City, Japan, and then grew up in Taiwan. My parents had eight children, of which I am the eldest.

I attended Kao-hsiung Girls High School, and then after graduating from National Taiwan University I returned to Kao-hsiung to teach school and write short stories.

Originally I had no plans to make a life in the US, but because my husband had gone to America to pursue an advanced degree, in 1969 I took our two young children there to reunite with him. In 1973 my husband received his PhD from Michigan State University and obtained a post-doctoral research position at the MD Anderson Cancer Center, so our family moved to Houston where we have lived until now.

Before leaving Taiwan, I had taught for five years and also published a short story anthology comprising more than 100,000 words.

In 1975, I began teaching Chinese language classes at Bellaire High School in Houston’s public school system. Between 1982 and 1984, I completed a Master’s degree in education at Houston Baptist University. In 1986, I published my second short story anthology in Taiwan. After 32 years at Bellaire High, I retired in 2007.

All along I have been actively involved in the Houston Formosan Association. In 1986, I co-founded the Houston Taiwanese School of Language and Culture with a group of like-minded Taiwanese Americans. In this venture I created teaching materials that would enlighten children of Taiwanese descent about Taiwanese language, culture, and traditions. This would provide them the resources needed to understand their family roots.

What do you do?

Since retiring, I have frequently been invited by the director of Rice University’s Chinese Teachers’ Training Program to share with their trainees the lessons of my 32 years of teaching experience. I also do my best to coach new Taiwanese immigrants in the Houston area on how to navigate the American high school educational system.

Nowadays I am living the life I dreamed of as a child: gardening, reading, and writing. I spend two hours every day tending to my garden, participate in a book club that discusses a new book every two months, and continue to write. My third collection of short stories will be published shortly. The 32 essays include remembrances of my childhood, the 2-28 massacre of 1947 and the subsequent decades of “White Terror,” and the students I have encountered.

Why are you proud to be of Taiwanese heritage?

Taiwanese people do not fear hard work; They are diligent, down-to-earth, do the best they can, and possess wisdom. The footprints of Taiwanese people exist anywhere the sun rises: all over the world Taiwanese people have created successful businesses and made great contributions to their local communities.

I am a first generation Taiwanese who emigrated to America. I am proud of my Taiwanese heritage.

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

In the US, the second-generation of Taiwanese Americans has outstanding accomplishments in domains such as medicine, science, engineering, law, and education. Only in the political arena do we still have a relative lack of influence. Hopefully in the not-to-distant future we will see a Taiwanese American mayor of a major city, governor, congressman or senator. We should even aspire to someday elect a Taiwanese American president of the United States. As Taiwan’s ex-president Chen Shui-Bian often said: “having a dream is most beautiful, and then hope will follow.”

Any additional information you would like to share?

My blog (written in Mandarin Chinese) address is:

You are more than welcome to visit.

Comment by her younger son, Andy, now an associate professor at the Leavey School of Business at Santa Clara University: Several generations of young Taiwanese Americans have passed through my mother’s classroom on their way to great accomplishments, including some who have become celebrities in Asia. I have run into my mother’s former students in all corners of the world. No matter what I might accomplish individually, I suspect that I will always be better known as “Tsay lao-shi’s son.” In that I take great pride.


3 Responses to “Susan Tsay – Retired High School Language Teacher and Writer”

  1. Karthik Chirala

    I happen to be married to a niece of Mrs. Tsay. Initially, I was nervous to meet her, having heard from my friends who were her students in years past of her sometimes serious nature in the classroom. I knew she was the matriarch of a large family and was eager to make a good impression. We were invited to dine at their home and I was worried about how I would be received. She welcomed me with open arms, extended every courtesy, and proved my fears unfounded. Now I am part of a warm, open-minded family and honored to be its only South Indian member. Thank you Mrs. Tsay.

  2. Eda Lai

    It’s been over 12 years since I was a student of Tsay laoshi and I still remember some chinese! That’s a testament to her teaching ability considering my terrible memory!

  3. Victoria Tseng

    Tsay Lao Shi did what my own parents could never do, despite many Saturdays of schooling — teach me Chinese! Achieving a perfect score on the IB exam in Chinese in high school, later studying novels in Chinese in university, and now using Chinese in my professional work really proves she helped me lay a great foundation in the language. Now I wonder who will do the same for future generations going forward in the U.S.? Tsay Lao Shi, may your garden always bring you flowers, and may your words always be read! Thank you!!

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