July 5, 2017
By Tommy Benson '17
Paige Merwin '17 is ideally suited for her upcoming Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) Program in Taiwan.
Ever since she was in seventh grade, the Isanti, Minnesota, native has been enamored with Asian culture, learning Mandarin, taking a smattering of Chinese and participating in an internship in Beijing in the summer of 2015.
During that Chinese internship, the elementary education major and music minor taught English in a Chinese school. This experience only inflamed her love of teaching — when she got back to the United States, she student taught at both Kennedy Elementary in St. Joseph and Avon Elementary.
“Student teaching gave me a lot of confidence. The elementary education major provided me with a good framework, but then I needed to apply it to real kids. These student teaching opportunities made me more confident and more excited to bring what I learned to the students in Taiwan to make the lessons there more engaging,” Merwin said.
The Fulbright U.S. Student Program places recent college graduates as English Teaching Assistants in schools and universities overseas. The ETAs improve international students' English abilities and knowledge of the U.S., while enhancing their own language skills and knowledge of the host country. ETAs may also pursue individual study/research plans in addition to their teaching responsibilities.
Kaohsiung, the city of Merwin’s placement, is a port-city of 2.77 million citizens on the southern edge of the Pacific Ocean island. It boasts the urban-feel that she is looking for.
“I’m very much into the musical and theatrical world. I lead the swing dance club, Swing Catz, at CSB and SJU, and I love arts and culture. I want to experience it in another country. My goal is to connect in Taiwan with their swing dancers to learn from them and also to teach them our ways. So, in that way I’ll grow in both directions,” Merwin said.
Besides being separated from her family for 11 months, Merwin has few reservations for her journey ahead. She credits her summer in China for this confidence, where she landed at the airport with no help except from a person holding a sign with her name on it.
“The actual living over there is exciting. Weekends are completely free. The experience of living in Taiwan doesn’t worry me at all, but excites me,” said Merwin.
She also credits her liberal arts education at CSB/SJU for providing her with the sort of versatility she will need to be successful out east.
“CSB and SJU gave me a general confidence in who I am and who I want to be. If I want to do something, I’ll do it. Liberal arts skills, being confident, communicating, the ability to stand up for myself, were all learned here. Also, my Resident Assistant position (at CSB) helped in these areas. I’m just much more confident in who I am in my identity through the classwork in education, through music, through my many relationships and through the extracurriculars,” Merwin said.
For Merwin, the Fulbright experience is the natural next step in her life that has followed an interesting path.
“It’s really coming full circle. Coming from the seventh grader living and learning from a Chinese teacher who stayed with our family, to now having that same impact in Taiwan. It’s just really cool to see how my role has switched,” Merwin said.
In the last four years, 22 students or graduates from CSB and Saint John’s University have earned Fulbright ETA awards and served abroad.
CSB and SJU students interested in applying for a Fulbright Award for the 2018-19 academic year should contact Phil Kronebusch, professor of political science and coordinator of competitive fellowships at CSB and SJU.