When you’ve been surrounded by an international community for most of your life, differences in culture are central to your experience. Miriam isn’t a stranger to international learning. She grew up in Guangzhou, China where she attended an international school that brought together people from all over the world.
The experience of attending international school was central in shaping Miriam’s world view. “The international school has really opened up my eyes and allowed me to relate to a lot of different people because I’ve grown up with people from all over the world.” When Miriam arrived at Brandeis University, she became interested in sharing her own culture in America. Her ability to relate to others motivated her to apply for the SLE fellowship in Cantonese.
Once on campus, she noticed that there was a demand for Cantonese courses. The demand came not from only from people who weren’t Chinese, but also from Mandarin speakers who wanted to be able to communicate with their Cantonese speaking friends at Brandeis. By sharing her language, Miriam realized how central culture was in her life. “One thing that I realized when I participated in SLE [as a fellow] was how important my culture was to me and how much I wanted to share that.”
Chenyu Li participated in Miriam’s Cantonese class and was constantly impressed by her patience. He remembers learning the word “Leung”, which was a tricky pronunciation for many Mandarin speakers.” I remember that we spent nearly 20 minutes learning the pronunciation. Miriam was never impatient. She helped each of us, and we also helped each other. Even though it has been one year since that lesson, I can still pronounce “Leung” correctly.”
After her semester as a Cantonese fellow, Miriam stepped up to lead the Brandeis team as a campus coordinator. She also participated in SLE’s Vietnamese course, which opened her eyes to how culture and language interact in other countries. “We talked about the names of the streets and it was really fascinating because it kind of shows what is important to people. For example [in America], streets might be named after people or landmarks, but in Hanoi streets are named after what they sell, like food or fabrics and so on.”
Miriam’s love of learning and teaching hasn’t stopped since she’s graduated from Brandeis. She has since matriculated to the Teacher’s College at Columbia University, where she is majoring in Elementary Education. She says her focus shifted from linguistics, which was her major at Brandeis, to teaching children when she realized how important reaching children in their early years is. “[I] really want to teach history that is relevant to the students, and their culture is such a big part of how they grow up.”
Miriam knows that the learning of languages isn’t only important to college students. Miriam hopes to instill a love of culture in her own young students. “My mission is to foster global citizenship in my classroom. I would like to be able to empower the children to become changemakers. I know there are limitations to what I can teach but I really want to be able to incorporate a lot of cultural understanding into what they learn.”