Li-Ling Yang always aspired to be an educator. But it was a book about family counseling that enlightened her to the challenges of teaching and the passion it takes to really connect with students from such diverse backgrounds. Now, when she’s not traveling to and from her native Taiwan to research the Taiwanese education system and to partner with teachers there, Yang spends her days (and nights!) striking a balance between motherhood, scholarship and teaching a new generation of educators.
U.S. DREAMS: Yang, who came to the States to pursue a teaching certificate and later her Ph.D., says she encountered a few surprises when she arrived. “The spring flowers amazed me the most. Taiwan is subtropical, so we don’t really see the seasons change.”
INQUIRING MINDS: When Yang was pregnant with her now five-year-old son, she and her husband had trouble settling on a name. Ever the science teacher, she eventually thought of Dawen – a phrase from Confucius, the founding father of inquiry-based teaching. “In Mandarin, Da means ‘great’ and Wen means ‘asking.’ In other words, Confucius was pleased with his student and praised him by saying ‘what a great question.’” An apt name for the son of two professors.
HERITAGE AT HOME: “I think that, to not be isolated from our culture, language is an important piece,” Yang says. She speaks Mandarin at home but refuses to discourage him if he uses English words in conversation. He is able to communicate with relatives in Taiwan on a regular basis, which is most important to Yang. “It’s up to my son. We will provide him this environment as long as he wants it.”
MOONCAKE MADNESS: Although Yang and her family don’t typically celebrate traditional Chinese holidays, they do take a quick break for some mooncake during the Mid-Autumn Festival. The pastries, usually filled with lotus seed paste or mung bean paste, are derived from a folk tale in which a queen defies her husband by drinking an immortality elixir he had become obsessed with developing. “She took the medicine to teach him a lesson. She became a goddess and flew to the moon where she lives forever with a rabbit. So we eat the mooncake to remember the queen.”
IN HER FREE TIME: “I’ll have to get back to you in a few years!” Yang says with a chuckle. “I don’t really know what that is right now.”