Mangoes, sunsets, and other things you can’t bring through customs

For the past three weeks, I have been on an annual trip my family takes to Taiwan, where my parents grew up and where many of my relatives still live. It’s a magical place to me. It was there, through the humid air of my grandmother’s apartment that I heard the stories that inspired my thesis project. During the trip, I took a bit of a break from the main work of my thesis project, but I had my ears wide open for stories and even began to experiment a little on the interview procedure with some of my relatives. More on that later. I brought a few postcards a few souvenirs from Taiwan to remind me of the magic of the place, but here are a few of the things I really wish I could’ve brought with me.

The delicious fresh tropical fruits I can only dream about here. Definitely not allowed through customs.

A sunset on the river. I wish I could carry it around with me

These flowers smell absolutely gorgeous, but the scent only appears at night

My grandma grows these adorable oranges in her yard

The most peaceful view

Learn more about my project.

Peeking Around Corners (What I’m Doing This Summer)

Finally, it is the summer, and with it, the pleasure of working on my thesis project as a Dietrich Honors Fellow here in Pittsburgh with my wonderful advisor, Professor Sue-Mei Wu.

To explain what the heart of my project is, I commissioned a drawing from my sister.


I am the child of immigrants: I grew up speaking first Chinese and then English, I grew up listening to stories that ranged from fantastical to depressing to inspiring to thrilling to terrifying to silly to thinly-cloaked-guilt-trips. Grandparents and aunts and parents all painted these stories in both English and Chinese, some of them mixing the two, while other used only one or the other.

My goal is to understand how immigrant families who speak two languages use the two languages to tell family stories, and how the use of languages and the purpose of the stories are related to each other and also to the identity formation of school-aged children in the families. Through my experience working with English as a Second Language (ESL) students at Allderdice High School and Brashear High School this semester, I’ve developed a special interest in how this applies to the English learning of ESL students and the maintenance and further development of their heritage languages.

I’m going to be spending the summer partially burying myself in books, to understand the theory around bilinguals and code-switching and family storytelling and immigrant identity building. This may not sound that enticing, but actually I cannot wait to curl up with some books and fill my mind with these topics.

The rest of my summer will be spent developing contacts with immigrant families in Pittsburgh, and developing the ways I’ll be observing and interviewing them about their language use and family storytelling. Hopefully I will be able to get some interviews and observations done over the summer as well. In any case, I will be updating this blog with my activities and discoveries, and I know (from having done research before) that they will be twisty and turny and unexpected, but always enlightening and interesting and worthwhile.

Read more about my project.