Zion Shih is an alumna of the CLS Chinese Program hosted by Tamkang University in New Taipei City, Taiwan. Zion attends Loma Linda University where she studies Translational Medicine as an MD-PhD student. As a future physician-scientist, Zion plans to bring her work with patients into the lab to innovate and improve patient outcomes.
Getting to Know Zion
I grew up in a multi-cultural community in the San Francisco Bay Area in a multi-generational Taiwanese-American household. With encouragement from family to learn the world’s languages, I grew up learning Mandarin on the weekends, learning Spanish in school, and picking up American Sign Language on my own. From a young age, I loved building bridges with people.
Language is part of our identity. I began to understand the gravity of that when I left home and no longer had the same opportunities to speak Taiwanese and Mandarin, the languages I associate with my family and belonging. Language opens the door to extraordinary new perspectives and ways of interacting with the world. Furthermore, Chinese has such a rich history, art, and culture. I know I’ve only just scratched the surface. During my CLS Program, we went to a museum that documented when the Japanese were in Taiwan. As I traveled the country, I better understood how Japanese influence remains in Taiwan today—from the highspeed rail traversing Taipei to Tainan, to the often-spoken Taiwanese word for apple, which is the Japanese for apple.
During my CLS Program, tensions were high across the Taiwan Strait and Pacific. It was intriguing hearing local Taiwanese people respond to the current news. It humbled me to hear peers (language partners and fellow cohort members) explain principles of democracy, peace, and international relations in Mandarin from their own unique backgrounds that ranged from international relations and modern languages, to social work and environmental studies. The interplay of history, politics, and economics and how they affect our lives was a difficult dance of words and concepts. Holding these diverse perspectives together made understanding more plausible and I thrived in this interdisciplinary space. Studying the Chinese language is essential for me to understand global politics and how it impacts the advancement of science and society.
Becoming a Physician-Scientist
My dream is to compassionately serve my community and provide them with the best care science can offer. As an aspiring physician-scientist, language is essential in communicating effectively with patients and colleagues. Language is key in accurately diagnosing, encouraging adherence, and navigating the cultural nuances that lead to the patient’s healing. I want to bring comfort and health to everyone I interact with as a physician-scientist and community member.
During the CLS Program this past summer, I felt more like myself than I had in a while. One night, we were sitting around the dinner table reminiscing on how we’d grown and gotten to know one another over the course of just a few short weeks. At one point, someone asked: what part of yourself haven’t you shown yet on the program? When the inquiry circled back to me, I was surprised that I had no reservations to share my heart. Previously lost aspects of my identity—sister, learner, friend—flourished in this time and space of learning Mandarin and exploring Taiwan with this amazing community, and now, family. I look forward to future opportunities to learn more languages and build more connections across the world.
Words of Advice
Be receptive to learn from different perspectives. Our teacher often reminded us to “慢慢來” [take it easy] and “換方法說,” [think of another way to express an idea]. Her pedagogy encouraged us to look at the glass half-full. I didn’t realize how much I needed the reminder. Her words encouraged me to courageously talk with local people I met as I walked around the neighborhood. I even got to sing with a local church choir! Be brave, it can be beautiful. Leading up to my time in Taiwan, I contacted as many CLS alumni as I could through the Alumni Resource Directory. I am extremely grateful for all they shared: from language-specific learning tips to their own cherished memories and stories. The support I experienced from fellow students and staff—Taiwanese and American, CLS and Tamkung University—made all the difference. Reach out, ask questions, embrace the moment, smell the roses, and remember: be present.
New Taipei City, Taiwan
March 20, 2023