Taiwanese culture camp visits Carson-Newman

Members of Carson English Culture Camp pose for a photo with President Randall O'Brien.

Members of Carson English Culture Camp pose for a photo with President Randall O'Brien.

An innovative Taiwanese culture camp that brings students to Carson-Newman University each summer has generated a 12-month waiting list in just two years. Held each July 1-15 since 2011, the experience offers middle to high school-age students the opportunity to enhance language skills in a relaxed setting.

Led by their study skills teacher, 2003 C-N alumnus Robin Tsai, eight students have come to especially love East Tennessee’s mountains, the outlet shopping centers of Sevierville, as well as making and eating quesadillas. Such activities are key to developing a better grasp of English, which is the ultimate reason for the trip.

Much like some Americans use Kaplan or Sylvan Learning Centers for tutoring or specific exam help, Taiwanese students rely on “cram schools” for intensive study and to master English proficiency, which is required for entrance into what are considered the best schools, said Tsai. Coming to Jefferson City affords Tsai’s Carson English Culture Camp students the chance to learn from his own teacher, Barbara D’Antoni Diggs, who led several of his English Language Institute and TESL classes here more than a decade ago.

Much of what students say they enjoy comes through what Diggs calls TPR, for Total Physical Response. “I believe that learning a foreign language must involve the whole person,” said Diggs, a 1983 alumna. “So we sing, dance, and they participate fully in my English classes.”

Diggs said she and her husband James came to consider Tsai as their son several years ago. They have taken him to family gatherings in other states and Barbara has traveled both to Taiwan and California to see him and his members. They open their home to the camp annually as their way to help his business succeed, but also out of their love for helping students learn about Carson-Newman.

“When Robin started his first cram school, he used all of his pictures from C-N and his visits in the United States. He has been promoting the University constantly since he was a student. He loves Carson-Newman and Jefferson City because he had such a wonderful experience.”

Tsai said his logic for bringing students to his alma mater was reconfirmed during his last trip to the West Coast. “I went to San Francisco and I did not speak any English at all. That is why I choose (to come) here. It is a good (place) to start them with English and with culture.”

Diggs arranges for campers to have brunch with Carson-Newman President Randall O’Brien and his wife Kay as one way to introduce them to the University. The current cadre applauded when O’Brien announced they would be in Taiwan sometime in early November.

Judy Tsai said the bonuses of the trip include conversational English and the complete lack of pressure she and her classmates normally experience. “We learn writing but not speaking, and here people see you and say ‘hello.’ It’s nice. In Taiwan, we won’t talk to strangers passing by.”