SOLDIERS GROVE - Soldiers Grove resident Michael Dishnow may be a retired educator, but when you hear what he’s doing it doesn’t sound much like retirement.
Dishnow has partnered with a retired Taiwanese English teacher deeply involved with expanding English language instruction in rural Taiwan. In fact, Luke Lin has founded an organization to foster cross-cultural understanding, while also increasing proficiency in English. It’s called My Culture Connect.
As might be expected, the local Soldiers Grove resident with the education background is deeply involved with My Culture Connect. Dishnow’s involvement started about six or seven years ago. The initial contact with Taiwan came through a coincidental meeting through his wife Diane and Lee Becwar, when both worked at the Sunrise Orchard in Gays Mills. Originally from Taiwan, Lee lives with her husband Jerry in Mount Sterling.
Through the Becwars, Dishnow became involved in doing computerized ‘Skype’ sessions with young Taiwanese students learning English.
The Becwars own a home in Taiwan and spend part of the year there. Jerry, an electric utility worker, with lots of seniority has earned a large vacation, according to Dishnow.
The interest in Taiwan and teaching English led to Michael Dishnow’s first visit to the island nation in 2012. Historically, Taiwan became home to the nationalist Chinese followers of Chiang Kai-shek subsequent to nationalists defeat in a civil war fought against the communist in 1949. As a home to these exiles from Mainland China, it is very densely populated.
Luke Lin’s work is centered in a populous rural ‘county’ of Taiwan called Changhua County. Actually Taiwanese ‘counties’ are more the size of states or provinces in other countries. Changhua County is home to 1.3 million people.
Dishnow visited Taiwan for the first time in 2012. He has been there three more times since that visit.
In Taiwan instruction in English begins in the third grade. Lots of Dishnow's time is devoted to helping elementary school students, but he has also helped students in upper grades and high school, as well as teachers.
Luke Lin and Michael Dishnow are some of the old guys in My Culture Connect. Most of the teachers are young educators. Both men help to mentor the young teachers.
Some of the students are fond of referring to Dishnow as “Grandpa Mike.”
Luke Lin is a firm believer in the work of My Culture Connect opening the world for the rural students of the area where he lives.
In addition to the advantage of learning English for the local students, Lin sees a major benefit to the volunteer work for himself, as well as his wife and the many volunteer teachers participating in the My Culture Connect program.
“Learning English is an important part of connecting with the rest of the world,” Lin explained. “It’s a global language.”
Unfortunately, some the students in the rural, isolated Taiwanese countryside are not learning as much English as they could, because they don’t see the point in it, according to Lin.
Michael and Luke continue to work on bringing those students into a closer relationship with people around the world. My Culture Connect is connected to the Denver-based Up with People organization. That organization sent 80 people to Taiwan to help Lin establish My Culture Connect.
Luke continues to work to expand the base of volunteers for My Culture Connect. There are 55 volunteer teachers working in the program now.
Michael and Luke became close friends quickly. Luke said he could immediately see Michael’s “passion and enthusiasm for education.”
In addition to the training in the global language of English, Luke sees the usefulness of videotaping in furthering the cultural exchange My Culture Connect is fostering.
The videotaping skills are also part of what the volunteer teachers are learning.
The teachers are attempting to encourage the next generation to have an open mind toward learning a second language and making connections with people from other places. In addition to people in the United States, those involved in My Culture Connect have shared cultures with people in other places, including Canada and Mexico.
While Dishnow is now deeply involved in the My Culture Connect project, he has a long history in education. Now 68, he retired as DeSoto School District guidance counselor some time ago. Along the way, Dishnow taught school in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula for four years and had a long career in Alaska that included serving as a guidance counselor and an administrator.
Luke Lin also has a long history in education serving as an English teacher for many years. Lin, now close to 50, received a bachelor’s degree in education and a master’s degree in English literature from Cheng Kung University in the City of Tainan.
The My Culture Connect program has grown plenty in the last few years.
On Michael Dishnow’s last trip to Taiwan, he visited 43 schools seeing 200 to 300 third and fourth graders at each school over a period of five weeks. In all, he has visited the area four times in the last five or six years.
My Culture Connect works with 100 of the 200 schools in the populous ‘county.’
“Most principals know me,” Luke Lin said. “We provide free English and video instruction. It’s totally free.”
Luke Lin believes the work of My Culture Connect is helping to make better teachers and better people. The organization encourages people to make a contribution to the good of the community.
It’s a view Michael Dishnow shares.
“My nationality is American, but I consider myself a global citizen,” Dishnow explained. “We’re so interconnected. We need to get along and work collaboratively.”
Luke Lin and Michael Dishnow may be older men, but they seem to be linked to the interconnected future that’s just around the corner.