With each year that passes there are more and more BIC graduates doing great work all over the world. Each spring we publish brief “Alumni Updates” where our alumni can tell us some about their post-BIC lives. In addition to these annual updates, we post interviews with our alumni. Today we are excited to post an interview with Sofie Sonner (’18). We hope you enjoy, and if you are interested in being interviewed for a future blog post, email us at BIC@baylor.edu.
What year did you graduate from Baylor? What did you study?
I graduated from Baylor in May 2018. My major was Biology with a concentration in Ecology and my minor was French.
What has been your journey since graduating from Baylor? What are you doing currently for work/career?
I was awarded a Fulbright grant to teach English abroad for the year after I graduated from Baylor. I currently live on Kinmen, Taiwan, a remote island a mile off the coast of China. Here, I work at an elementary school of about 100 students and teach English and American culture classes to kindergarten through sixth grade.
With the younger kids, it’s mainly learning the ABCs, colors, and simple songs. Starting in 3rd grade, the students learn basic vocabulary words and sentences so my job is to make it fun and help them learn. Some of my classes are solo taught and some of them I co-teach with a local English teacher. It’s been really interesting to see the differences between Taiwanese and American schools; for example, Taiwanese elementary schools don’t have a janitor. Instead, the kids clean the school every morning at 7:30 am. They also all brush their teeth after lunch and take a nap (even when they’re in middle school).
What have you enjoyed most about living in Taiwan and teaching English during your Fulbright fellowship? What is something you have learned through the experience?
I have greatly enjoyed living abroad and learning about a culture that I previously did not know well. Kinmen Island has a very unique history and relationship with China and Taiwan, since it’s governed by Taiwan but closer to China. It has a strong military history from years of war with China, and the island has many military tunnels, bunkers, and anti-landing beach spikes as a result. It also has endemic wildlife and plants that are found only on the island, and its locals enjoy food that differs from that of mainland Taiwan.
I’ve most enjoyed exploring the island, learning about its culture, and engaging with its people, especially through interacting with the students at my school. There’s a language barrier between us so sometimes they don’t understand me but they always make an effort to communicate and sometimes they’re hilarious. They’re usually excited to share with me or tell me stories even if part of it has to be acted out.
A lot of growth and resilience comes with living abroad long-term, especially in regard to the language barrier and cultural differences. I’ve learned how to communicate with people that speak other languages, learned to teach English to non-native speakers, learned about cultural subtleties and customs, and developed a global perspective.
How has your BIC education influenced your life and/or work since leaving Baylor?
Since leaving Baylor, and America, my BIC education has been greatly influential to both my life and my work. BIC was fundamental in my decision to apply for a Fulbright, as I was excited for the opportunity to learn about an unfamiliar culture through the lens of what I learned in BIC.
BIC made me more well-rounded and intellectually curious by providing me with a better
understanding of history and culture. Through the program, I was introduced to different
perspectives and became more aware of cultural nuances. I have a greater appreciation for
works of art and literature and their historical contexts. In Taiwan, Journey to the West is
popular and I have seen it depicted in plays and traditional operas. I recognized the story
through being first introduced to it in a BIC World Cultures class.
Do you have a favorite memory from your time in BIC?
As a Biology major, I really appreciated the variety from my science classes that the BIC
provided me and how they were designed for discussion and exploration rather than
memorization. I enjoyed meeting BIC faculty members, and it was inspiring to see their
creativity, their passion for their disciplines, and their travels from around the world.
I have many positive memories from my time in BIC, from learning how to speak publicly
freshman year to learning about how the Bible relates to modern ethical issues senior year. My favorite memories from the BIC are the field trips, most notably to the Hindu temple and mosque. I was grateful to understand world religions and to learn about different beliefs, especially while living in Texas, where people may not usually be exposed to a variety of beliefs or accustomed to questioning their own.
Is there something you learned in BIC that still sticks with you today?
The skills that BIC works to develop, like reasoning, critical thinking, writing well, and
appreciation and understanding of other cultures and people, have benefitted me in Taiwan and will continue to benefit me long after I return to America.
Because my life is not one unwavering line from my Biology degree to a career as a biologist, BIC contributed to my being academically well-rounded and well-informed. BIC made me an all-around well educated person by helping me discover deeper meaning, exposing me to different viewpoints, and teaching me to pay attention to detail.
For example, when I explore temples throughout Taiwan, I try to look further than admiration for their beauty. I pay more attention to the architecture, art, customs and rituals, depictions of animals and gods, and consider their importance to better grasp the cultural context in which I’m living and to learn about Taiwan’s people and history.
What are your goals for the future?
Personally, I hope to continue to travel and learn about other cultures and languages as much as I can. Professionally, I look forward to returning to America in the fall to attend Walla Walla University to earn my Master of Science in Biology and research octopus physiology for the next two years.
Do you have any advice for current BIC students?
Take advantage of all of the opportunities that are provided to you by the BIC program. It is truly a unique, enriching environment and you’ll never again experience something exactly like it. BIC is designed for you to learn and grow- intellectually, personally, and professionally. You’re exposed to well-known texts that will shape your perspective, professors that are experts in their fields, and classmates that are also interested in learning in depth. Be sure to take it all in and get the most out of the program as you can. Try your best, do the readings, ask questions, make sure you understand the material. BIC is invested in making you a more informed, aware, and well-rounded person; after graduation you won’t necessarily be in the same type of environment.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
I’m thankful for my education at Baylor and for the opportunity to participate in the BIC, and I wish the best for its continued success.