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Student of the Month: Grace Sill

Grace Sill (she/her) is a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in New Taipei City, Taiwan and an upcoming 1st-year M.Div student at Harvard Divinity School. Grace recently graduated from Florida Southern College where she studied Religion, English, and Ethics. Her undergraduate research examined Christian ethics of adoption through the lens of a Neo-Confucian philosophy of qi. Born in China and adopted to the United States, Grace grew up in Florida and enjoys swimming, traveling, and eating dim sum.

What are you studying and why? How will you use that in your call?

I plan to continue studying comparative theology and Christian ethics at Harvard in the fall of 2023 in hopes of pursuing a professorship. My current research seeks to reimagine Western-Christian ethics by looking towards Chinese religions and philosophies. One of the reasons I applied for a Fulbright grant to Taiwan was to engage with Taiwan’s religious diversity. I grew up in predominantly white environments, and since reconnecting with my Chinese heritage in college, I feel called to teaching and education while also diversifying Western Christianity’s approaches to ethics. I am also pursuing ordination in the United Methodist Church. I do not feel called to pastoral ministry in a local church setting, but I believe there is much overlap between pastoral ministry and holistic approaches to students and teaching.

What have you learned from your leadership experiences? What student activities have you been involved in/led?

In college I was involved in the Asian-Pacific Islander Student Association (APISA) founded my sophomore year. When I became the president of APISA during my junior year, I realized that the majority of APISA’s members had mixed ethnicities, and we were still learning how to articulate our experiences and find pride in our identities. As an API student organization, APISA needed to share why API cultural heritages are worth celebrating and something to be proud of. Through this process, I learned that as a leader, I am shaping the spirits and attitudes that will be passed down to future APISA members. My goal was not to just create the most innovative event; my goal was to ensure the events our leadership team designed brought together people and fostered the spirit of inclusivity and pride that I wanted to instill in APISA’s members.

What has been your greatest success so far? Your biggest learning experiences?

One of my greatest successes has been finding pride in my heritage. As a child I had a paradoxical relationship with my ethnicity. I enjoyed being different from my peers, but at the same time I often felt a little embarrassed whenever I shared about China or Chinese culture. However, in college, I had the opportunity to take private lessons on the pipa (a Chinese lute). This was the first time I had a constant, long-term engagement with anything related to Chinese culture, and under the mentorship of my pipa professor, I connected with my music and the culture it expressed on a deeper level. When I eventually played the pipa for a student recital, I found that it was the first time I was truly proud of sharing my Chinese culture in public. The joy I feel performing on the pipa fuels my confidence in my Chinese identity, and it helped ground me as I encouraged students in APISA to have pride in who they are or want to be.

What are you looking forward to most this year?

In August I moved to Taiwan to teach English for a year, so I am excited to explore Taiwanese culture and be immersed in a new way of perceiving the world. I’m within reach of the urban Taipei environment and northern Taiwan’s mountains and coastlines, so there is plenty for me to explore. I am also cautious about, but deeply intrigued by the ways my identities and my relationship to my Chinese heritage and American upbringing may shift over this next year. On a less serious note, I’m also looking forward to all of the milk tea I will get to try. I recently tried a milk tea with Japanese custard pudding (布丁), and it was absolutely delightful and less than $2 USD.

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