Immigrant Gives Thanks By Creating Scholarships

August 23, 1991|By Deidre Nerreau McCabe | Deidre Nerreau McCabe,Staff writer

In a matter of months, a young Taiwanese college student meets a U.S. soldier stationed in her homeland, falls in love, marries and findsherself heading for a life in the United States.

At first it all seems very exciting. But then reality sets in.

She is leaving her home for an unknown place thousands of miles away, where she knows no one. Arriving at the Taipei airport on the way to her new home, she clings to her parents, sobbing and begging them not to make her go.

The chartered plane, filled with U.S. military personnel, is held on the runway for more than a half-hour while her distressed husband and parents try to coax her onto it.

And hertroubles were only beginning.

But despite the obstacles she facedas a new immigrant, Hanover resident June Tang Williamson, a career government employee and community college professor, said she succeeded here because opportunities are unlimited for those who want to take advantage of them.

To show her appreciation for those opportunities, Williamson recently established a scholarship in her name at Anne Arundel Community College to help other students like herself.

During her own days as a student, Williamson had to rely on tenacity and a thick skin to keep moving toward her goals, because the early years were not easy.

As the new bride of Airman 1st Class Steven D. Williamson,stationed in San Angelo, Texas, in 1972, Williamson never anticipated the financial problems the young couple would face or howdifficult the language barrier would be. After all, she had worked as a volunteer interpreter in Taiwan. But the Texas dialect was something altogether different from the English she had learned.

And worst of all, she never expected the racism.

"In Taiwan, we are very nice to foreigners," said Williamson, who has lived in Anne Arundel County since 1980. "We think of foreigners something like heroes."

But in Texas, she faced overt racism from people who didn't want Chinese immigrants in their community. More than once, strangers pulled in front of her in the grocery store parking lot and shouted, "You, goback to where you came from," she said.

The abuse was so great that Williamson was glad to move to the East Coast in 1976 when her husband was transferred to Fort Meade. The couple rented a small apartment in Laurel, and Williamson started taking college classes in computers.

Although trained as a dietitian with a college degree from a Taiwanese university, Williamson decided to study computer science because she believed the field offered the best opportunities for women.

"When I first started, I cried every day -- it was so hard," shesaid. "My husband kept saying, if you don't like it, then quit. But I didn't want to quit. I was determined."

She started at the University of Maryland at College Park but found the classes there too bigand impersonal for her taste. She switched to Anne Arundel CommunityCollege and, later, to Howard Community College, and loved it.

"The classes were smaller (and) the teachers had more time and patiencefor the students," she said.

Her fondness for community college has led her back more than 10 years later -- this time as a teacher.

She started teaching "Introduction to Computers" at Anne Arundel Community College last spring and decided to donate her teaching salaryto a new scholarship program.

She hoped the salary of about $1,000 would go right into the fund -- before taxes were taken out -- but soon learned she had to be paid first and then donate the money. So now she donates her after-tax salary of $800 plus a personal contribution of $200 to make up the $1,000 needed for two $500 scholarships each semester.

Barry Weinberg, director of financial aid, veteran affairs and scholarships, said that although many part-time faculty members have contributed to existing scholarships, this is the first time a part-timer has set up a scholarship program. Full-time faculty members have established similar scholarship programs.

The college'sfinancial aid office will select the two recipients of Williamson's scholarship each semester, but she has required that one be a woman studying computer information systems and the other a student of at least 25 percent Chinese ancestry.

Many Chinese-Americans believe community colleges are second rate, she said, and would rather delay college until they can afford a four-year university. But Williamson said her experience taught her that community colleges are a wonderful place to get an education, particularly for older students returning to school.

While Williamson attended college, she had to balance going to school with working part-time jobs and raising a family. She made time for her children, Eric, 18, and Evan, 13, who were then in elementary school, by including them in her activities as much as possible. Often while working on her bachelor's degree, and later on a master's in computer systems, the whole family would study together atthe kitchen table, she said.

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