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Karissa Caputo

College: Macaulay Honors College | Queens College
Awards: Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship, 2015

Her Chinese New Year

Growing up on Long Island, Karissa Caputo dreamed of living in a Chinese environment. At Jericho High School and at CUNY, she took every opportunity to study Mandarin so she'd be ready. Now her time has come for a year of immersion.

With a 2015 Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship to Taiwan, Caputo (Macaulay Honors College at Queens College, B.A., Spanish Education, minor, Mandarin, '15) will plunge into Chinese language, history and culture and prepare herself for a teaching career.

"I want to be a foreign-language teacher," she says. As a student teacher, she taught Spanish at Floral Park Memorial High School, and she graduates with New York State certification to teach it. She also hopes that when she returns from her Fulbright, "I'll pass the state exams and also will be certified to teach Mandarin. I'm also interested in TESOL," or teaching English to speakers of other languages. "There are so many options."

When she was applying to colleges, she chose Queens because it offered strong foreign-language programs. "I didn't know about Macaulay Honors College until the tour guide went over the requirements. I thought I might as well apply because of the opportunities it provides, and I was happily surprised when I got accepted."

She used her Macaulay Opportunities Fund, a grant that Macaulay Scholars can apply to a wide range of educational options, to perfect her Spanish through a Hunter College language and literature study trip to Argentina. And in Summer 2014 she made it to China for six weeks of study of the language and mainland culture and society at Shanghai University, with time in Beijing, as well. Taiwan, she notes, will be markedly different from the mainland.

Despite her strong performance speaking Mandarin in academic settings, "I definitely struggled over the summer," Caputo concedes. But, she says, "I grew more confident at the market. My Chinese is nowhere near perfect, but as long as I'm able to communicate with someone, that's OK for now."

She says that when she wrote her personal essay to apply for the Fulbright, "My main theme was hope. Language opens so many doors. It gives you the world. As American society and global society become more interconnected, it's important that we equip our students with the tools to succeed. Although English is spoken worldwide, it makes such a difference when you can speak to someone in their own language. I look at it as the fuel to keep relationships growing."

She adds, "Any language student hits a rough patch, thinking they won't ever have a conversation, but if they have hope, it will propel them along the way. In my study of Mandarin, I learned the modern word for ‘hope' used to mean ‘to look into the distance with expectation.' I think that's the perfect definition."