It all started with a promise. Doris Brougham was only 11 years old when she made up her mind to help people in Asia. It was at a Christian rally for young people, where a pastor asked how many of them would be willing to go to Asia to help people there. Brougham raised her hand and made a promise to God.
“After World War II, a lot of Americans were thinking, we need to go out there and share what we have with the rest of the world. For those of us who are church-going people, they often challenged us to go to Africa or Asia or India,” she said.
Later on, she had a chance to go to Eastman School of Music, a prestigious music school, but gave it up to go to China instead, because “if you promised, you have to do it.”
Brougham grew up to become a teacher, CEO, editor-in-chief, trumpet player, leader in the Christian community, permanent resident of Taiwan, and founder of Overseas Radio and Television, which produces radio and television programs all over the world. Now 82, Brougham has taught English to hundreds of thousands of people in Taiwan, and her English-teaching magazine, Studio Classroom, is read by 600,000 people every month.
“I was on a mission,” she said.
When she was only 21 years old, she traveled to China by ship for six weeks.
“When you get on a boat, it’s a lot harder to go back home. The boat slowly pulls out and you keep seeing the people on the shore,” Brougham said.
Having been evacuated several times due to the Civil War in China, Brougham could only take her trumpet with her and had to leave much of her teaching materials and notes behind. When she arrived in Taiwan in 1951, people were still calling it Formosa.
“The east coast [of Taiwan] was a place that really needed a lot of young people to help because it wasn’t very advanced. So I went to help the tribes people in Hualien City high schools. I taught music, children’s education, as well as the Bible, whatever people needed,” she said.
In 1951, she started her first radio program. Using one of the first tape recorders in Taiwan, she made her home into a recording studio and recorded gospel music programs for women and children.
“You can reach more people by broadcast. People from the Buddhist temples listened to our programs, too. Once, a Buddhist nun came from the temple and said, ‘I listen to your program, do you think you can get me a Bible?’ So it was a good way to keep in touch with the people, even the fishermen along the shores,” Brougham said.
She began her English-teaching career in 1960, when she moved to Taipei.
“I thought, if we make an English program it has to be more interesting than ‘this is a book’ or ‘this is an apple.’ I thought I could make a studio and we’ll have an article and people can ask questions and discuss about it. That was why it was called Studio Classroom,” she said.
Brougham said she tried to teach people “English that you can really use,” instead of things such as slang, because she thought that if people spoke slang incorrectly, they would be looked down upon.
“I try to teach English that you don’t have to worry about saying,” she said.
She also believed that in order to understand a culture, learning the language is a must.
“We can be different but still understand. We can appreciate each other’s cultures better and take the best out of each culture,” she said.
Brougham uses a lot of music in her lessons because she believes that using music can speed up the learning process and make it more fun.
“Music is the language of the soul,” she said. “Words get into your mind, but music touches your heart.”
Having been a teacher for almost all of her life, Brougham saw teaching as a process of taking away people’s fears. For example, a swimming teacher has to take away people’s fear of the water, she said.
“If you make things less complicated, you can have fun and go to the next step. In teaching, you have to lead people. Make it simple. Take away the fear of embarrassment or failure,” Brougham said.
Brougham says she doesn’t want to retire yet because she loves her job, which to her isn’t really a job, but her way of life.
“Are you going to stop helping people just because you get older? It depends on how you look at what you do, if it’s just a job, you should retire. If you hate your job, then you should retire at 50 or 40. But if you like what you’re doing, it’s not a job, it’s just being you,” she said.
For her half a century of teaching and contribution to Taiwan, she was awarded the Order of the Brilliant Star with Special Grand Cordon, the nation’s highest non-military decoration, by former president Chen Shui-bian in 2002.
“I think Taiwan has a very encouraging future. We can be proud of what we’ve done, and we have to keep the young people on the right track,” she said. “That’s what Studio Classroom wants to teach.”
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