One of the driving forces behind the increased number of exhibitions and cultural activities organized by the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) over the past three years will soon be leaving the country for a new assignment.
Sheila Paskman, who took became the AIT’s public diplomacy section chief in July 2010, is coming to the end of her three-year term and recently looked back at her efforts to promote cultural links between the US and Taiwan.
One of the exhibitions that gained the most attention was “American Footsteps in Taiwan, 1950-1980,” which chronicled the US’ influence in Taiwan during a turbulent historical era.
The exhibition showed the US’ influence on the country’s cultural, economic, education, military and public health development through photos, artifacts, documentaries and interviews.
The exhibition “really talked about our strong history,” Paskman said in a recent interview with reporters in Taipei.
Another example was the “Immigrants Building America” exhibit, which highlighted contributions made by immigrants from Taiwan and China to the US in past decades.
The exhibition showed that the Taiwan-US relationship has been a “two-way exchange,” as there were Taiwanese who helped make the US the strong nation it is today, she said.
As part of her effort to promote bilateral cultural links, Paskman also traveled to remote areas in eastern Taiwan and spent time with schoolchildren.
“It’s one of my favorite things to do. It’s a lot of fun,” she said, referring to her experience of reading books to children in Yilan, Hualien and Taitung counties.
The children in those areas normally do not have a chance to hear a native American speaker read and talk, Paskman said, and she hoped that getting children interested in books would set a solid foundation for their future development.
However, it was not only to children that Paskman tried to extend a helping hand.
She also played a significant role in setting up an online platform to help advertise small businesses owned by Aboriginal women and young adults in Hualien and Taitung.
The program, jointly initiated by the AIT and the Taipei-based Alliance Cultural Foundation, hosts several Web pages to help expand the businesses of people living in remote areas and features products from 26 workshops and two high schools in Hualien and Taitung, the foundation said.
The Web site is currently in Chinese only, but the AIT is working on setting up an English version of the Web site to help extend its reach to people outside of Taiwan, she said.
Paskman is scheduled to depart for Washington tomorrow. Her next overseas posting will be in Liberia.
Asked what she will miss in Taiwan the most, she said: “It’s always the people, because it’s just so much fun being here with everybody.”
Taiwan’s night life is another thing that impressed the senior US diplomat.
“Taiwan comes alive in the evening” when people are out on the streets talking or buying food from stands, she said. “I just love that. You really feel like you’re part of that country when you’re doing that.”