A Reunion Overseas

Study abroad student finds her long-lost father

Finding someone with nothing more than a 20-year-old address to go on is no easy feat – much less on an overseas island with more than 23 million people. But during her semester abroad in China, GSU student Jessie Lin-Diaz defeated these staggering odds to find the proverbial needle in a haystack: her dad.

The last time Lin-Diaz saw her father, Kuang Ming Lin, was when she was just 2 years old, around the time her parents divorced. When they split, her dad left the Dominican Republic, her mother’s home country where the pair had met and married, and returned to his native Taiwan.

Jessie Lin Diaz

“I always wanted to eventually find my father,” Lin-Diaz says. “I wasn’t sure if he spoke English or just Chinese, so I thought, I need to learn Chinese so I’ll be able to speak to him.”

Lin-Diaz and her younger brother grew up in New Jersey and Georgia, speaking English and Spanish at home with their mother and taking Chinese lessons sporadically. When Lin-Diaz enrolled in Georgia State’s J. Mack Robinson College of Business in 2008, she was eager to study Chinese in earnest. As an accounting student with an eye to international business, having a command of English, Spanish and Chinese could only work to her advantage.

She worked with a language partner during her first semester at GSU and tested out of the introductory level Chinese class. At the start of her sophomore year she began to look into studying abroad in China. GSU’s Tsinghua University Exchange Program in Beijing made things easy in terms of tuition and transferring credits, so Lin-Diaz applied and was accepted as the first undergraduate ever to take part in the exchange.

Arriving in China in March 2010 kick-started Lin-Diaz’s quest to track down her father. All she had to go on were two addresses in Taiwan that she found in her parents’ correspondence from the early 1990s, which her mother had given her. Lin-Diaz wrote a letter stating who she was looking for, including her contact information plus a few details about her family so her father would know the note was legitimate if he got it. She wrote it again in simplified Chinese, had a friend translate it into the traditional Chinese used in Taiwan, and mailed copies to each address.

Some weeks later, she received an e-mail in response to her letter. Lin-Diaz wrote back, and after a few exchanges, she knew she had found her father. She had already planned to visit Taiwan in July before returning to the U.S., and her father invited her to spend that time with him and his family.

“I remember when I was on the airplane (to Taiwan) and I was writing in my diary,” Lin-Diaz says. “I was like, I don’t know what to expect, because this guy’s a stranger, but he’s my father.”

Following a happy if slightly awkward reunion at the airport after 17 years apart, Lin-Diaz accompanied Lin to his home in Tainan, in southwestern Taiwan, where he works as a doctor. She stayed three weeks with him, his wife and their three children, sightseeing and doing typical summer things like playing tennis and going to the pool. Even though her father can speak English, Lin-Diaz communicated with her newfound Taiwanese family in Chinese.

Lin-Diaz will return to China this fall to study at Central China Normal University in Wuhan on a yearlong scholarship from GSU’s Confucius Institute. While there, she plans to visit her family in Taiwan, but in the meantime she’s keeping up with them via Skype and Facebook.

Studying abroad can be a formative experience – navigating new cultures, students learn a lot about themselves. For Lin-Diaz, she was able to fully embrace her Taiwanese heritage for the first time.

“It feels like you don’t really know who you are,” she says, “until you know at least where your genes come from, you know?”