Rainbow Chen: Equitable, ethical education through international experience

To advance education equity and policy, the Class of 2021 graduate and newly named Fulbright scholar will spend a year as an English teaching assistant in the Netherlands.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — In a year marked by uncertainty and trepidation toward the future, Rainbow Chen held fast. After graduating from Brown in May with a degree in education and history, Chen knew exactly what she would do next.

“I wanted education experience,” she said, “not necessarily education research or a degree in education research or policy abroad.”

An advocate for education equity and outreach since her first days at Brown, Chen was recently selected as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Award recipient and will soon settle in the heart of the Netherlands, where she will further her career in education policy as a teaching assistant at ROC van Amsterdam.

“I personally learn best when I am talking to people,” said Chen, who hails from Winooski, Vermont.  “Storytelling is a huge way I learn, along with just being in an immersive cultural environment, so I felt like Fulbright was a perfect way to combine all of those wants, needs and interests into a single year of, hopefully, an amazing experience.”

Chen’s approach has always been equity-focused.

As an undergraduate at Brown, Chen joined the Swearer Center’s Bonner Community Fellowship program, which matches predominantly low-income, first-generation and underrepresented students with local community organizations working in education, health care, environment, economic justice and the arts. As a fellow, she worked extensively with Youth in Action, an after-school program in Providence that supports local students of color in sharing their stories.

As an educator, I’m trying to make the most of the experience and kind of connect it to my work with Swearer — trying to be more mutually cooperative and make it beneficial for both parties.

Rainbow Chen Class of 2021 graduate and Fulbright scholar
 
Rainbow Chen

“As an educator, I’m trying to make the most of the experience and kind of connect it to my work with Swearer — trying to be more mutually cooperative and make it beneficial for both parties,” she said.

A part of that, she said, is increasing access to music education. Chen was a double bassist in the Brown University Orchestra — and served as president in 2019-20 — and believes deeply in the transformative power of playing classical music, but acknowledges that the paywall to enter that world is quite high. As part of the community engagement project Chen will develop for her Fulbright fellowship, she aims to work with either a school of nonprofit that provides free or low-fee music lessons for low-income students.

She hopes to draw on that rich experience in community engagement and development to support students at ROC van Amsterdam, the largest vocational college in the Netherlands.

Her class will primarily be composed of students ranging in age from 16 to 22 who are actively seeking work in hospitality — a perfect match, Chen said, because her family owns a restaurant and she’s no stranger to the industry.

The students will all have varying levels of English fluency, but Chen is particularly interested in working one-on-one with refugee and immigrant students in the class who may be trying to learn both English and Dutch as they pursue training.

She knows firsthand the kinds of barriers people of color can encounter when furthering their education and careers, and how important it is to be able to work in a mentorship capacity with people dedicated to helping them succeed; in fact, Chen credits her fellowship adviser with both thoroughly preparing her for every step of the Fulbright process and allowing her to present her “true self” through the application.

“The Fulbright can be very daunting to approach, especially for people who identify as first-generation, low-income or a person of color,” she said. “But people like myself can make it and can do it… there is hope.”