Lost and found in the journey of life

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It took Carol Pullman a few years to figure it out, but now she knows. She is a big-thinking American woman accidently born into the body of a repressed Taiwanese female. She has successfully made the transition.

Pullman, the Disability Support Services Test Proctoring Coordinator at Southwestern College, was frustrated with ancient Chinese cultural expectations and limiting views of women, so she immigrated to the United States and never looked back. In America she was finally able to be independent, find opportunities to pursue higher education and develop a self-actualized life of her own. It was not going to happen in her native land, she said.

“Thirty years ago in Taiwan, only 10 percent of high school graduates had a chance to go to college,” she said.

Realizing she would not be one of them, Pullman immigrated to the U.S. in 1979 and enrolled at Southwestern College. At first found it too difficult. She dropped out. She spent several years in the workforce and earned a good living, but eventually realized there was something missing in her life.

“Something just pushed me back to Southwestern College,” she said. “But this time I really appreciated the open door Southwestern offered me. I learned to appreciate American’s educational system.”

Higher educational in the United States is vastly different than the system in Taiwan, she said.

“In my culture, they criticize you,” she said. “If you got an 80 percent they’d ask why you didn’t get 100. Here if you get a 70 percent they encourage you and say ‘that’s great, let’s do better.’ That makes you want to do more.”

Asian culture pressures women to be “traditional” and did not allow her to be an individual thinker, Pullman said. America celebrates individualism and creativity, while Asian cultures value collectivism and conformity.

“You never have that kind of privilege to find yourself,” she said. “In Asian cultures, for women, they give you a box and you have to stay inside it. Over here I broke all the barriers. I became an individual. I was able to be whatever I wanted to be. When I came to Chula Vista I finally had freedom to find who I was. This led me to express myself through traveling.”

Pullman said her dream is to travel the whole world. She has a great start and has been to Tibet, India, Turkey, The Czech Republic, Greece and Australia so far. In 2005, she stayed in the Himalayan Mountains for two months.

“It was the trip of my lifetime,” she said. “I feel like life without traveling is like a stone without rolling, like still water without running.”

Pullman said she prefers traveling by herself because she feels more independent.

Pullman at the Patala Palace in Tibet, the winter palace of the Dalai Lama

“Without immigrating to this country I wouldn’t have been able to (travel),” she said. “I was able to come here and fulfill my dreams.”

Pullman has worked at the office of Disability Support Services for eight years. She began her career at SWC as a DSS student.

“I graduated in the year 2000 with an Associate of Science in Computer Information Systems,” she said. “Even after that I still couldn’t read and write English, so I went back to the basics. I signed up for a personal development class without even knowing that it was a DSS class.”

Enrolling in the class led to DSS Director Dr. Malia Flood offering Pullman a part-time job.

“Over the years I’ve worked my way up to being the test proctoring coordinator,” she said. “This job has taught me a lot about what disabilities are all about. I’ve realized that everyone suffers a disability in some degree and it’s given me a better understanding of people.”

She said she is in charge of coordinating every DSS student who needs accommodations and works with more than 800 instructors and more than 200 students. Pullman speaks with instructors and proctors to give students the most appropriate time, environment and tools in order to succeed at SWC.

“You see so many students with vast areas of disability,” said Pullman. “We are here to provide equal opportunities. Each student has equal opportunities to succeed and an equal opportunity to fail.”

Dr. Flood said Pullman is an extremely bright and creative person, but lacked confidence in her English.

“Carol was a great student,” said Flood. “She was curious and very motivated to learn. She asked questions, did all the work, and was very invested in the learning process. These same characteristics make Carol a great employee. She continues to be passionate about learning and is always looking for ways to improve services for students.”
Flood said the work Pullman does is integral for DSS, which serves about 1,200 students.
“Carol coordinates the DSS Test Proctoring Center, communicating with students and faculty to make sure that students receive their test accommodations,” she said. “This involves many steps, including scheduling student exam times, arranging proctors, and obtaining exams from faculty.  Carol communicates with students, proctors and faculty and brings the process together in order for students to have their test accommodations.”
Pullman is classically trained in voice and piano, and performs with SWC’s Concert Choir as a soprano. She has performed with the elite choir at the Sydney Opera House, Carnegie Hall, France’s Notre Dame Cathedral and in Greece.

Visiting with a nomadic family in Kathmandu, Nepal.“With this group we have something to accomplish together,” Pullman said. “You contribute one thing and as a whole it comes out beautiful. Every time we rehearse it’s such a treat.”

Choral conductor Dr. Terry Russell said Pullman adds a diverse element to the eclectic choir and assists with recruitment and enrollment of adult students.

“Carol already had excellent musical skills when she joined our choir,” said Russell. “She is a great asset to our ensemble not only for her musical skills but also because of her enthusiastic personality and dedication to the choir community.”

Pullman has been able to travel across the world because of the independence that immigrating to the U.S. gave her. She said she still looks at life as an open road.

“Life is not one meter in front of me,” she said. “It’s a thousand miles.”

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