At age 13, Carol Jue was a self-professed “bad kid.” The daughter of parents who emigrated from southern China to the United States, she was caught stealing candy from a liquor store, spent time with boys she said she shouldn’t have and broke her curfew. Her parents would yell at her for defying them, but her rule-breaking only changed once she was presented with a pivotal choice.
“My dad said, ‘If you don’t shape up, I’m going to send you to Taiwan.’ And I said, ‘Oh no, you’re not sending me there,’” Jue said. “I was thinking, ‘Will I be able to play basketball?’”
At age 50, Carol Jue, now the head coach of the Chapman women’s basketball team, received an email in June. The American Institute of Taiwan wanted to send Jue as a sports envoy to Taiwan to encourage youth participation in sports. At first, Jue and her husband weren’t sure if the email was real.
“The lady there, named Wanda Yang, googled ‘college Chinese-American coach’ and I came up,” Jue said. “They read my background, and they said, ‘We want her.’”
On July 15, Jue boarded a plane at Los Angeles International Airport. After she landed, she spent the next day being interviewed by Taiwanese media and discussed how she reached her position as a Chinese-American head coach. Having not been to Taiwan since she was young, Jue said she noticed the country’s progression.
“Taiwan, when I went forty years ago, was very different,” Jue said. “But now that they’re actually doing well, China’s taking all their best athletes, their best professionals, engineers, and paying them triple.”
A large part of Jue’s experience in Taiwan involved explaining to girls and women enrolled in middle school, high school and college how sports could be a large part of their life, even as they pursued careers. During the week she spent in the cities of Taipei and Kaohsiung, Jue lectured at the National Taiwan Normal University, held basketball skill clinics for junior and high school students and spoke to at-risk children about self-defense – which she teaches at Chapman.
“It was very enlightening for me to go to another country and share my views and say things that could help these girls in the long run,” Jue said. “Using basketball has been – I love it. I coach it, I play it, but it’s gotten me in a different place where I can help a lot of people.”
Jue likes to remind her players and her family to remember where they came from, a sentiment that rings true with her own experience. When she was 18, her family visited the 49’er village where her parents grew up, three hours from Guangzhou. Every time she goes back, she said the emotional weight of her parents’ decision to emigrate in 1969 hits her.
“If it wasn’t for Mom and Dad fleeing the country and the communists, we’d still be here,” Jue said. “We might be illiterate. We might be working the farm. We are so lucky to be where we are in the United States and for me to give another opportunity to my own sons.”
There was an unwritten expectation in Jue’s childhood households in Pico Rivera and Montebello, California, that revolved around getting good grades and a college degree to start a successful life. But her parents didn’t dissuade her from basketball. From that personal experience came Jue’s key message to the Taiwanese children – and the girls in particular – that she coached and spoke with: They didn’t have to sacrifice their personal interests for the pursuit of a successful financial life.
“In Asian cultures, it’s always about, ‘You need to study so you can be the best professional and make lots of money and be comfortable,’” Jue said. “And looking at these kids, they’re like, ‘Why should I play sports? I have to study for exams,’ or ‘I have to get into the best school.’ But you could do both.”
At age 13, Jue made mistakes. But 37 years later, her players ask her why she’s so “straight-arrow.” She responds that they didn’t know her personality when she was younger and how, thinking she could’ve been in Taiwan all these years, her life would be in a much different position.