Roughly eight years ago, I made the decision to move to Taiwan for what I thought would be a seven-month period. I thought I was going to go to grad school in the fall of 2011, but as it turned out, I ended up staying in Asia for almost three years — two in Taiwan and one in Hong Kong. These experiences changed my life forever, and it is partly because of them that I’m studying Rhetoric, Writing, and Linguistics at the University of Tennessee today. For my final project last semester, I addressed metaphor theory in Mandarin. I won’t go into detail about metaphor theory here, but I wanted to share at least part of my final paper with you, as it highlights experiences that have made me me and greatly influence some of the things you see on my blog today. My story starts right around New Year Eve 2010. I started teaching in Taiwan in January, 2010.
I didn’t know anything about Taiwan when I was invited to teach there in the summer of 2009. I didn’t know what language was spoken, or what the climate was like, or, sadly, even where it was located. “It’s right off the coast of China,” my friend Laura* told me. “It’s really cool, and the kids are great. We live in Sanzhi, about 20 minutes from work. I’m thinking about buying a scooter.” (The rest of the teachers commuted to work in a van together, apparently, or took a bus to the closest MRT station to get into Taipei.) Laura was not the most detail-oriented and talked fast when she was excited.
Laura had been working as co-director of the Taipei County English Wonderland Camps—later renamed the “New Taipei City English Wonderland Camps” when the county changed its name in December 2010—since the program had started in 2008. The program was the government’s attempt to encourage English learning among its young people by making English fun. Each week a new group of 5th graders from two or three schools around Taipei were deposited at the doorstep of Quinhua Elementary School, a small school in the northern coastal district of Shimen, where they shared half the campus with the school’s local students. For the next five days it was the responsibility of eight American teachers and their Taiwanese translators to give these kids the time of their lives—all in English, of course.
Quinhua (pronounced “cheen-hwa”) had been the camp’s pilot program. Now, the program was expanding. More camps were being added at various elementary campuses around the city. Current English Wonderland teachers were shuffling between campuses. More teachers were needed. More teachers like me . . . Ha!
I’d never taught a day in my life—well, except for a few student-teaching days in college before I’d switched from an education to a journalism minor. I’d certainly never had my own classroom. I was terrified but also excited as I tried to imagine everything Laura was telling me. For some reason I kept picturing dusty winds and red adobe houses…
I pictured wrong.
When I arrived in Taipei in late December, the overcast sky was dark and menacing. It was 7 a.m., two days after the day I’d departed from San Francisco, and a bitter wind greeted me as my new coworker Nick and I exited the Taoyuan International Airport in search of our steed—the gray van Laura had mentioned—which the teachers all shared and, I later discovered, vehemently hated. (It was a rickety old thing.) As Nick and I swerved through Taipei traffic on our way out of town, I looked around me and wondered, “What have I gotten myself into?” We were surrounded on all sides by Taiwanese commuters on scooters. Tall gray buildings painted with water stains and decorated with laundry leered at us from this corner and that. Horns were honking. People were speaking loudly in Mandarin Chinese—a language I didn’t understand and couldn’t speak.
“What have I gotten myself into?” I wondered.
(More next time…)