Teaching in Taiwan
Teaching in Taiwan. I’d just graduated, I was working in a display cabinet factory and I was wondering what the hell to do with my life next when my mum, of all people, pointed out a tiny advert in the local paper saying something along the lines of “Do you have a degree? Would you like to be teaching in Taiwan? Call this number…” I’d always fancied teaching abroad but hadn’t got around to doing a TEFL course, so a job that only required a degree was ideal. I called the number, met a South African guy in Wigston (who turned out to be just as dodgy as he seemed but ultimately it didn’t matter), he got me in touch with his contact in Taiwan and within literally weeks I was on a plane with a young couple who had also seen the ad. None of us knew what to be expect. What I certainly HADN’T expected was that that phone call would lead to me spending almost the whole of my twenties riding scooters above the clouds, staying in hotels nearly destroyed by earthquakes, studying Mandarin with Ecuadorian priests, Russian violin teachers and Vietnamese journalists, captaining a bowling team, watching live Sumo wrestling, eating the best food in the world on a daily basis, surviving typhoon after typhoon, introducing the world to Subutteo at a student fair, smacking golf balls off the top of double-decker driving ranges, getting hospitalised with sunburn, and going to weddings of people I barely know.
…And that’s before we even get to the teaching. Having absolutely no formal training, I did initially find the job highly challenging, although I eventually settled into it. Because I worked at a lot of different places over my time there (everything from after-school programmes to high schools to one-to-ones in Starbucks to a dental surgery where I tutored the receptionists), the range of duties was staggering – far greater than in any other job I’ve had. A one-hour class with beginners might consist of standing in front of the class, singing a daft song along with a CD and waving flashcards in the air, while a one-to-one conversation session with an 18-year-old male might involve him practicing English by keeping m up to date with which girls he was thinking of asking out. I tutored a professional musician who on one occasion happened to need someone European to help host a Chinese-Western crossover classical show she was playing in. By this point I had the requisite ability to speak Mandarin and I was happy to do it for free, so a few weeks later I was on stage at Kaohsiung Symphony Hall talking about a subject I know nothing about in a foreign language to hundreds of people. It wasn’t the first time I was roped into some kind of public “performance” – various school events had my dancing, singing and generally acting like an idiot in front of pupils, teachers and parents while dressed as a clown, a monkey, a vampire, Spongebob Squarepants, and on a couple of occasions (one of which where my trousers fell down on stage) Santa Claus.
I’d never intended to stay forever, and after eight years (seven years and nine months longer than I’d originally gone for!) I made the decision to seek pastures new – or old, as I ended up back in Leicester, and I now work with college and university students with disabilities and learning difficulties. But the years I spent teaching in Taiwan were the best in my life. I miss the food, I miss the scenery, I miss the weather and I miss the unique mix of ancient and modern culture that the Far East offers, but most of all I miss the Taiwanese themselves – the most patient, friendly and generous people I’ve have ever met.
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