Tomorrow is officially the first day of school and I am very excited to meet all of the students. I will be teaching at two schools this year, Tai-ping and Ping-ding. Both are elementary schools. I will be teaching 5th and 6th graders. This is my first time teaching elementary, so I am anxious, though not as nervous as I ever was when teaching high school.
Tai-Ping Elementary school boasts over 1,000 students. It has two distinct population in terms of English knowledge. There are students who have high-levels of English comprehension, literacy, and conversation, and those who have low skills. The students who are proficient in English are most probably also students of cram schools. (Cram schools are after-school classes, where students can improve English and any other subjects.)
My co-teacher at Tai-Ping is Shuting Yu.She is a very kind and very fun person. I have had the opportunity to co-teach with her this summer. Her style is very fun. She plays and jokes with the students, yet she also addresses the needs of the students. She is a veteran of the Fulbright co-teaching program. She has had many Fulbrighters co-teach with her, one of which is my friend Kaitlyn. Small world that I ended up having the same co-teacher as her.
The staff at Tai-ping is really friendly. I feel very welcome there. The principal even took me out for lunch already. He wishes to practice his English conversations with me.
Ping-ding Elementary on the other hand is a smaller school. There are about 300 students. Though the school population is small, the campus itself is big. So big, that some classrooms are unused. The population of the school is a mix of city and country. According to the principal, there are few students who have high-levels of English proficiency at Ping-ding, partly because not many students go to cram schools. One of the students who can converse in English is a half-Canadian boy. His father recently passed away and the school has asked me to spend time with him during lunch, so he can continue his English learning and advance his conversation skills. I am honored and more than happy to help him.
My co-teacher at Ping-ding is Bettina. She is a very helpful person. She has given me so much information on what to do, where to go, what to eat, etc. Anything that I could ever need, she has given me advice on. This is her first year with the Fulbright co-teaching program. I hope to make her first year a good first experience.
The staff at Ping-ding is also amazingly friendly. The principal insisted that I get the best food on my first visit there. I had the equivalent of a five course meal. They know how to win me over. One of the teachers at ping-ding owns a restaurant near my apartment. He promises that me and my roommates can eat at his restaurant for free at anytime.
I have never encountered so many amazing, generous, kind, caring, nice, giving, welcoming, and precious people in my life. I am grateful to be working with them. I hope I can someday repay them for their hospitality.
It is a dark and stormy night. The rain is intense. There are beams of water that penetrates everything and anything in this city. Everything is soaked to its very foundation. Week 2 of orientation and training is at an end for us Fulbright Taiwan ETAs.
This week has been a long one. We were introduced to very accomplished and arguably important people in the international community in Taiwan. We learned much about the educational and political landscape in Taiwan, specifically in the south. We experienced more of the oppressive heat and the inexhaustible rain.
The week started with a lesson on the pedagogy of phonics. It was taught by a Fulbright Alumna. It was interesting enough, but the highlight of the day was the visit to the university. Being the only Fulbright with no academic experience in Mandarin, I was not required to take a Mandarin assessment test. I used the opportunity to explore the campus and the surrounding forest. The humidity was intense. Standing alone resulted in sweating. I found a grove near the campus. Despite its mosquito infestation, it was a peaceful place. I read my book.
The next day, we had the opportunity to visit the American Institute of Taiwan (AIT). It was essentially the American Consulate. Wonderful place with wonderful people. As wonderful as a consulate can get.
Further in the day, we met the executive director of Fulbright Taiwan. And that is that.
The next few days was spent in sessions. The memory of these experiences kind of melded into one long nebulous experience in my mind. Some I found useful, others I found long and boring. Such is life.
The journey to Kaohsiung was a very long, very tiresome, yet it felt very surreal. The red-eye flight from JFK Airport was non-stop to Taipei. The connecting flight to Kaohsiung was only 55 minutes. I slept during most of the flights. I dreamt of food and love and friends and family and everything else I will miss dearly. My entire journey to Kaohsiung was spent more in my dreamscape rather than the cabins of the 737. After having gone through the rabbit hole of my subconscious, I woke up in Kaohsiung. Here, I thought, Wonderland awaits.
Despite having channelled Dodgson and trying to view Kaohsiung with an imaginative lens, the first hours at Kaohsiung was less magical and more bureaucratic. Fonda, the Fulbright Project Coordinator, picked me and my fellow fellows from the airport at dawn. We looked more like a band of tired pilgrims rather than the bright scholars that Fulbright has deemed us worthy. The bus that we boarded was a purple double-decker bus. It looked like a giant purple caterpillar. And the caterpillar swallowed our luggage one by one. Then, it was us.
The bus took us to the Kaohsiung International Education Resource Center (KIERC), Fulbright Kaohsiung’s seat of power. They ushered us into the conference room where we filled out paper work. A rather unglamorous affair, but a necessary one. The paper work was written in Mandarin. I do not read Mandarin. All I did was sign. For all I know, I might have sold my soul. The joke’s on them. I sold mine to TFA two years ago.
We eventually received our temporary apartments. The apartment I was placed in is about 25 minutes from the city center by subway. It is in the Nanzi region. Think of it as the Jersey City to New York’s Manhattan. The neighborhood is rather residential. A lot of smiling faces. Though I think the people are smiling out of curiosity rather than courtesy. We foreigners stick out like white hair on a black scalp.
I am used to be in the center of things. New York City was my play cultural playground. Newark, my previous residence, was the center of the education reform movement. Hoboken, my girlfriend’s residence, is the center of yuppie America. So when I looked at my Nanzi apartment’s location on Google Maps, I felt like I was worlds apart from everything. The streets, avenues, and alleyways were all written in Chinese. The Cultural Center of Kaohsiung, where I had hoped to live and explore, was half an hour away.
Still, as I stood at my balcony looking at the orange and pink sunset, probably the product of air pollution, I feel at peace in this beautiful, alien Wonderland.