A typical work-week for Olivia and I consists of us driving to school together, sharing an office, having lunch together, and then going home and spending the evenings together. In these last 8 months of teaching in Taiwan, Olivia and I have spent nearly every moment together (at least, that’s how it seems). Last week was very different.
This semester, the public schools of Penghu decided to try something new. There are 5 foreign teachers who work in the public schools, but many of the students who live on small islands never get the opportunity to speak with a native-english-speaker. Solution: send the foreign teachers to each of these small islands (7 in total). Last week marked the beginning of this experiment, and I was the first to go.
Monday morning, I went to the main port of Penghu and boarded a boat for JiangJun island, destined not to return until Friday. I was warned that I should bring some snacks and food (like instant noodles) because there is a scarcity of shops and stores on this particular island. In other words, they don’t even have a market.
Another challenge of uncertainty was what I should teach. I would be teaching 1st grade through 9th grade during the week, but some of the subjects they requested were very different from my typical style of teaching.
When I got to JiangJun elementary school and junior high (they share a campus), I knew I had nothing to worry about. All the teachers welcomed me and introduced themselves, and the students were so excited to wave and say “Hello.” (Their excitement was a great comfort, as we have experienced an attitude of “We live on a small island, why do we need to learn English” from past students.)
Throughout last week, I taught many classes, got to explore a beautiful island, and met some amazing, talented teachers. I also gained a new appreciation for the job I have, as these teachers have to live on the island every week and can only travel back to the city on the weekends.
Meeting, teaching, and learning from junior-high students was by-far the best part of my time on JiangJun. Every class was full of students who were excited to learn (even if each class only had 4-9 students in it), and some students even asked if we could have some extra conversation time in the evening. If the students were doing anything, they asked me to join them, including eating lunch with them instead of the teachers, go swimming after school, playing basketball, and celebrating birthdays. They even had a going-away party on Thursday night before I headed back to Magong!
I was reminded about the importance of why I am here continuously last week. All the junior-high students made thank-you cards for me, and their English teacher remarked that while they were making the cards, it was the first time she saw the students eager to learn and use English. Many of the students also told me (in broken English) that they want to study English more and get better at having conversations because of the interactions they had with me.
Although my week in JiangJun was exhausting (between classes, basketball, and everything else), it was so rewarding for both myself and the students I taught.
I’m sure Olivia enjoyed some time apart from me and my shenanigans, too, but the dog was ecstatic to see me when I returned.