Interview with Rob and Victoria – An American Couple in Taipei
Hello there Reach To Teach readers!
We are back with yet another teacher interview for you. This time we are featuring an interview with an American couple in Taipei. Rob and Victoria have kindly agreed to answer a few questions about their experiences in teaching English in Taiwan. Read on to discover their hints and tips on the best places to go to in Taipei, best blogs to visit, and things to do as well as their views on teaching in Taipei.
Rob: Victoria is half Taiwanese, and has actually visited the island before. When I was thinking about teaching abroad in China, Victoria realized that she had a great opportunity to convince me to spend a year in Taiwan. She said she wanted to travel abroad as well, but recommended Taiwan because the people are friendly and the landscapes beautiful. After looking at some pictures, and learning that I could surf, jump into a hot spring, AND study Tai Chi Chuan, I took no further convincing; I was ready to pack my bags.
2. How have you enjoyed teaching in Taiwan to date?
Rob: Back in the States I was teaching high school and middle school students in an after school program while also subbing in two different districts. Each school district had its own unique atmosphere; the same is true of the schools in Taiwan.
One of the biggest surprises that we found is that the students here are more open than we expected. While initially preparing for China, we were told time and time again that the students would be much more introverted than their American counterparts. With my limited background of Taiwan and its culture, I assumed that the same would be true for Taiwanese students. But I was very wrong! We teach students between the ages of 5-12, and students from any of these ages can be very outgoing. People like to poke and prod at their surroundings to learn more about them: “What does this do?” “How does that work?” Our students certainly poke and prod us more than we expected, and they are very vocal to match.
3. What advice can you give to new teachers interested in teaching in Taiwan?
Understanding what you’re getting yourself into. Talking to teachers who teach at the school you want to work at.
Rob: As a new teacher you hear these words thrown around a lot: “Know what you want from your students and make your expectations clear to them.” With the appeal of working away from home, finding out more about yourself and other people, and exploring beautiful landscapes, teaching in Taiwan can sound and initially feel like a vacation (especially if you arrived in the summertime like we did). Keep in mind though that your source of income, what actually allows you to do all of these things, is your teaching position. You will still spend the majority of your time teaching. So make sure you devote some time to classroom management and coming up with routines, activities, and lessons that work for you and your students. Ensuring that you have a smooth teaching experience will make it so much easier to enjoy your free time in Taiwan (in and out of the classroom).
Thank is an excellent point, Rob. Thank you!
Victoria: A particularly powerful moment in the classroom was when I had a 5 year old girl come into my classroom. She was unfamiliar with the alphabet and couldn’t even write her ABCs. I even had to write her communication book for her for several weeks. One day, she walked into class and told me she wanted to write her communication book herself. I was amazed and extremely proud of what she learned in such a short amount of time. Shortly after that, she was also able to read short story books on her own.
Rob: Even though I am not certified in the states to teach primary, I assumed that it would be easy working with younger children since I get a long with them at home. I would often babysit for my neighbor’s children, and I love how creative and spontaneous they are. But once I started teaching children ages 7-12, I found it to be a completely different experience than I expected.
Some of the seven-year-old students I teach are only in their second years of English, yet they have a handle on certain things I wouldn’t expect. Yes, they can sometimes communicate surprisingly well with their limited English, but I am referring more to their handle on sarcasm. These kids have long days, and even if you are a good teacher and they like you, some will try to find a way out of working seriously: like pretending they can’t read something that they have clearly and articulately read before. These things take time to figure out as a new teacher since you want to make sure you are helping each student reach his/her best ability. Once you start to see all of the subtle ways that students can try to play with and redirect your own attention, you start to view them less as just children, and really take them more seriously as little people.
5. What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Taiwan?
Victoria: A positive aspect of living here is that everything is extremely affordable. I can go out and spend less than $5 USD on food or go shopping and spend less than $40 USD. I’m from NYC so I’m used to easily spending $20 USD when I go to eat with my friends. I take the subway everywhere back home but to me, the MRT system in Taipei is way more convenient. That brings me to the next thing I love about living here: Taipei is so convenient! I can walk downstairs from my apartment and there are streets filled with restaurants. Within 5 minutes I can get to a Watsons and a Cosmed (local drugstore). It makes it really easy to just run downstairs and pick up a few necessities. Last but definitely not least, are the local markets! They are like farmers’ markets that we can go to everyday. Ours is only about a five-minute walk from our apartment, but I love that I can just walk there and pick up fresh produce at a cheap price. They also have prepared food, such as steamed buns, noodles, roasted chicken, etc.
Although living here has its perks, there are also a few negative aspects. For example, it is so hard to find a garbage can on the street! I’m always stuck holding my garbage or just sticking it in my purse (I know, that’s gross). I would think that in a large city like Taipei there would be garbage cans on every corner. Another thing is how reckless the drivers are here! I honestly don’t think people follow traffic rules in Taipei. I will be on the bus and see a scooter literally inches from the side of the bus. I can easily grab someone’s arm as they’re passing by on a scooter while I’m walking (not that I would do that). It makes it a little scary to walk around, and definitely too scary for me to ride a bike—unless there’s a clear bike path.
6. Have you had the opportunity to travel much in Taiwan? What is your favorite Taiwan attraction?
Us: We’ve traveled a bit in the past four months that we’ve been in Taiwan. We went to Kaohsiung to visit my family, Pintung to see friends, Taitung for Moon-Cake festival weekend, and Taichung for a weekend to visit friends where Rob learned to cook some local Taiwanese cuisine. A lot of it was just hanging out in local places, going to night markets, and catching up. But we did go to Daylily Mountain in Taitung, which I thought was gorgeous! We were literally up in the clouds and we even got to drink daylily soup.
Some of my favorite places to visit are actually right here in Taipei. We love taking the Maokong Gondola up to the teahouses. It’s a nice 20-25 minute ride with a beautiful view of Taipei City and being up there makes me feel like I’m in another world. It’s a mini-getaway from the city and it costs just around $3 USD (including the MRT ride to get to get to the gondola). We also really enjoy taking the red line up to Danshui Old Street. It’s a really relaxing place to visit by the water and pick up some local snacks or xiao chi, from grilled sausages to whole grilled squid (if you’re a bit more adventurous when it comes to food). Danshui is known for their sunsets, and I have to say from first-hand experience, it definitely is gorgeous. There are also plenty of restaurants right along the water, so it’s a nice place to go on a date.
7. Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about?
Rob: Try to learn what your commute will be like ahead of time. If you choose to live a little farther away from your school because you like the area, understand that the time it takes to get to the nearest transport, use that transport, and then walk to school will add up quickly. Our bus ride to work is only a thirty-minute ride. However, walking to the bus stop and waiting for the bus makes the commute take an hour each way.
Also, I’m sure most people recommend it, but find a way to learn some Chinese while you’re here. I am lucky that Victoria speaks the language and can teach me here and there. Without her ability to communicate, ask for directions, and order food, my wealth of experiences here would have been slightly more limited.
8. Do you have any favorite blogs or websites about Taiwan that you’d like to share with our readers?
Victoria: I love trying new food in Taiwan so I’m always consulting Hungry Girl in Taipei for different places to eat. Her site is all in English and it’s extremely organized. You could look up places by MRT stop, area in Taipei, or cuisine. She posts detailed reviews and is really honest, which I like. Her site also includes pictures, which is also really nice because we eat with our eyes first!
Another site that I use quite often is Travel King. Sometimes I know where I want to go and I just need directions, which Travel King has. It includes MRT directions as well as driving directions. Other times, I’m on a hunt for new places to visit on the weekend. You can find museums, night markets, temples, and more on this site. It’s been very helpful to us!
Rob: I’m also very interested in Tai Chi Chuan, and have been practicing pushing hands with a renowned group in Peace Park. I plan to start blogging about those experiences and will try to post a link in the future.
Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and experiences, Rob and Victoria. We’re looking forward to seeing you out at the next Reach To Teach event!