Interview With Brett Cleveland: An American Teacher In Taipei

Check out our latest teacher interview! This week we are joined by Brett Cleveland who has just hit his half way mark in Taipei, Taiwan and it sounds like he is having a blast. Read on to find out the parts that he enjoys the most about this beautiful island. 

1. Please tell us a little about yourself.

Brett Cleveland And FriendsHey, all! The name’s Brett and I’ve been teaching in Taipei for about 6 months now. I’m 23 years old, and grew up in Wisconsin. I actually studied business at the University of Wisconsin, but upon graduation, realized I wasn’t ready to take a desk job at ABC Company in the states. While getting my degree, studying abroad in Singapore opened my eyes to just how big the world is, and how awesome living in Asia can be. Education has always interested me, and ESL teaching was my way of getting to live overseas again, while paying off some of those student loans I racked up over the years.

Likes: Warm weather, cold beer, trying new things, a nice pair of slacks. [contextly_sidebar id=”4XSMGyHppUO6Zvj8lVp5ftuIHI9ZgANh”]

Dislikes: Rude people, reality TV, smelling stinky tofu, country music

2. How have you enjoyed teaching in Taiwan to date?

I won’t sugar coat this and say every day is awesome, and it’s always sunshine and rainbows in Teacher Land. It’s like any job. You’ll have good days and difficult days, but for me, the good days far outnumber the difficult ones. Every day is different and presents you with new challenges, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. The lesson planning, correcting homework, and other administrative things are tedious, but I genuinely enjoy interacting with my students in the classroom.

I teach all the way up to middle school, so I get quite a wide variety of personalities, capabilities, and challenges. Watching my students’ progression over the last 6 months has been really rewarding. This is especially true with the younger students – it’s been amazing to me how fast they learn.

3. What advice can you give to new teachers interested in teaching in Taiwan?

As far as the actual teaching goes: It’s not always as easy as you may think, and don’t expect it to be a year-long vacation when you sign your contract. I kind of knew this coming into my contract, as I’d done a fair amount of research and had a friend already teaching in China. You will need to do a fair amount of preparatory work outside of the classroom, and teaching, generally, is more difficult than it seems.

That being said, if you’re on the fence about coming here to teach, I’d highly recommend that you go for it.  Once you get into the groove and flow of the teaching routine, it’s an enjoyable job and still leaves plenty of time for leisurely activities around this beautiful island.

4. Can you tell us about a particularly powerful moment in your classroom?Brett Cleveland Teaching

For me, the most powerful thing hasn’t been a single moment or a single activity that I’ve done with my students, but rather the progression of a few students in particular. In my level 1 class,
there is a girl who started out as undeniably one of the weaker students, but in the past months has shown more improvement than anyone else in the class. With kids this age, they can be easily distracted, but whenever I’m giving instruction, this girl’s eyes are glued on me and I know she’s really trying to learn.

4 months ago, she was barely able to respond to basic questions and was extremely shy. Now, she’s a regular contributor to class and is without a doubt more confident. Students like her keep me motivated to always be well prepared and give solid lessons – even if it seems like some of the other students would rather be anywhere but the classroom.

5. What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Taiwan?

With this, I’ll keep it clean and simple with a list. Note that I’m speaking mostly of Taipei, and other parts of Taiwan will, perhaps, be a bit different.

Positives:

  • The people are generally really welcoming and helpful to foreigners, even if there is a language barrier
  • It’s one of the cleanest, safest, and EASIEST big cities to live in anywhere in the world. I’ve yet to see any crime, the transportation system (MRT, bus, youbike) is fantastic, there’s plenty of shopping for anything you could need, and there are 7/11’s or Family Mart’s on just about every corner.
  • The food options are numerous, various, and delicious. Whether it’s a small and traditional Taiwanese restaurant, street food from a night market, a “western” style bar and grill, or an up-scale restaurant, I’m rarely disappointed with the food options.
  • Although Taipei is a big city, you can be in the mountains or at the beach within an hour or two. It’s pretty easy to escape the hustle and bustle of the big city when you need to.
  • There’s always something to do. With the night markets, outdoor activities, bars/clubs, festivals, and shopping districts, there is never a dull moment if you want it to be that way.

Negatives:

  • The language barrier is tough at times. I’m doing my best to learn Chinese in my spare time, and quite a few people can speak a bit of English in Taipei, but it still can be frustrating.
  • I am quite obviously a foreigner here, and that leads to quite a few stares and the occasional child pointing and exclaiming to their parents the Chinese word for “foreigner!” To be honest, this doesn’t bother me too much, but I know that the stares can make some people (especially girls) uncomfortable.
  • There is often a lack of direct communication in Taiwanese culture. I’ve noticed this in both my workplace and in interactions with my landlord. People are much more subtle, and occasionally won’t even consult with you before taking action. Coming from a pretty straightforward and direct society, this can be a bit annoying.

6. Have you had the opportunity to travel much in Taiwan or in Asia?

The past 6 months I haven’t done any major travelling around Asia. I’ve been to a few places around Taiwan including Sun Moon Lake, and Yilan county, but for the most part, my job has kept me around Taipei and the nearby cities (there’s plenty to do without going very far). I’ll eventually make it to the south of the island around Kaohsiung and Kenting, and I’m currently working out some details of a potential trip to Vietnam.

Previously, when I studied in Singapore, I traveled around Malaysia, a few islands in Indonesia, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, and a few islands in the Philippines.

7. Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about?

As I said before, my experiences are mostly from Taipei, and other parts of Taiwan may be vastly different. For me, though, it seems like the more I learn about Taiwan, the more I realize how little I know and how much there still is to explore. There’s a truly unique blend of modern/traditional, East/West, and urban/rural. It seems that places like South Korea, Japan, and China get all the hype when it comes to ESL teaching, but I’d recommend Taiwan to anybody. The only way to truly explain the beauty of this island is to see it for yourself.

8. Do you have any favorite blogs or websites about Taiwan that you’d like to share with our readers?

As far as blogs go, I liked reading most of the Reach to Teach blogs before coming over here. Plenty of variety to choose from

Another website that I’ve found helpful is http://tealit.com/ for apartment hunting and other classified ads. Kind of like a craigslist. On that note, there are a few different Facebook groups for buy/sell items and book exchanges.

Also, there’s http://www.forumosa.com/taiwan/, which is basically a huge forum on everything Taiwan related.

And finally, I’m going to plug my own blog if you want to know more about my personal experiences. Find me at http://peripateticbrett.blogspot.tw/.

Hope some of my insights help. Cheers, all!

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