Interview with Michelle Brent, An American in Taipei

Teacher MichelleIt’s been a while since we’ve had a teacher from Taiwan interview with us. That’s because we had dozens of teachers arrive in Taiwan this summer and they’ve been busy getting settled in to their new life abroad. Today, we’re happy to present you with an interview with Michelle Brent, an American in Taipei. Michelle arrived in Taiwan in July and she teaches in Taipei. Read on to learn about Michelle’s thoughts on living and working in Taipei.

Hi Michelle. Thanks for joining us today. Let’s start with a brief introduction, if you don’t mind. 

Hello! My name is Michelle and I’m originally from Buffalo, New York. I left the area when I was 17 years old and moved to Ohio and then Indiana thereafter. I’ve never been afraid of change, in fact I embrace it. That’s probably one of the reasons why I wanted to teach abroad; it’s such an intriguing, exciting adventure every day. I wanted the opportunity to grow as an individual, while doing what I love. I wasn’t a teacher before, I was in business actually, but it didn’t seem to make me happy. So, I thought why continue with something that doesn’t make you happy? Luckily, I had completed my TEFL program a few months prior and decided to put the certificate to use. A few weeks later, I found myself on a plane to Taiwan ready to take on a new chapter in my life.

How have you enjoyed teaching in Taiwan to date?Michelle Brent

I remember sitting on the plane headed to Taiwan wondering if I’d made the right decision. Should I’ve quit my job in the States? Should I’ve moved half way across the world? Am I going to be a good teacher? I was reassured of everything, once I met my students and taught my very first class; nothing compares to that feeling. I wouldn’t change it for the world; I love teaching in Taiwan. My students are so eager to learn which motivates me even more. So, if you’re feeling a little nervous to make the leap, don’t because teaching in Taiwan is so rewarding. You will be so incredibly happy that you did, I promise!

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

Be open. I think it applies to anyone, no matter where you work. It’s easy to get wrapped up in work and forget that you’re in a completely new Country so take advantage of it! Don’t stay in every weekend, make a solid effort to hit all of the tourist spots and branch off from there! It already says a lot if you’re even thinking about teaching abroad; it shows that you’re adventurous, outgoing, and hopefully love teaching (of course)!

I’ve met some teachers who don’t really make the effort; they did go out and explore the first month, but then clamed up. It’s important to reflect on what you want from this experience. Where do you want to see yourself in a year? What do you want from this experience? Do you feel comfortable embracing the culture? If you’re unsure, you may have a hard time adjusting to a new lifestyle. I’m thankful that I’m willing to try anything once! Really amercing yourself in the culture is vital to fully experiencing Taiwan. I think if you struggle with opening up to the culture, you’ll find it very difficult to be happy in other parts of your life, like teaching.

Remember, there are so many other teachers here too! If you want to get to know Taiwan better, the school that you’re teaching at, or just teaching in general, they are your BEST resource. They were new teachers at one point too! They can help you navigate the massive amount of teacher resources, help you find teaching sites, and connect you with other teachers as well.  So stay open, connect with teachers, and explore the Island; the opportunities are endless!

Teacher Michelle with her studentsCan you tell us about a particularly powerful moment in your classroom?

I teach young learners so my students are so willing to learn, and are a pleasure to have in class. It’s rewarding to be able to mold little minds. I’ve only taught them for 4 months, and they’ve grown so much within that time. When I first started teaching I was nervous that they would miss their previous teacher and hate the change, but we connected instantly. I think the most powerful moment was fairly recently, actually. I walked into the classroom after a holiday, and they said Good Morning, and all ran up to hug me. I was literally attacked by a swarm of children. It was as if they hadn’t seen me in a year, with many of them saying, “I’ve missed you!!” It was an amazing feeling. You know you’re doing something right when your students say and do that. Sometimes it’s the small things that mean the most; I will never forget that moment.

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

Positive: The cost of living here is extremely low. If you are very good with how you spend your money, you’ll be able to save around $1000/month. As for me, I enjoy travelling and eating western food from time to time, so my take home amount isn’t quite as high. Also, the people in Taiwan are incredibly hospitable. They would give you the shirt off their back, and I mean literally. My roommate needed to go up to the North, and she had three people stop ask her if she needed help, and actually give her a ride! Which brings me to my third point, safety. Taiwan is extremely safe. Instinctively, I was nervous to bring too much money anywhere, walk home at night, etc. but I have never felt so safe. Things I would do here, I would never imagine to do back in the States. Obviously, bad people can be everywhere, but I’ve yet to meet one here!

Negative: If you like meat, and a lot of it, you won’t find it in too many places here unless you make it yourself. I’m a huge meat eater, and the meat here is cut extremely thin, and you don’t get that much. It’s actually not a huge problem, you can go buy as much as you want in the grocery store, but restaurant wise you’ll see this. The other complaint that you hear a lot is the weather. There’s not too much you can do about this, except bring an umbrella with you everywhere. The forecast could say sunny, but then rain an hour later. This “negative” is also something to be expected though, so it’s not really a negative, but rather an inconvenience. Other than that, there really isn’t anything negative about living here. You’ll miss family and friends from time to time, but that’s with moving anywhere in the world, the good thing is Taiwan has 3G and Skype and imessage work great here! Plus, postcards and old fashion mail are the best!!

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

I’ve only been here for a short amount of time, so I haven’t travelled to the southern part of the Island, but I plan on it! I’ve heard great things about the South, and the Islands surrounding Taiwan, however there’s so much to do in Taipei (where I live) that I haven’t fully exhausted every place to go yet. In about a month I’ll be taking vacation to go to Thailand with my cousin. I’ve heard nothing but good things, and I can’t wait to ride on an elephant! Asia has so much to offer, from temples to world class shopping, it has a little something for everyone. Some other places I’d love to visit are Vietnam, Laos, India and Cambodia. I think travelling is an excellent way to broaden your view on the world and see things from other people’s perspective.

Do you have any favorite blogs or websites about Taiwan that you’d like to share?

If you want to know more about Taiwan from a teacher’s perspective, please visit my personal blog at http://michellebrent05.blogspot.tw. It’s an excellent way to learn more about the do’s and don’ts when living in Taiwan. I just started a little while ago, so it’s a great time to watch it grow, and see what new places I visit and comment on!

A blog that I started following when I first arrived was Hungry Girl in Taipei. I’m a believer that you can’t fully appreciate or experience a culture until you eat their food. Her blog is divided up my price point and by the type of food. It was a great way to find cheap Taiwanese food when I first arrived when I had no idea where to go. She also posts her opinions about Western restaurants for those days when you really just need a burger and some fries.

I also highly recommend getting lonely planet. It is an excellent beginner guide for someone brand new to the country.

I hope you make the right choice and come teach in Taiwan. It’s a life changing experience; you won’t regret it!

Thanks very much for your time, Michelle. We hope you enjoy the rest of your year in Taiwan!

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