Interview with Sam Simile, an American Teacher in New Taipei City, Taiwan
Today we are joined by Samantha Simile, a Reach To Teach teacher from Pennsylvania who has been wowing her students in Xi’an, China and Tucheng, Taiwan with her circus skills. Samantha is accomplished at stilt-walking, fire-breathing, and she’s incredibly bendy (As you’ll see from her photos!).
Samantha is teaching young learners in Taiwan in Tucheng, New Taipei City. We are especially excited to hear about Samantha’s adventures here in Taiwan, so read on to find out what challenges she has faced and interesting stories she has to share. Connect with Sam through facebook, or twitter. You can also check out her blog and instagram for more on Sam’s adventures.
Hi Samantha, thank you so much for taking the time to interview with us today. Please tell us a little about yourself.
I am a 24-year old American. I was born in Bremerhaven, Germany; grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and went to school at Coastal Carolina University in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. I was a 400m hurdler on the CCU track and field team to put myself through school, and I graduated with a degree in English (writing and linguistics). I also worked in a circus performance troupe, an improv theater troupe and in various other entertainment positions.
My first job after graduation was in China, and now I’ve made a home here in Taiwan. I eat way too much sugar and drink way too much caffeine. I am obsessed with The Beatles, Batman and Charles Bukowski. I am pretty (very) accident-prone and have broken a lot of bones and torn a lot of ligaments. I have been an athlete and a performer since I was 3 years old, and I haven’t stopped since, even being abroad. I can breathe fire, walk on stilts, make balloon animals and do acrobatics. I sing and dance all the time, and I really believe in doing whatever makes you happy—even if everyone else thinks you look stupid while doing it.
How have you enjoyed teaching in Taiwan to date?
I love teaching in Taiwan. The experience is so much more personal and intimate than in China. I love all of my students and have formed very close bonds with them. I just go in and have a blast. My school is very laid back, and I have a lot of freedom in my teaching. I really like being silly and ridiculous all the time, and my students react so well to that kind of attitude. I am able to be myself while teaching in Taiwan, and I am able to put everything I have out in the open for my students, and I believe it really helps them learn. It is something I look forward to every day.
You taught in China for a year before moving to Taiwan. Can you tell us a little about that experience?
Teaching English in Xi’an was an experience. I taught at both primary schools and high schools. I didn’t simply work for one school; I worked for a company that contracted me out to different schools. So, I would work at one school in the morning and a different one in the afternoon. My classes were HUGE; I had around 60 kids in each class. I only saw my students once a week, and I had 26 different classes, so I had well over 1,000 different students every single week. I barely knew anyone’s name.
Xi’an is a cold city, and buildings are not heated there. The pollution is very high, and the locals weren’t particularly fond of foreigners–more like tolerated. It was a crazy experience, and one that I definitely do not regret, but it was not the environment I wanted to be living in or teaching in. I did, however, get to see some awesome things. I visited the Terra-Cotta Soldiers and some of the oldest and most important cultural relics in China. I got to see beautiful mountains and spend time in the very rural parts of Shaanxi. It was just a bunch of different things, especially from America, that I took on all at once and by myself. It was, in a word, insane.
How would you compare living in Taiwan to living in China?
Taiwan and China are like night and day. The entire atmosphere is just completely different. Not to mention, I lived in Xi’an, which was about -10 all winter (so cold!). The people here are much more friendly towards Americans and all foreigners, the cities are cleaner, there is more to do and everything is so much more convenient. I feel much more at home here than I ever did in China. There, I almost felt like I was counting down the time I was there instead of really enjoying it. Here, I can’t even believe I’ve been in Taiwan for 2 months already, and I can’t see myself going anywhere any time soon.
What are the positive and negative aspects of living in China?
China is a very old, very traditional country that is set in its ways. It has a lot of culture and history, and it is a really awesome place to visit. There is so much to learn and take in. It was an eye-opener to be in a place that is so vastly different from where I had lived my entire life. I met people who lived in ways that I would never even consider. I encountered ways of thought that I never thought would be possible. I got to see so much and learn so much, and it has all helped me grow as a person. It is an experience that I could never get anywhere else, and I am grateful for it. I also got to work with some incredibly smart and beautiful children who just made my days so much easier. And, the travel to Hong Kong is pretty cheap, so that was also awesome.
On the other hand, it was hard. Very hard. I was alone in a city that was less than welcoming. I did not enjoy the pollution, the traffic or the attitudes of most of the people. Everything was just a mess all the time. There was very little pride in personal appearance or the appearance of the city. They were all about the culture and the history, but very much detached from what was going on NOW. I was happy to have been there, but I was happier to leave. I can honestly say some of my favorite moments in China were actually not in China at all, but in Hong Kong. Still, I wouldn’t trade it.
What advice can you give to new teachers interested in teaching abroad?
Ask yourself beforehand how comfortable you are going out to dinner by yourself. I’m talking about a sit-down restaurant packed with people on a Saturday night and you’re all alone. Could you enjoy yourself and not be uncomfortable? Could you be content in your own company? Are you happy? If the answer is yes to these, then absolutely go abroad. Don’t think too much about it. Don’t be afraid of it, but know that you’re going to spend a lot of time on your own and in places that are unfamiliar and generally uncomfortable. If you can be OK with those (and be happy), then do it. It is the best experience you could ask for.
How would you describe moving to Taiwan from China? Was the process fairly simple in terms of things like getting a visa and obtaining the proper paperwork?
Fortunately, I didn’t have to do very much. My school took care of everything. Unlike China, I didn’t need to have a tourist visa to get into the country, and once I got here it was pretty much out of my hands. All I really had to do was hand over my passport and diploma. The most difficult process was the actual moving. I had a lot of stuff to drag around, especially because I took a few days vacationing in Hong Kong and Shenzhen.
You’ve got quite an interesting background as a circus performer and as an entertainer. How are these skills translating to your life here in Asia?
These are actually some of the most important skills I have used here in Asia. Being a performer translates incredibly well when interacting with people on any level, but especially in a country where language is an issue. Through circus performing and entertaining (improv troupes, theater, etc.), I have learned how to show emotion and meaning through my actions and body movements, how to bond with an audience without saying a word, how to keep conversation moving without a break, how to think on the fly and how to make people happy. These are things that I love to do, and they have been so valuable while living abroad. They also translate well to children.
I love working with kids because I know how to act like a kid. I am used to playing all day, and I am used to putting on a show, so my job now is really very similar. My stage is a little bit smaller, but I do a lot of the same things. I even make balloon animals at school sometimes—just because. On top of that, I have a lot of stories that start with, “Hey! I can breathe fire!” And those always go over well.
Wow! Sam, it has been awesome speaking to you, you really seem to be making the most of your first few months here. Hopefully we’ll see you around entertaining the good people of Taiwan. Thanks for a great interview and enjoy the rest of your time here.