Reach To Teach Interviews Max Pizzini, an American Teacher in Taoyuan, Taiwan
American ESL teacher Max Pizzini arrived on the beautiful island of Formosa in June 2012. He teaches elementary aged students at a popular buxiban in Taoyuan in Northern Taiwan. Max writes about his adventures in Taiwan on his blog Max is in Taiwan. (Be sure to check out our page on living and working in Taoyuan through the helpful link listed above.)
1. Hi Max. Thanks so much for agreeing to share your story with us. Can we start with you telling us a little about yourself?
I first became excited about world travel when I studied abroad in Osaka, Japan in 2011. Cliche as it may be, it truly changed my life. When I came home, everything seemed so dull and predictable by comparison. So, post-graduation, I started planning my next trip, this time to Taiwan. I really enjoy travel and experiencing new things, especially food! I’m also a big fan of natural wonders, so Taiwan was an easy choice.
2. What do you like about living in Taiwan?
What had drawn me to Taiwan in my research turned out to be mostly true–an interesting blend of cultures, progressive politics, amazing food, gorgeous national parks, and an affordable lifestyle near the city! But there were plenty of surprises too! Really, the best part is a combination of the people and the lifestyle. Most people I encounter are incredibly generous and honest. The times I’ve been lost or short on bus fare or unable to communicate with a bank teller, there’s always been some friendly stranger to step in and save the day. And Taiwan is so convenient! Between the ever-present convenience stores and the stellar public transportation (in Taipei and its suburbs), I’ve let myself grow a bit lazy. It’s so simple to plan a day trip or a weekend visit at the last minute. And money is rarely an issue. Food and transportation are both extremely affordable (even taxis!), so adventuring is effortless.
It will be hard at first. Don’t despair. It may take some time for you and your school to adjust to each other. Also, if you don’t know the language, you can get by, but it’s so much nicer to have a working use of Chinese. Sign up for classes as soon as you can.
4. Can you tell us about a particularly powerful moment in your classroom?
My most powerful moment grew from one of my worst classroom experiences. I have one class in particular that simply would not listen to me. They were a bit older (11-12), and they drove me crazy. I grew upset with my myself and my inability to manage the classroom. I felt like giving up. But I decided to start over–I created a new set of rules and consequences, and I enforced it. At first, change was minimal. But after a couple weeks of consistent rewards and punishments, they began to listen to me. It was an incredible feeling. I watched students transform from active miscreants to active participants. They had the potential–I just had to channel it. I felt validated as a teacher by successfully turning the class around.
5. What are the positive and negative aspects of teaching in Taiwan?
Postive: The pay is pretty good, and the money goes far! You can save a lot if you’re smart about it. My school is a good fit for first-time teachers. It’s really a teach-by-numbers system. Having never taught before, it was nice to have this kind of structure when I was just starting.
Negative: This “structure” does get irritating after awhile, especially once you feel like you know what you’re doing. Additionally, the teaching methods seem completely arbitrary, and there is no room for modification. The focus is on language memorization, not necessary language use. You get the feeling that the kids are only learning English to pass tests. I think this isn’t far from the truth. You can have a peek at what my day to day life is like in Taoyuan here.
6. What’s your favorite place in Taiwan to date?
Probably Hualien, and not just for the gorge. I love the atmosphere of the town itself, and the coast. Clean air, blue water, green mountains, and wide open streets! Everything moves at a much slower pace than the city. I imagine anywhere in the East of Taiwan would offer this kind of escape. Hualien’s just been my favorite so far!
7. Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about?
Taiwan is a surprising country. I think people’s first impressions are rarely accurate, including mine. It’s a country full of hidden gems. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, the smallest amount of effort or exploration will reward you. Honestly, I think Taipei doesn’t seem so glamorous at first glance, but there are amazing museums, restaurants, stores, bars–really anything you could imagine–just tucked away out of sight. Make friends, do research, and go exploring! I think this advice applies to anywhere in the country, but especially Taipei.
8. Do you have any favorite blogs or websites about Taiwan that you’d like to share with our readers?
For hikers: Hiking Taiwan
For gourmands: Hungry Girl in Taipei
And don’t neglect the tourism bureau! More helpful than you might think: http://eng.taiwan.net.tw/
Thanks very much, Max. We’re looking forward to your upcoming blog updates!