Taiwan Teacher Interview With Sarah Vied

Taiwan Teacher Interview With Sarah Vied

Today’s interview is with Reach To Teach alumni Sarah Vied, who has been teaching with us in Taipei, Taiwan.

Sarah Vies

Hi Sarah! Let’s start off by having you introduce yourself.

Hey! My name is Sarah, I’m 26, and I’m a proud southerner from the USA—originally from a small town called Princeton in western Kentucky. This is only my second year teaching and living abroad, but my first year in Taiwan and in Taipei. My road to Taiwan began in university when I spent a summer doing research for my chemistry professor. He had a grant to exchange students from our university for a summer with students from National Chung Hsing University in Taichung for a semester. I didn’t realize how much spending two months in Taiwan would change my life, but it became my mission to get back to Taiwan. After a few things in my life that delayed getting back and a stint in grad school, I decided to move away from my biology and chemistry background and toward traveling and teaching for a bit. In 2012, I got my CertTESOL in Prague, took a job in the Czech Republic for a year, and then very soon after, accepted a position through Reach to Teach in Taipei. Six years later, I finally made it back to Taiwan!

How have you enjoyed teaching in Taiwan to date?

Teaching in Taiwan has been really enjoyable. Last year in Czech, my job was more of a childcare job, so this feels like my first real teaching gig. Teaching to me has sincerely been satisfying as I get to interact with my students. I teach at a preschool and have the same class each day, allowing me to watch their English and their confidence improve. Another big plus is that I enjoy getting to act like a big kid every day, and we laugh and play a lot—kids are so hilarious! They are also extremely curious and find something interesting in things that we as adults take for granted. For this reason, I especially love getting to teach subjects I personally love, like science and art, to them. I remember during a science lesson in which we were learning about the water cycle, how clouds form, and why it rains, we did an “experiment” to simulate a cloud and precipitation. I put ice cubes in a tray and held it over a pot of hot water, making the ice cubes melt and water to condense on the bottom of the ice cube tray. Water started forming and dropping into the pot “raining” and the kids were absolutely amazed. It was so fun to watch their excitement at what they had just learned!

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

Taiwan has a very strong work ethic, education is highly valued, and a lot is expected of students (by Western standards)—even of five and six year olds in preschool. At the beginning, I felt a lot of pressure from my school to do well since I was teaching upper level in the preschool, meaning those kids had been with the school a while and their parents had high expectations. Sometimes, the parents can be really peculiar about certain things with their kids, and you just have to roll with it.

Sarah's kidsFor example, I had a parent complain about my graduation show play; the first day we began practicing, we only practiced a small portion of the show, and their kid’s line did not come up yet. The kid went home and told his mom he didn’t have a part. Even after the situation was explained, the mother wanted me to rearrange the show to make their child’s part bigger. Many times, the management will side with the parent just to continue to please the parents so that the kids will stay enrolled at the school, but thankfully, this time my school stood up for me. It’s a good reminder that the larger chain schools are effectively seen as more of a business than a school, and unfortunately, the parents can have a lot of sway over what goes on. Coming to Taiwan, I didn’t realize this, but I think it is important to be aware of these differences before starting to teach in Taiwan so you will be more prepared when it comes to dealing with parents.

You do have to be careful. Dealing with the management is another thing. Saving face is really important in Taiwan and in Asian culture.

What were your first few months like in Taiwan? Did you experience culture shock?

Having been in Taiwan before for two months, the culture really wasn’t a huge shock to me. Once I got my bearings, I found the public transportation here really convenient and easy to use. I had a relatively easy time finding a good apartment with awesome Taiwanese roommates, and even met a few friends from random events: a Taiwanese girl helped me take the bus (she actually went WITH me) to get to where I was going when I was lost). The hardest adjustment for me came from making such a swift move from my friends and life in a small Czech town last year to a large city in Taiwan. I had a close group of friends there and really felt I had finally adjusted to living there when I left, so that was hard to have to start all over again. Also, like I mentioned before, I felt pressure in the beginning from my school and the parents’ expectations, but that has since dissipated.

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

The positive aspects include living on a beautiful island where even in the busy city of Taipei, you are never too far from great natural scenery and outdoor activities. As someone who isn’t really fond of city life, I was worried I would grow sick of somewhere like Taipei, but this has not been the case. If you don’t want to get around by scooter, the good news is that the public transportation here—especially in Taipei—is very convenient, with the MRT (subway) and buses. The high speed rail system that stretches from northern to southern Taiwan, getting you all the way to Kaohsiung in about two hours. Taiwanese people are also really friendly and helpful to foreigners if they see you on the street with a map looking lost; I’ve seldom felt unsafe here. The culture is also very accommodating for night owls like myself; night markets are a Taiwanese staple. Another positive is that on a teacher’s salary, you can live quite comfortably here, and still manage to save some money.

The negatives are that living halfway around the world from family and friends in America makes keeping in touch sort of difficult. Thirteen or so hour time differences have proven to be troublesome when arranging Skype calls.

Another thing that was difficult for me to adjust to after first moving here was the eating out culture found here in Taiwan. I enjoy cooking and baking my own meals, but doing that is not as convenient as just eating out. It can sometimes be hard to track down ingredients that I’m used, not to mention expensive, and the typical Taiwanese kitchen is pretty lacking. Kitchens don’t usually have ovens, so I use a medium sized toaster oven, a hot plate, and a rice cooker for most meals if I do cook at home. Most of the food in Taiwan that you can find on the street and in restaurants is pretty tasty, and it’s usually cheaper to eat like a local; however, old habits are hard to break, and sometimes you just really want to make your own comfort food.

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jump up jump up and get downHave you had the opportunity to travel much in Taiwan or in Asia?

Since coming back to Taiwan, I’ve already been to almost all of the places I saw the last time I was in Taiwan and then some.  You canr read up on some of those experiences here. I’ve taken trips to Sun Moon Lake, Taroko Gorge, Kaohsiung, Tainan, and Taichung since returning. I’ve also made it my mission to explore as much as I can in Taipei itself, which is massive. There are still parts that I haven’t seen here yet. I plan on going to Kenting soon with my Taiwan friends.

Outside of Taiwan, I traveled to Hanoi, Vietnam and Ha Long Bay last December. More recently, I visited Kyoto and Osaka in Japan over a long weekend in February. I intend to do the Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam thing at some point while I’m over here as well!

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

Another helpful thing I would suggest about coming to Taiwan would be to try to take Chinese lessons while you are here. You can definitely get by in the bigger cities in Taiwan without knowing any Chinese, but it would be very helpful to you. Also, you might not ever have the chance to learn and practice like you would here in Taiwan!

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

The sites I have used the most as an expat in Taiwan include tealit.com, where I found my shared apartment to rent, A Hungry Girl’s Guide to Taipei for restaurant suggestions, and also Taipei543  for information about events going on around Taipei. I also have recently found The Thousandth Girl and think she has a lot of nice posts about Taiwan on her blog. I also have a blog, Uncaged Traveler, in which I talk about traveling long-term (specifically as an ESL teacher) in Europe and Asia, and I will put more Taiwan related posts up soon!

Thanks a lot, Sarah! Follow Sarah’s adventures on her blog, uncagedtraveler.com, for interesting articles about her travels!


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