Interview With Sydney – Teaching in Taiwan During COVID19
Teaching in Taiwan During COVID19 – Is it possible? Yes, it is!
It has been a while since Reach To Teach has featured a teacher interview. Today, we’re pleased to introduce you to Sydney, an American teacher teaching in New Taipei. We’re pleased to let you know a little bit more about our teachers in Taiwan and what it’s like teaching in Taiwan during COVID19.
Sydney arrived in Taiwan in January before the pandemic hit, and she addresses what life has been like living in Taiwan during a very uncertain time in history. Suffice to say, we think she’s a champ and she’s definitely making the most of her time here.
Carrie at Reach To Teach: Please tell us a little about yourself, Sydney. I feel like I got to know you so well during the interview process with Reach To Teach, but I know our readers would love to learn more about you.
Sydney: My name is Sydney and I’m 23 years-old. I’m originally from New York and graduated from Temple University in August of 2018 with my Bachelors in Business Administration.
During my time in college I studied abroad in Paris, France for a semester and traveled around Western Europe during my time abroad. After graduation I worked as a recruiter for a staffing firm in Philadelphia for almost one year, and then transitioned into a more back-end HR role working for the University of Pennsylvania Health System.
I got TEFL certified through the International TEFL Academy in September of 2019 and flew over to Taipei, Taiwan to teach at the end of January 2020.
I’ve been in Taiwan for a little over two months now and I’ve enjoyed some hiking, vegan restaurants, parks, night markets, getting lost on my own and, of course, teaching!
Carrie at Reach To Teach: We love International TEFL Academy! They offer great TEFL courses and we’re always pleased to see ITA alumni work with both organizations.
How have you enjoyed teaching in Taiwan to date?
Sydney: Teaching in Taiwan has definitely been a challenge, but that’s why I came! I wanted to see what it was like to live and teach in Asia and I’m doing it. I teach a class of 21 kindergartners Monday through Friday and my school is only about 10 minutes walking-distance from my apartment.
Teaching, managing, and disciplining twenty-one small kids can be difficult at times, but I try to focus more on what I’m teaching and how much they’re learning. I’m also lucky to have a teaching assistant in the classroom with me to help with keeping my class under control. And hearing, “Teacher Sydney, I love you,” or “Teacher Sydney, can I come home with you?” makes my heart melt every time.
Overall, my kids are a challenge but a joy and I’ve loved watching them learn, grow, and enhance their skills over the past couple of months.
Carrie at Reach To Teach: What advice can you give to new teachers interested in teaching in Taiwan?
Sydney: One piece of advice I’d give new teachers interested in Taiwan is to be prepared for cultural differences in school.
Since I’m from the United States, the Taiwanese style of learning and discipline took me a while to get used to. Both were a bit more harsh and direct than I was used to so I chose to implement my own style to see how it worked for me.
If you’re a person of color, prepare to get a lot of stares from students (especially the younger ones) during your first few weeks. One class in particular referred to me as “Teacher Chocolate” for at least three weeks until they learned my name, so that was an interesting but experience for me.
Prepare to have to wear masks in school while you’re teaching. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, it’s standard for schools to require students, teachers, and all staff to wear a mask when on school property.
At first it was difficult, but I credit my ability to stay healthy when working with small kids to the mask policy.
The Taiwan government has released a full page of resources called COVID19 Foreign Resident Resources Page.
Carrie at Reach To Teach: Can you tell us about a particularly powerful moment in your classroom?
Sydney: Part of the ESL curriculum at my school is to teach my kids how to answer questions in English like “When is your birthday?” While some of my students had no problem learning how to properly answer this question, others were struggling for weeks and almost a month.
But one day, after the official school day had ended and my students were waiting for their parents to come pick them up, one my students, Henry, looked up at me and said, “Teacher, my birthday is May 30th.” I looked down at him and said “Henry! Say it again!” and he did!
I was so overjoyed, proud, and almost a little surprised that he had finally said it correctly, because he had been struggling for almost a month.
I was proud of him and proud of myself for teaching him something he’ll know how to say forever. Almost a month of what felt like banging my head against a brick wall had finally paid off.
Carrie at Reach To Teach: What are some positive aspects of living in Taiwan?
Sydney: There are so many!
I love the weather. I arrived in Taiwan on January 28, 2020 and the weather throughout February wasn’t very consistent but never dipped below 55 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s much warmer than where I’m from. There were even days in February that reached the 80s. Spring had definitely sprung by early March,
I also really enjoy how clean the MRT (the metro) is. Eating, drinking, and chewing gum are not allowed on the MRT, and they even stop service on some trains from time to time just to clean them. I was shocked, amazed, and impressed by that. Even talking on the phone is discouraged while on the train so as to not disturb other passengers. And most (if not all) stations have bathrooms! That’s something I’m not used to so it’s nice when you really have to go.
The people here are friendly for the most part. Since I’m a black woman, I get a lot of stares when I go out in public. But it’s always a pleasant surprise when someone says “Good morning!” or “Have a nice day!” to me as I’m walking down the street. And when I return the greeting, the people always smile and some even seem proud that they’ve spoken English to a foreigner.
Cost of living in Taiwan: This is my first time living alone in my own apartment and I wouldn’t have been able to do so if the cost of living wasn’t so low. What I pay for a studio apartment here in New Taipei City with utilities, water, wifi, and cable included does not exist back in New York (where I’m from) or in Philadelphia (where I was living before I moved here). I enjoy being able to afford my own space and call it my own for an affordable price.
There is definitely something for everyone here. If you like nature and hiking, there are endless mountains, trails, and national parks to visit. If you’re a foodie, you can indulge in local delicacies in your neighborhood, splurge on more expensive vegan food in Taipei, or go crazy at different night markets every weekend. Living right outside of the capital city also allows for there to be a nice change of scenery every now and then.
New Taipei can look and feel a bit more aged and slower-paced, but once you’re about 10 to 15 minutes into your MRT ride, you’re back into a modern, metropolitan oasis.
Last but not least: standing out! This might sound strange but I actually kind of enjoy standing out in such a homogenous place. Being black woman standing at 5 feet 9 inches tall with a super short hair cut is already invigorating and fun. But being all of those things in a city and country where everyone essentially has the same look allows me to embrace my authentic self even more.
Being stared at is never really fun, but sometimes I have to laugh. And I feel happy for those who choose to have a positive interaction with me because I know that I’m doing some good by being a small representation of my people and community. And people are people everywhere you go.
So it’s worth it to embrace everyone you meet with equality and an open mind.
How do you think Taiwan is handling the COVID19 pandemic?
Carrie at Reach To Teach: You arrived in Taiwan just before COVID19 hit the world. Do you feel safe here? Any extra advice for teachers during these uncertain times?
Sydney: One thing people should know about Taiwan during the COVID-19 pandemic, is that Taiwan has handled things extremely well! Do not be discouraged or talked out of moving here because of Taiwan’s proximity to China and worry over the virus.
I know I’m much safer here during this global crisis than I would be at home or anywhere else in the world. And if you do come, consider bringing your own supply of surgical masks!
Definitely bring a little more start-up money than you think you’ll need. I brought around $3,500 USD with me and that was enough to last me during my first five to six weeks here before I got my first paycheck, but sometimes I wished I had a little bit more.
If you’re coming over during tax season in the United States, I’d highly recommend filing electronically so your return can be directly deposited into your account and increase your start-up stash. Reach To Teach has a guide for Americans and tax on their site as well.
And if you’re someone who is very serious about their internal health, I’d recommend doing some research on Taiwanese food before you come. I struggled with finding healthy meals and local food spots for my first month. So I eventually started cooking and making my own meals at home. So beware! The food can be good and cheap, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good for you.
Lastly, come with an open mind! Give Taiwan a chance and be sure to remember that you’re moving here. Not going on an extended vacation.
Deciding to move to another country is a huge decision so make sure you do your research and trust your gut feeling about where you should call home next.
Carrie at Reach To Teach: Sydney, thanks so much for taking the time to interview with us today. We really appreciate learning more about you and how you are handling your new life abroad, especially in such uncertain times. We also think Taiwan is #1! Stay safe, and we look forward to meeting you soon! You know where to find us if you need us!
Find Syndey on:
- Facebook – Sydney Parsons
- Instagram – @travel_jawn
- LinkedIn – Sydney Parsons