Interview with Eric Adams: Teaching in Taipei
Introducing our latest teacher interview: Eric Adams. Eric is a recent college graduate from Maryland who has been teaching in Taiwan for the last year. These last few months in Taipei has been his first living abroad experience.
1. Please tell us a little about yourself.
Hi! My name is Eric Adams and I have been teaching in Taipei for almost one year now. I am originally from the United States (Maryland) and graduated from the University of Maryland in May of 2014.
Although I earned a double major B.A. in Communications and Art, I had decided the summer before my senior year that I wanted to move to Asia post-graduation rather than head right into a domestic job.
By graduation time, I had already been thoroughly researching where I wanted to move in Asia and had narrowed it down to Taiwan shortly thereafter.
With an avid interest in outdoor recreation, Taiwan seemed like the ideal place for me.
2. How have you enjoyed teaching in Taiwan to date?
Absolutely! My school is great and the schedule is ideal (mornings and weekends free). I can tell that the head teacher, principal and Chinese teachers genuinely care about my well-being and they have helped me with any issues I have encountered thus far: both related to teaching and with my personal life (confusion with healthcare things, housing advice, etc).
I teach level 1 and level 5 which I feel is a nice contrast. The level 1 kids are silly and happy all the time, so it’s easy to make class fun for them and get them to laugh. Contrastively, the level 5 kids are far more advanced and are on the cusp of adolescence.
Although they can be sassy, I welcome it because it makes for a humorous exchange. I am able to poke fun at both them and myself to get them laughing, and I know which activities they will enjoy and will help them inherently improve their English comprehension.
3. What advice can you give to new teachers interested in teaching in Taiwan?
Having no prior experience with teaching young learners, I was kind of just thrown into it which made me feel unqualified at times. I came over by myself with no job or apartment lined up, only the contact of the brother of a friend who helped to get me an interview at his school. While I valued the experience of being able to make it work, I would have definitely appreciated and benefited from the support of an agency like ReachToTeach. Additionally, I think a TESL, TEFL, or CELTA course would have been very beneficial in prepping me for ESL teaching.
At the very least, I think you should research as much as you can about ESL teaching techniques so you feel like you are prepared to start this job. A little bit of research can definitely go along way. The only reason why I fared well coming over here alone is because I had done a lot of research about Taiwan which helped me during my initial adjustment.
4. Can you tell us about a particularly powerful moment in your classroom?
I would say that one of the most powerful moments came with one of the activities we did for Thanksgiving. The kids had to make cards for very ill people in the hospital with some kind of positive, uplifting message. Although the level 5 kids are fairly advanced, most of them kept their cards short and sweet with a message along the lines of “Hi Friend! Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you have a great day! :)”.
One particular student gave me her card and I was legitimately blown away by her message. Her lengthier response was something along the lines of this: “Hello. Even though we don’t know each other, I want you to know that I care about you and hope you can smile every day. I want you to know that no matter what you think or what you are told, you matter in this world and there are people who want you to be happy. There is a reason that you are here. You are a beautiful person.”
It was such a poignant note to read coming from an 11-year old whose first language isn’t even English! I particularly enjoy these activities because you get to learn more about each kid individually and how they perceive the world.
5. What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Taiwan?
As you will encounter with any living abroad experience, you are bound to go through culture shock at some point. Once the honeymoon phase of being in a new country wears off, you start to feel stressed about certain aspects of daily life.
I found myself missing the ability to understand random conversations in public, being able to easily navigate streets, and having easy access to the types of food I usually eat. While you’ll experience this stress during the initial phase of adjustment, one’s innate ability for adaptation will help you to learn how to live abroad through bridging your own customs with the customs of a new country.
So as for the cons of Taiwan, language barrier is probably the most difficult. But since Taipei is such an international city, I have never struggled that much trying to get around. Also, the heat and humidity of the summer can be oppressive but I sure do not miss the snow and ice of winter back home.
The pros of Taiwan far outweigh the cons. The food in Taiwan is absolutely superb. Some of the best Thai, Japanese, Korean (and of course Taiwanese) food I have ever had has been in the restaurants around Taipei.
6. Have you had the opportunity to travel much in Taiwan or in Asia?
Having a mom who has been a flight attendant for over 30 years, I have always been inspired by her travels and experiences. I made a trip during the summer of 2013 to visit a good friend who was teaching in Beijing, which was my first experience with Asia.
I loved experiencing the expat lifestyle through the guidance of my friend. Also, hiking the Great Wall of China was definitely the highlight of that trip and entirely surreal experience.
Additionally, during winter break of my senior year (January 2014), I had made a short trip to Thailand to visit the Bangkok area. It was my first time travelling completely alone (with no preexisting friends I had planned to meet there) so it was intimidating at first, but I had made several friends through my hostel by the end of my trip.
Fast forward to July after graduation, I backpacked through Vietnam with three of my best friends. We rented motorbikes and explored the southern and eastern parts of the country which was definitely one of the best experiences of my life. The entire trip was so organic, and we had met so many interesting people along the way.
Shortly after Vietnam, I moved to Taiwan. Since I pretty much started working immediately after I arrived, I haven’t gotten a chance to travel around the island for long periods of time.
I make occasional day or weekend trips out to Yilan for surfing, go on hikes in Yangmingshan and other nearby mountains, and I camped down in Kenting during spring break this April. I am hoping to make a trip out to Hualien and Taroko Gorge soon as I heard it’s very beautiful, and I would also like to visit Taidong which apparently has some of the best surfing on the island.
Although I have been in Taiwan since August of last year, I had the opportunity to travel through southern Thailand this January with about 10 of my good college friends (who had came in three different groups around the same time, coincidentally) where we visited beautiful beaches, ate amazing food, hiked great trails, and did several different climbing sessions (my favorite was a deep water solo trip in the Krabi province).
I also visited Chiang Mai just a few weeks ago on a long weekend. If you haven’t been able to tell, I have a very strong draw towards Thailand.
7. Do you have any favorite blogs or websites about Taiwan that you’d like to share with our readers?
I think the two websites that have been most useful for Taiwan related things have been Facebook and Taiwanease. Facebook has tons of Taiwan related groups. I used these groups to find my apartment, different tutoring and short term teaching camp opportunities, and I have also found out about different area events by using these groups.
The forum on Taiwanese is great for helping with daily life things and any curiosities an expat might have. Whether you’re curious about where to find the best Bloody Mary in Taipei or how to use your air conditioner remote that is entirely in Chinese, it’s is a great place to ask questions.