Daniel, a high school teacher in our Ontario ESL program, shares how, through making connections to K-pop, learning Chinese, and discovering hole-in-the-wall restaurants, he’s been able to grow personally and make the most of his experience teaching in Taiwan.
I moved to Taiwan three years ago in August 2018. It was my first time moving out of home to live by myself and to take my first teaching job. The first few months were not easy. I was honestly petrified of trying to communicate to others, as I had next to no knowledge of Chinese (a problem that persists even to this day, albeit a little better). Also, being a young teacher without much of an age gap between myself and my students, I suffered a bit from imposter syndrome. However, the more connections I made with the world around me - the more I taught, the more I explored this country, the more I started letting go of these insecurities I had - the better my experience became. It’s the reason why I’m still here in Taiwan today, in my third year teaching and looking forward to a fourth. So, here are just a few tips that have made my journey in Taiwan easier and much more enjoyable!
Making Connections By Language Learning and Teaching
Although I consider myself to be bilingual (English and Filipino/Tagalog), I had never learned a language from scratch like I’m doing with Chinese right now. I fully believe that the best way to understand language learners is to be a language learner yourself. The deeper I’ve delved into learning Chinese, the more empathetic I’ve become to my students’ situations. There are few times more frustrating than not being able to communicate a word or idea, despite knowing how to describe it, or knowing how to express it fully in a language you’re more familiar with. Knowing that feeling, I’ve become more patient when my students become annoyed with themselves for not knowing the right vocabulary, or when they go in a vague and roundabout way to describe the idea they want to express. Many students repeat the same ideas using the same vocabulary to answer a question because they just don’t know how else to express themselves, or they see it as a “safe” answer where they know it’s not a mistake.
In the same way, the more I’ve learned Chinese, the more I understand the mistakes that my students make in English. For example, many causative verbs such as “let” or “make” are expressed solely by the word “讓” (ràng) in Chinese. This is the reason why I have students make mistakes such as, “My teacher ‘let’ me do a lot of homework last night.” By being more mindful and aware of the differences between our languages, they grasp concepts even better!
Making Connections by Learning Student Interests
Nothing gets anybody more excited than being able to share their love or passion with someone else. Some of my most memorable breakthroughs with quiet students were when I was able to talk to them about an anime or band they liked. Similarly, some of the best lessons I’ve had with students were ones that used their interests as the main focal point of the texts we read or the examples I made. That being said, one of my greatest strengths as a teacher here in Taiwan is sharing a lot of the same interests as my students.
As a starting point for those who aren’t as well versed, these are three things that I feel are trending right now with Taiwanese youth.
BTS - A grammy nominated Korean pop group
Honestly, I’ve been following this group since 2014 where they resembled a hip hop collective more than the internationally acclaimed pop group they are now. Many question why BTS became this famous despite the dozens of talented, good-looking groups that came before them. As a long time K-pop fan, I don’t have the reason why, however, their rap skills, vocals, general dorkiness on variety shows, and talents for dance are amongst the best and most well-rounded the industry has ever seen. My personal favourite songs are “On,” “Black Swan,” “Dope,” and “Anpanman,” all of which have derived from their hip hop roots. Other K-pop acts to look out for are IU, EXO, Seventeen, SHINee, Twice, Blackpink, and Brave Girls.
Demon Slayer - A critically acclaimed Japanese manga (comic series)
After the murder of his family by a demon, a young boy named Tanjiro journeys across the land with his demonified sister to seek revenge. It was adapted into an anime in 2019 and it is already one of the most popular series of all time. This is largely due to the (mostly) lovable characters, absolutely gorgeous animation, and a storyline that captures you from the very first minute. The film which serves as a second season to the series is now the highest grossing Japanese produced film of all time! Other anime to look out for: Attack on Titan, Haikyuu, Jujutsu Kaisen, and My Hero Academia.
"Among Us" - An interactive online game of social deduction
Although this game was originally released in 2018, this game blew up in popularity last year due to content creators on Twitch and Youtube. “Among Us” is a social deduction game similar to “Werewolf” and “Mafia” in which players need to find the “imposters” while completing various mini games. This game is highly engaging, highly infuriating, and guarantees broken friendships. Other games to look out for include Genshin Impact, Arena of Valor, and Valorant.
Making Connections With the People Around You
One of the best and worst things about teaching in a different country is having ephemeral relationships. It’s hard sometimes being close to or being mentored by others, knowing that in a year, a couple of years, a couple of months, you’d be in completely different countries and quite possibly just lose touch. However, there is beauty to be found in this. Just like how students have many different teachers to take in different perspectives, so do we as foreign teachers have the opportunity to be friends with and learn from people from around the world. Thinking about the close friends I have here right now, I know that they will last a lifetime, but since we’re only in the same place for a short while, it encourages us to spend more time together while we still can. I’ve grown and learned so much from the people around me, and I’ve created so many priceless memories.
Making Connections With the Country You Live In
For a place to become home, you need to first make yourself at home. There’s a saying in Chinese that says “入鄉隨俗.” Its English equivalent would be closest to “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
Coming to Taiwan, I had researched different foods, restaurants, and places I wanted to visit. While they all mostly gave me positive experiences, the best experiences I’ve had were the ones that only locals knew of. The little hole-in-the-wall restaurant tucked away in a sidestreet, a secret bar hiding in plain sight, a beach 30 minutes off the beaten path, or as simple as joining a random line outside of a store. Yes, we praise the almighty Din Tai Fung for the amazing xiaolongbao (soup dumplings), however, their signature dish only places third on my list of favourites in Taipei!
When the opportunity comes around, join in the numerous festivals Taiwan has to offer, get out of the city and explore the countryside, just get lost in this country and find yourself!
Making Connections With Yourself
Speaking of finding yourself, moving to Taiwan was the first time I truly moved out of my parents house. Despite numerous temporary overseas stints, I had not had a chance to be truly independent and live on my own. Moving to a new country for the first time, let alone it being the first time living by myself, has given me such a new perspective on myself, as well as many opportunities to grow.
One of my biggest realizations about myself is that I’ve spent most of my life pleasing others. My parents, workmates, students, wooing potential significant others, but I’ve rarely spent time spending my time pleasing myself. A lot of the advice I gave to others to be happy was rarely advice I took for myself. So during the past three years, I’ve decided to try things that I had never done before. I took hip hop classes, climbed mountains, took up a new sport in the form of badminton, went out and partied, participated in open mic nights, and so much more!
I’m proud of how I’ve grown in the past three years, and I’ve discovered a lot of parts of myself that I never knew were there. Through all these connections I've made with the world around me, I’ve become more mindful and comfortable of where I am today. While I will eventually return to Sydney one day, I’m making the most of where I am now!
Daniel is a high school teacher from Sydney, Australia. With an insatiably curious mind and a self-identified lifelong learner, Daniel embodies the saying “Jack of all trades, master of none.” An avid photographer, musician, chess player, and foodie, hit him up on instagram at @dcalfaro for even more recommendations!