I started my teaching assistantship in Little Kinmen two months ago, and have become comfortable with Xikou Elementary School. However if it wasn't for Thomas Yang (陽宗道), one of Xikou's soldiers, I would not have transitioned as smoothly. On my first day at Xikou, I found myself in a difficult situation. As an English teacher, I was nervous about only receiving responses such as "uhh" and "I don't know" from my students. Moreover, I was worried that any use of Chinese would be against the wishes of my school. But when Thomas entered my office and began to excitedly speak to me in fluent English, I immediately felt at ease.
Since meeting Thomas, I have advised him about education in the US, discussed international politics, and tutored him in prep for his TOEFL exam. As I learned about Thomas's plans, I became curious about the process Taiwanese/Kinmenese citizens must undergo when planning for academia abroad. Thomas' journey inspired me to interview him in hopes that the community of Kinmen might benefit from his experiences:
When did you decide that you wanted English to be an integral part of your career?
Yang: When I was in university. Because I found out that I can use English to communicate with the whole world so I came to understand that English is very important.
What has been your most impactful experience that brought you to this path?
Yang: I guess it was when I was in my third year in college. I was a junior taking a course in international politics. The professor was very interesting and every time he would talk about foreign affairs it was like he was telling a story. This made it fun and easy to understand. While studying with him I grew to understand more about international relations.
You just took the TOEFL in Sept 12. How was it? Was it harder or easier than you thought?
Yang: It was about the same. TOEFL is a test in which you need to analyze broadly and deeply. The questions are not hard but you need to be careful because there are various ways they try to trap you. However, because of the exam's four different sections, it also allows you to get a good idea of your language level. The topics they use are very broad so you will gain an even broader understanding of English while studying for it.
When learning English, what would you say was your greatest help?
Yang: I think that I am very lucky because my parents were able to help put me in English environment. They sent me to cram schools and I once went abroad to study English in New Zealand for three weeks. I think the most important thing is to find an English environment outside of class.
If you could suggest anything to other people looking to take a similar path, what would it be?
The first thing would be to never allow your fear to keep you from trying something new. The second is to have a dream. I had many classmates that lacked a dream to motivate them and all they wanted to do was get a job after college. But if you stay motivated in school then you can surely achieve your goals.
Thomas Yang(陽宗道), age 26, graduated from Soochow University in Taipei with a bachelor's degree in English language and literature and a master's degree in Political Science. He plans to work towards a PhD in Political Science at a university in the United States.