Students of Kinmen, Students of America
By Alison Yong
I am an English teacher, and I am not fluent in Mandarin Chinese.
What little I do know of the Mandarin, I use to gain a more complete image of my students. Who are they outside of their studies? How do their personalities impact their behavior within the classroom? What sets them apart from each other, and what unites them?
"Teacher, give me a gift!" the students all demand. "A sticker! A stamp! A sheet of origami paper!" This is a universal cry among children, and one I often faced in America. This, I understand completely.
Sometimes the children visit me in my cubicle during passing periods. Once conversation class is over, they trail out of the library after me. I show them pictures other students drew, as well as drawings of my own. They ask to trade Taiwanese money for American money.
When I sign the attendance ledger, the children repeatedly read the characters aloud. I wrote my Chinese name and my English name in one of my 6th grader's books upon her request. My hope is that, even though the students and I are building relationships using meager stores of each other's native language, we are making progress. Knowing that I have their best interests in mind is essential. If the students do not trust their teacher, class time cannot be effective. One instance stands out as particularly symbolic of how important trust is within the classroom, between students and teachers but also among students. I had each of my students write letters (uppercase and lowercase) and decorate the borders of a page. I also attached letters A through G to the board. Then I spoke a letter, and students came up individually to check underneath the letter they thought they heard. One girl could not identify the letters, so I went in alphabetical order. She trusted me to make the material accessible, and I did not want to embarrass her. However, her classmates teased, and after she returned to her seat, she started to cry. There was little I could say in English that would make the students understand how cruel it was to make fun of their classmate. Perhaps if I had more Mandarin, I could have helped. I am working on that.
Children can be cruel and teasing is a universal problem, one that I often faced in America. This, I also understand completely. I hope my year in Kinmen can make a difference.
Thank You, Teachers
By Karissa Moy
During the week of September 22nd, I had the privilege of experiencing the great Taiwanese tradition known as "Teacher's Day." Throughout the week, I received love and appreciation in many forms. On Monday, the teachers at my school gathered for a celebration banquet. We had a school assembly on Tuesday morning where the second grade students sang and performed choreographed motions to a Chinese love song. Jin Ning Township presented me and the teachers with a special hand-painted tea set, and the Kinmen County Government gave us all a bottle of kaoliang as a token of its appreciation. Other English Teaching Assistants (ETAs) received handmade cards and hugs.
The festivities of that week had a much deeper meaning for me. It wasn't until Teacher's Day that I truly realized how much Taiwanese people value and respect teachers.
Prior to coming to Kinmen, I had never heard of such a holiday. In America, no such holiday exists. The government and schools have no formal celebration of teachers or the work they do. In fact, some Americans do not give the teaching career the respect it deserves. There is a saying in America that reflects this attitude: "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach."
I am a teacher. I willingly entered the profession because I am passionate about it. I did not enter it for the recognition or the presents, and I have come to accept the attitude that American culture has towards my career.
I was surprised and delighted to learn that Taiwanese people hold the opposite opinion of teachers. I could immediately sense the high esteem that others hold for teachers here. People that I met in restaurants, in the community, or on the bus would always ask me, "Where are you from?" Upon responding with, "America," they would ask, "Then why are you in Kinmen?" After explaining that I am an English teacher, I could see their face light up with a look that read, "Wow, that's impressive." This wasn't the reaction I expected. I thought they might say, "Why would you want to be a teacher?" or, "Why would you want to spend your time around a bunch of rambunctious children?" But the look that they gave me made me feel lucky, proud.
Teachers are educators - they work hard to give their students the necessary information and skills to one day become successful human beings. Whether it is a mathematics professor teaching Fermat's Last Theorem or a second grade teacher teaching simple addition and subtraction, educators in Taiwan are celebrated figures.
America has a more dichotomous view of teachers. As a whole, people view the teaching profession as a less prestigious profession. However, people hold differing views depending on the level of education someone teaches. For example, some people view an elementary school teacher as less valuable when compared to a university professor. In reality, both the elementary school teacher and university professor do the same job: educating and challenging their students. Over the years, this opinion has started to evolve towards one similar to Taiwan, but it is a slow process.
Since the fourth grade, I knew that I wanted to be a teacher. Even at such a young age, I recognized the power that teachers hold. They have the responsibility of shaping the minds of future leaders, inventors, and scholars. They give students the confidence they need and teach students to believe in themselves. Because of them, students find joy in learning and discover their true passions.
Teachers are role models. They are enablers. They are valuable.
To all of the teachers out there, thank you for the work you do. You truly make a difference in our world. It's a pleasure to see that belief at work here in Kinmen.
Fulbrighter Karissa Moy learning how to make fried oysters with her students.
Interacting with the Dead and Halloween in America
By Rachel Brown
Cultures all around the world practice a variety of rituals and festivities to commune with the dead. In Mexico, they celebrate D?a de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, on November 1st and 2nd. To celebrate, people visit cemeteries and build personal altars with favored foods and memorabilia of the departed. Family members often decorate graves with brightly colored flowers in order to attract spirits. A common symbol of the day is a skull or skeleton. Mexicans decorate masks, pictures, clothes, and even food with these symbols.
As a foreigner in Taiwan and from an outsider's perspective, what I observed here in Kinmen during Ghost Month bares some similarities. The people of Kinmen made offerings to honor the dead. The people followed rituals to prevent negative supernatural interference. This looked like family members wanting a chance to pay homage to those who came before, similar to Mexico's November ceremonies.
In the United States, a country populated by immigrants from around the world, our spirit or ghost celebration is slightly different. While people are welcome to practice Ghost Month or Day of the Dead to honor their cultural heritage, the most widely celebrated holiday with a similar content is Halloween. Halloween takes place on October 31st .
Halloween is a fascinating modern adaptation of people's attempt at communicating with the dead. Halloween, or All Hallow's Eve, originated somewhere around the 16th century in Western Europe. The spiritual origins of the holiday are thought to be Christian with Celtic pagan influences.
Halloween occurs only one day before the Catholic All Saints' Day, which is celebrated on November 1st. Some believe that the Halloween practice of wearing costumes and masks originated from the belief that spirits wandered the earth until All Saints' Day. All Hallow's Eve, the night before All Saints' Day, provided one last chance for spirits to take revenge on the living. Thus, the living wear costumes and masks to hide their true appearances from ghosts.
Halloween spread from England to North America in the 19th century along with an influx of Scottish and Irish immigrants. The modern celebration has evolved a lot since then. Now, children all around the United States dress up as characters from their favorite movies, famous people, and generic scary figures like ghosts, zombies, and vampires. Children usually choose their own costumes, with some input from their parents, and then either buy them at a store or make them from things they have at home. These children then walk around the neighborhood, with their parents following behind, knocking on their neighbor's doors and asking, "Trick or treat?" Americans call this "Trick-or-Treating."
This phrase originally meant that if the neighbor did not give the children a treat, such as candy, then the children would play some trick on them, like scaring the neighbor or making a mess outside their house. These days, performing actual tricks has gone out of fashion, so children normally receive a treat. However, Americans consider it rude if the neighbors do not have candy to give out to the children.
Americans love Halloween because it emphasizes our national values. Families in America tend to live on their own schedules and do not have many opportunities to interact with the neighborhood. Halloween provides a culturally sanctioned excuse for children to get to know their neighbors in a friendly way. Also, candy is not a rare treat for these children, but it means more to them because they have put in the effort of walking around in costume to earn it.
Halloween may have the same theological roots as Ghost Month and has a similar result of building familial and neighborly connections, but it is a less spiritual holiday. Halloween has lost its original meaning of hiding living faces from ghosts on their last day roaming the world of the living. Now Halloween can spread across cultures and provide entertainment for children. The holiday brings people together, and even though it's a bit silly, it's still one that I enjoy.
So, whether you practice it or not, Happy Halloween from one of your American neighbors!