Author: Matt Klinkel
Part of our purpose as Fulbright English Teaching Assistants (ETAs) is to help Taiwanese teachers and students learn English and better understand American Culture during our year here. However, another purpose is to help us better understand Guoyu and Taiwan's place in the world. At its best, this exchange allows both parties to cooperate, despite our differences, toward the realization of our mutual interests.
Fulbright's co-teaching model, where English teachers and local Taiwanese teachers work together in one classroom, exemplifies this cooperation. American and Taiwanese teaching styles are different, which leads to many roadblocks and difficulties. These must be overcome, but co-teaching also unites us through our mutual desire to educate the children in our schools and to give them more opportunities in an increasingly globalized world.
There are many ways for me to give and take during my exchange program in Taiwan. For example, I give by spending sixteen hours a week teaching first through sixth grade English courses at Shangqi Elementary in Little Kinmen, in addition to six hours spent at Kinhu Elementary's immersive English Village.
Several other foreign teachers and I will be holding English conversation tables for the local teachers in Little Kinmen as well. This will help the teachers with a more nuanced understanding of American English intonation and pronunciation, which will benefit their English students now and in the future.
One common difficulty in learning English as a foreign language is that learners tend to study formal English and do not have the opportunity to engage in casual conversation with native English speakers. These conversation tables will help teachers learn to speak more casually and informally. This is a valuable skill for making friends and carrying on day-to-day conversations with English speakers.
There are also myriad ways for me to learn, or "take" here in Taiwan. Many teachers at Shangqi do not speak English, but my Chinese allows me to interact with them. We can go out to dinner and even go to their houses to play Mahjong. I am slowly making my first Taiwanese friends. Navigating this experience helps me feel more welcomed in Taiwan and teaches me more about modern Taiwanese culture. On Thursdays, I will volunteer at the Shanwai Hospital emergency room. This experience will give me insight into healthcare and related issues in Taiwan.
Finally, I learn through auditing my students' non-English classes. When I have time, I sit in on math, social studies, and science classes. I even participate in sixth grade Chinese literature and try to complete the readings. Experiencing non-English classes provides me a more holistic understanding of education in Taiwan, both systematically and culturally. More importantly, I think it shows my students that I have a genuine interest in better understanding their lives, culture, and language. I have as much to learn about language and culture as I have to teach.