This Past August by Brett Burk
This past August marks the beginning of my first year teaching English. For me, this year in Kinmen at Zhenyi Elementary School (正義國小) is the ideal opportunity to put into practice the theory I studied as a Linguistics undergraduate at the University of Iowa. I look forward to learning as much as I can from my fellow teachers and advisors abroad this year as I launch into my future career in language studies. But why Taiwan？ Why not any other country in the world？
My journey to Taiwan began nearly a year and a half ago upon walking into the small cramped office of Dr. Scott McNabb at the University of Iowa, as I was seeking guidance when applying for a Fulbright Taiwan grant. McNabb ushered me into his office lined with shelves of dusty books and religious figurines that I would later learn were from his dozens of trips abroad. McNabb, a tall greying man gave me a toothy grin and sat me down with little introduction.
"So you like Taiwan. Why?" he started. I stumbled for words, "I've studied Chinese for three years now and studied abroad in China for a couple months."
McNabb smiled, "But why？ Really, why？ It's okay, be honest. I won't tell anybody." I replied with something about Mandarin being an economically smart language to learn.
"No, no, no！ You have it all wrong. Let's try something else. Your advisor said you were a toughie to get anything out of." Dr. McNabb continued to relate to me his story of how and why he was drawn to Thailand 40 years ago. "I loved it. I loved everything about it. It was hard-it was a challenge, rather. I loved the people, the culture, and the religion."
McNabb raved about Buddhism with an earnest fervor one rarely gets the pleasure of hearing. I could tell Thailand and Buddhism truly enamored this man. After a lengthy speech, urging me to be honest with myself, McNabb sent me home with a lot of things to think about in addition to a broken figurine of Guanyin, the Buddhist bodhisattva and deity of mercy.
I was at a bit of a loss for one specific reason for wanting to teach in Taiwan. I wanted to delve into the rich rural traditions of Yilan and Taitung as well as immerse myself in multicultural international cities like Taipei and Kaohsiung. Taiwan seemed like logical choice given my wide array of interests in Eastern spirituality, teaching, and language studies. As for a specific county, I was flexible.
In the end, Fulbright took into consideration my interests and background. They chose Kinmen for me over other locations in Taiwan. I'm incredibly grateful for their choice. Kinmen reminds me of my hometown with its close-knit community and small-town charm. The people of Kinmen have given me a home away from home and continue to amaze me with their generosity and hospitality. Kinmen is the perfect place for me to teach English, learn about teaching English, pursue my interest in writing, learn Chinese, and share American culture.
Learning Styles by Andrea Hale
我的中文名字是夏嘉蔚。My English name is Andrea Hale. As a child, I grew up going to a Taiwanese-Chinese school. I only found out that it was Taiwanese years later at university when the majority of students focused on simplified characters (檢體) and I continued with traditional characters（繁體）. I chose to come to Taiwan to improve my Chinese language skills. Furthermore, I am accustomed to hearing family friends talk about Taiwan-the food, the activities for young people-the richness of culture that exists and continues to transform in Taiwan. Both the language and these informal conversations sparked my interest to immerse myself in Taiwanese culture in a more holistic way, through exchange of language, one of the most fundamental means of communication.
My love of learning languages is what I hope to impart to students in the classroom. Furthermore, my sense of body language and observation helps me communicate with others even when words do not translate meaning. In order to help students learn English, I believe it is important to incorporate a variety of learning styles: sight, sound and motion.
One of my favorite methods of teaching and learning languages is through songs. Another method I found effective is playing visual games utilizing different vocabulary lists. Making desserts are also a fun and interactive way to learn cooking vocabulary and exchange culture through food. Finally, and most importantly, I hope to observe how the students are learning and what they are learning in other classes in order to collaborate and create an English program that is relevant, that can be integrated into their every-day life.
Kinmen has been full of learning. I have loved it since the first day I came here: it's beautiful, peaceful and my neighbors are very welcoming. Getting used to teaching at school was a different story. My first week was difficult. I had never taught before and had no experience with lesson planning, class room management or point systems. I had never even played that many games before. After the first week of shock I began to adjust myself. I saw how the kids reacted to certain games and activities and tried to incorporate the different styles of learning.
Outside of class I try to stay busy as well. In Jinsha, I try to join the different activities that people do on the basketball courts from 太極, to drumming, to dancing. Every day is something new and every day I meet more and more of my neighbors. I have also begun learning Guzheng with the kids at school. In the United States, I had an aunt that taught me once how to play but I never thought I'd have the opportunity to play again. I practice here hoping to one day play a song for her and make her smile.
I am so impressed by the energy and activity that the Jinsha community has organized. I hope to be able to contribute to these sorts of fun activities in my own community. I am thankful for the time that I have in Kinmen and hope to continue finding new ways to give back to the community and the kids who have already taught me so much about living and learning.
Before Kinmen by Rebecca Lim
Before I came to Kinmen, I only knew three things for certain about my new home. First, Kinmen was a former military stronghold located just a few kilometers away from Mainland China. Almost every picture on the Internet showed tanks, beach spikes, and barracks dressed in green and brown camouflage. Second, Kaoliang liquor and knives made from bomb shells are Kinmen's famous specialties. Third, that despite my best efforts and research, I did not really know much about it at all.
In college, I studied Politics and East Asian Studies with a concentration in China. I studied Chinese language and spent two summers in Mainland China, but had not yet stepped foot in Taiwan. I came here wanting to know what Taiwan is like, to experience Taiwanese culture, and to understand the Taiwanese perspective on the world.
However, these goals-though well-intentioned-were bound to lead to disappointment. On some level, I believed I already had enough knowledge to form expectations for my experience. I was not prepared to be thoroughly wrong. There was a gap between what I thought I knew "Taiwan" to be and the fact that it is so much more complex and diverse than I could have imagined.
In my first few weeks in Kinmen, I tried to make up for my lack of factual knowledge and cultural insight with a bottomless positive attitude and incessant questions to my local coordinators. I was hungry for experiences that would make me feel-to put it simply-experienced. My fellow teachers became my lifeblood-I sensed that they, too, felt desperate to belong somewhere in this unfamiliar place.
In the process of shedding my expectations and adapting to my surroundings, I grasped for anchors but found only transience. At one point, I remember thinking ahead to what life would be like in several months and coming up blank. With so much left uncertain, the sheer number of possibilities loomed dauntingly.
I've since settled into a routine at my school, become involved in the community, and familiarized myself with the surrounding environment. I can't put my finger on the exact moment when I first felt Kinmen was my home. It happened little by little, and then suddenly all at once, like the arrival of the seasons.
I now know much more than three things about my new home. Taro grows in abundance and tastes excellent with beef, in ice cream, and with milk tea. Little Kinmen, where I teach, is a studded with hidden gems. One does not simply "drink" Kaoliang liquor. The list grows daily. And something about standing on a Kinmen beach watching the sunset envelop the sky makes you feel like you're here for a reason.