Sunday, August 17, 2008

Greetings from Taiwan!

Photo courtesy of Shiela Lee,
Dajia hao (translation: "Hello everyone!")! I've been telling myself that I would start blogging after I've settled in, and then in true Chao fashion, I put it off. Today I ran out of socks which means I'm probably pretty settled in. And now I'll try a little harder to live up to my blog name.

I'm spending the year in Kaohsiung Taiwan on a Fulbright Fellowship to serve as an English Teaching Assistant with the Kaohsiung City Education Bureau. This means I'm not a lead teacher, but a co-teacher with a local English teacher (you know, someone with real teaching experience and training). In addition to teaching kids proper grammar and pronunciation, I am to serve as a "cultural ambassador" (note: I assure you that the term came from the Fulbright Foundation, not from me)--for some of these kids, I'll be their first encounter with a real American person.

Kaohsiung has made a huge push for earlier English as a Foreign Language instruction in recent years. It's partly in rivalry with Taipei--wikipedia describes Kaohsiung as the "political mirror image" of the capital in the north--and all the taxi drivers keep thanking me for coming to teach English so they can be as good as Taipei. Part of the increased interest in English language is also wrapped up in Kaohsiung's attempts to become a part of the international community. This July, the city will host the 2009 World Games and everyone who is not worried about high school or college entrance exams is really excited. I think they see this as their big coming out party, similar to the way Beijing felt about this year's Olympics, and they want to make a good impression by speaking English really well.

I also get the sense that a change in educational philosophy is emerging--at least among the administration. The school officials who spoke to us said they wanted us to inspire their students to be more creative. They seem disillusioned with the Taiwanese educational system's heavy emphasis on rote memorization and testing and warn us that we may have trouble engaging kids because they're more worried about getting the right answer on exams than thinking about English as a means of communication. They also, however, take great pride in joking that "in Taiwan, we want our kids to focus less on testing so they will become more creative like american students. In America, they want their kids to do better on tests so they can compete with Taiwan." Somehow, it only makes me laugh a little.

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