By Jennifer Fernandez
I moved to Sanxia, Taiwan, September 2017. I had never taught ESL before and my only previous experience was as a Teacher Assistant. Needless to say, I was nervous to start working at Carden American school. Thankfully, a fellow ITA alumna, who helped me secure the job, trained me and made my transition a little easier. My first couple weeks were filled with mistakes and I lost a lot of confidence. Those mistakes helped me become a better teacher, coworker, roommate, and an overall better person. I learned how to keep open communication with my coworkers whose first language isn’t English. I practiced my patience with classes whose progress’ was slower than others. I practiced my compassion and empathy when students would tell me about their days filled with experiences I hadn’t had.
Little by little, I learned the ins and outs of a successful class. That’s not to say every class was perfect, but the pre-class nerves finally stopped happening. My students are the joys of my days. Even when I’m in a bad mood, they manage to make me smile with their goofiness. It also helps that they love Hello Kitty as much as I do.
More importantly, the experiences I gain in the classroom daily help shape my future profession in education. Before the opportunity of teaching abroad that ITA gave me, I had never made a test, or graded over 100 quizzes in a day, or wrote lesson plans for four classes that same day. The fast paced thinking that’s required before class and even during class is an asset that I didn’t know I needed. As a teacher, it is so important to be able to think on your toes. Sometimes your lesson plan that you wrote yesterday for a 10-student class for simple past tense isn’t working for a 4-student class working on present perfect. Last minute classroom changes can and will happen. There’ also the possibility that your grammar game just isn’t interesting enough for a bunch of 15 year olds. Anything can happen in class. (One time a student went to the bathroom and came back with one tooth less!)
In addition to work life transition, my daily life was also a process of transition. Mandarin isn’t an easy language to become accustomed to. I use Google translate and Pleco wherever I go. Ordering food was always a surprise journey because if I though I was ordering noodles and chicken, I would somehow get rice and beef instead. Most meals were a surprise, but I’m always open to new foods. Luckily, I’m only vulnerable to these “surprise meals” in the evenings that my school doesn’t provide meals for. When I work during lunch and dinner hours, they provide my meals and it’s usually very delicious and certainly foods I wouldn’t know how to order on my own anyway. Fast-forward six months and I can now order rice and beef and actually get rice and beef! Most importantly, I have made friends with the most important people at my local market. I have “the usual” at my bubble tea stand (a Taiwanese requirement), and a close friendship with the fried rice family business.
Food apart, public transportation was a big lesson I had to learn, and fast. It wasn’t that it was complicated. In fact it was very easy, convenient, and affordable. The culture difference between public transportation in New Jersey from Taiwan was eye opening. From NJ Transit’s smelly trains to Taipei’s clean, and organized MRT, I quickly decided I wasn’t going need any other form of transportation. The MRTs have strict rules against any food consumption in the station (or a hefty fine awaits). Similarly, the buses are equally as clean and organized. The bus app allows you to find the nearest bus stop and a pre-calculated route for your destination. To use either the MRT or buses, all you need is a Yoyo card, which can be purchased at an MRT station and recharged with money at any 711. This all makes my commute to Taipei on the weekends a breeze.
At the risk of sounding dramatic, living abroad has changed my life. I have had unique experiences here that I wouldn’t have had back in New Jersey. Only six months in and I feel like I have grown as a person. I attribute my growth to the challenging beginner experiences from work, and my learning experiences with cultural differences. I wouldn’t have my life any other way.
Jennifer is 24 from New Jersey with a BA in psychology from Rutgers University. She enjoys reading, travelling, and being with nature when she’s not looking for her next adventure.