I recently just landed back in the U.S.!! This is such a bittersweet feeling; from my first venture outside of the States, boarding my first airplane (solo), coming back to JFK airport, to experiencing jet lag. The program has its faults when it comes to catering to different ages and rules but it was still a pleasure to be part of it. As a college rising junior, it was exceedingly difficult for me to follow some pointless rules such as “the two buttons on your issued polo shirt must never be open”. However, I might not have chafed at the tyrannous authority if I was two years younger. This program was fit for high schoolers, not for adults who are past the age of 18.
Aside from my two cents of criticism, I can say that a great deal of my experience was encompassed by excellent food, interesting cultural differences, and fascinating stores that are nowhere to be found outside of the country. One of the best stores I’ve discovered upon arrival was the 7-11 which is a mediocre franchise in America. However, Taiwan stocks each of its 7-11 with a wide variety of tasty foods such as onigiri, pudding (PUDDING is huge in Taiwan!), tea eggs, soups, and lots of other healthy options. Basically, I fell in love and it would feel sacrilegious for me to even step foot into an American 7-11.
Those are dotted in nearly every city and it’s a shame that I only visited a handful during my stay. The best ones I went to were Tonghua and Rao He Street Night Market both of which were situated in Taipei. I spent money so fast and so recklessly on clothes and food that it astonished me when I walked home with multiple bags. No regrets. The pros to night markets are the cheap foods, clothes, and other trinkets available from vendors. Whereas items like power banks are spared a passing glance in the U.S., there were so many choices to choose from and so many booths I passed before I finally bought one. ($6 for a 5600mAh power bank with a built-in flashlight component)
I ended up buying shoes that a women rendered beautiful paintings on. Night markets is a splendid experience and although I may not have bought anything at each one, it was still worth a walk around. Speaking of walking, the lanes are often crowded and the air is ridden with pungent smells that waft from a mixture of food stalls. Expect to smell the occasional stinky tofu stall; personally, the scent doesn’t bother me but friends have steered a wide berth around it. I also haven’t tried it yet so I’ll put that on my list for my return to Taiwan. I’d recommend it though because I’ve heard that it’s delicious once you get past the smell.
Final Verdict: GO TO THE NIGHT MARKETS. AS MANY AS YOU CAN. And try to bargain because these people often jack up their prices when their items have no price tags or fixed price.
P.S. And even if they do have price tag, still try to bargain!!! Ask for a discount if you promise to buy more than one item or wish to combine with a friend.
Stores and Food
I wish I had known earlier to hit the 7-11, cosmetic stores, and go to as many restaurants and food courts as possible. I wished I could’ve known that all brands based outside of Taiwan is bound to be appallingly expensive. I walked into the Body Shop and found a small lotion selling for $24 when I bought it for $7 back home. And there I was wandering around the high-end mall wasting away my time since I couldn’t afford anything. The only perk that came out of the visit was that the mall revolved around Taipei 101. Anddd, that was it.
I was never a picky eater but I came to realize that I did not even need to think hard about food because everything tasted good. I could waddle into any restaurant and come out full and having spent less than $6. I ended up trying many kinds of delicacies: duck blood was one of the best foods I tried along with oyster omelet, frog egg drink, and black sugar white gourd juice.I drank bubble tea wherever I can get it because it all tasted unique and delicious no matter where it’s from.
I was also in awe of Watsons and stationery stores. I did not know I wanted stationery until I visited 101 Stationery or Eslite; then I went all out and bought so many supplies. It was like a dream come true when I got an Oxi-gel mechanical pencil (UGH $5 only!) Watsons sold amazing cosmetics and other body products for cheap prices. When I was in the city, I saw Watsons everywhere so I reckon anyone else who comes to Taiwan will have little trouble seeking one. Unless you live in the countryside, of course. Then nearly everything’s hard to find.
Final Verdict: Try more food when I come back. Eat and buy everything. BUY LOTS OF PINEAPPLE CAKES AND SUN CAKES OR ELSE YOU’LL REGRET IT. Because I didn’t and I regret it deeply.
And the thing is, I did stay in the countryside for 2 weeks which wasn’t bad at all. Although Taiwan is considered a newly rising first-world country, most of it is made up of natural landscapes, gorgeous green mountains, lots of vegetation and farms. On the plane, Taiwan was a patchwork of pretty farmland. Very picturesque…Oh, I forgot to mention, every family usually owns a mo-ped and/or a bike. Cars are a thing but parking lots are usually not so it’s common to see cars parked on the roadside. Bike racks are not a thing either. Can you believe that they don’t have bike locks? This level of trust is hard to find in America!! People just park their mo-peds and bicycles anywhere because no one steals them.
Weather was hot. Humid. And public bathrooms which included the school bathrooms were all standing lavatories. I easily adjusted to peeing into the ground during school hours. Toilets are provided for those who are handicapped and I found out it was also the case in urban cities.
The mosquitoes initially worried me but it did not pose a serious threat to me. Some of my other teachers got bitten badly and numerously that the several bites that I had were rendered trivial.
Final Verdict: Don’t worry about bug bites (?) On second thought, always spray yourself and make sure to put on sunscreen. Or better yet, bring an umbrella for shade wherever you go. The countryside is the best because fruit is abundant, ridiculously sweet, and cheap.
As a recently declared elementary education major, I can hardly boast of many experiences in dealing with young children and even less with rising freshmen. I was startled to find myself walking into a class of ninth-graders whose English skills are impeccable in terms of writing and reading. It was honestly hard because the achievement gap between the paper and through speech was as wide as the Red Sea. They are smart, yes, but they are frighteningly shy which makes a terrible combination especially when two strangers from America walk in to the classroom to give them a pre-test. Teaching is not hard but encouraging students and giving them patience to break out of their shell is one of the most difficult tasks anyone will face on the first day. It is a constant battle that I discovered I had to fight every day from then on because my co-teacher and I lied to the students THAT WE COULD NOT SPEAK OR UNDERSTAND ENGLISH. There were only two options for the students: they can either give up hope of ever communicating with us (which one student groaned out loud as his response) or make do with what they have.
Classroom management was by far the least of our problems since these students were barely willing to talk or answer our questions. They were intelligent, and we as teachers also eventually learned to gauge their reactions through their subtle facial expressions and body language. They were eager to learn, fully attentive, and they showcased their excitement by leaning towards us instead of giving verbal responses. Their full-on English talking only came gradually in the days to come; it was like a trickle of water that persisted exponentially through time. Teaching was very fun because we always wanted their feedback on what they liked and disliked. They joked around and our laid-back attitude towards it fostered a friendly non-judgmental atmosphere.
English camp is only two weeks and they already know so much from cram school so what we focus on instead is their speech. Book reports, reader’s theater, playing Sparkle, I Love My Neighbor, Numbers/Animal games…these are all forms of icebreakers and speaking activities that combine to create fun memories. They are great kids who are able to fool around and still be able to be productively working in the meantime. I also want to thank my host family who were very accommodating and kind. I worried more about the heat since I was accustomed to the teaching lifestyle. Their snacks, encouragements, and excellent meals all motivated me to try my best. They took care of me better than my real family did. So it is bittersweet to leave them so soon and I wish them well.
Final Verdict: I got lucky with these kids, with my host family, and with my co-partner. Thank goodness because this is going to be my career and it’s kind of too late to change my college major right now.
There was a tour at the end of the month and I was able to visit temples, aboriginal parks, and nature reserves. It’s hard to explain all the beauty so I’ll try to upload pictures when I get the time to. Taiwan is truly the heart of Asia and there’s so much indescribable beauty that no camera can capture properly.
Final verdict: This month was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had and I’m so glad that Taiwan was the first country I visited. I’m afraid many other countries may pale in comparison but let’s hope not. I’ll surely return and hopefully it’s soon.