August 4-8, 2014
It has already been a week since I have been in Fengyuan. It seems like the days go by quickly and slowly all at the same time. Several different random things happened this week so I am going to break it up into sections.
I finally met my HESS staff on Monday. They had all been on vacation over the weekend so this was my first time meeting everyone. Our staff is one of the more larger ones in Taiwan with a staff of 7 NSTs (Native Speaking Teachers). That does not count the several HRTs (Home Room Teachers) and CTs (Co-Teachers). I also came to my school at a weird transition time. On August 15th, two of the teachers are leaving HESS to pursue other things, so that is why Bennetti (other new NST from South Africa) and I were placed in Fengyuan. Also, the school is currently doing summer classes, so my full schedule will not start until August 25th. Needless to say it has been a fast week of learning new names, learning the different personality styles of my fellow teachers, getting acquainted with classes, observing classes, and introducing myself to new HRTs.
HESS has a very large Kindergarten system (also know as Kindy) where there are four levels: Toddlers (yo-yo’s), Small, Middle, and Big class. A student probably starts around 2 or 3 years old in Kindy and would graduate Kindy around 6 years old.
I am going to be what is called a part-time Kindy teacher. I will teach a Kindy class in the morning and than teach Tree House (I will explain this later) in the afternoon/early evening. Classes would start at 9:00am and end at 6:00pm for me with breaks in between.
Coming into the new school I feel like I had a billion and one questions, and that all the information I had learned during training had been removed from my head. While all the other teachers were lesson planning I was sitting there being very confused. It is crazy how much teacher jargon there can be! But by the end of the week I was able to finally start processing what was going on and pick-up the teacher jargon. It was also very intimidating because all the teachers at my school have taught for 3 or more years. Do I have some big shoes to fill! The nice part about having experienced teachers to work with is they are full of advice and know their stuff, so if I have a question they could probably answer it.
I observed classes on Monday and Tuesday to get a feel of what teaching Kindy looks like. Then on Wednesday I started teaching a yo-yo’s class. Now these students are the BRAND NEW, NEVER BEEN AWAY FROM HOME, OR TO SCHOOL EVER students. If you want to hear crying for two hours just come and chill with me (haha). These little 2 and 3 year olds are mine to mold and shape into good students. This class also has two brand new HRTs in it as well, so none of us have worked with HESS before. Wish me luck! My supervisor almost considered switching me to a different class but I asked him not to because I want the challenge, and for some reason (even through the crying) I really enjoy the little joys of getting a two-year-old to pull out their chair, get out their pink bowl for snack time, and say “teacher”. It is now official that I have yo-yo’s, so Monday through Friday I will be teaching the little tykes in the morning, crying or no crying.
I have to pay my rent by the 10th of each month, and I have no idea how to do it. My branch manager is an angel and is going to do the process for me this month because it has been really difficult for her to keep track of both me and Bennetti, but next month I will have to learn how to pay for my rent.
With an apartment comes the responsibility of making sure it is maintained. I moved into a brand new apartment, so if something is broken once I leave it will be obvious it was me. Well, my apartment air conditioner has been leaking water like crazy. My simple solution of putting a bucket underneath it was not going to work so through several phone calls to the landlord lady I was able to get maintenance over to my apartment to look at it. Their English was so basic that I really do not know what is going on, but from what I understand the water pipe that is supposed to drain the water is clogged in my wall. Until they can fix it there is a tube that leads out to my balcony where the water can drain.
Thanks to my bicycle and GPS I have been able to get around Fengyuan with little trouble. Fengyuan is kind of in this circular shape, so none of the streets are straight. This is both a blessing and a curse to my directionally challenged self.
So far I have been able to find:
-Carrefour: the Taiwanese version of Wal-Mart or Target
-Nightmarket: I love markets so this was a lot of fun to wander around, and as always the food was great!
-Teacher shop: I actually have no idea what the real name of this shop is, but imagine a shop kind of like a dollar store, and then add a ton of tall shelves, boxes everywhere, and any teacher supply you could possibly imagine. There was so much stuff there that I had a hard time finding crayons, of all things.
On Wednesday, I finally fulfilled the urge to try out Mos Burger. I guess it would be like Hardees or Burger King, but with only lunch and dinner food. It was actually pretty good. For less than 4 USD I was able to get a Mango Thai Fried Chicken Sandwich, French Fries, and Iced Tea. Damn! Taiwan knows how to sweeten their iced tea. I have not been disappointed once with their tea since I have been here. Ketchup in Taiwan. Ummmmm, no. The ketchup was like they had removed the sugar, which is better for me, but not for my fat American ketchup craving. What was interesting about the Mos Burger was how quiet it was. I had taken my Kindle in case I had wanted to read. I could have stayed there for hours! I was like a library. Everyone was eating and either studying or on their laptops.
Thursday was payday for everyone at the branch, except me. But I still went out to dinner with two of my fellow NSTs and Bennetti. We ate at this Thai restaurant, and I wish I had taken a picture of our food because it was very good.
Friday I was able to buy my ticket to Taipei from the train station all by myself. It may have taken a couple hours and some help from a few people the night before, but I was able to order my ticket no problem. On Saturday, I will be going up to Taipei to hangout with some of my friends from training.
Random White Guy: Apparently there used to be a rather large foreigner population in Fengyuan, but over the last three years it has really dwiddled down to just a few. When I was biking home from school on Thursday I saw a white guy walk out of a coffee shop. We both looked at each other, smiled, waved, and then laughed. It was this weird connection moment, sort of like, “we both don’t know what we are doing here, but heyyyyy”. He is only the second foreigner I have seen since arriving in Fengyuan, besides my co-workers.
What a week. It was not a horrible week, but it was definitely an adjustment week. There may have been a few tears and some conversations with mom, but I am still in Taiwan. Even if this whole language barrier is a pain, and it makes things more difficult, it is also very eye-opening to how much stronger I actually am. Next week I will have been in Taiwan for a month. I can’t believe it has been a month already, but I made it! I think the reason why I like my yo-yo students so much is because when I leave the school or my apartment I am exactly like them. A two-year-old knowledge of a different language, in a different environment, and a dopey look of confusion all the time (but minus all the crying). They are really cute though, so therefore I must be really cute too, right!?
In order to figure out this whole language barrier thing my friend suggested I get an LE (Language Exchange partner). I would help them with their English and they would help me with my Chinese. I posted to a couple groups on Facebook and got a ridiculous amount of responses back. Some of them were rather interesting, telling me how beautiful my smile and eyes are, and then some of them ended up being really long conversations about traveling to a different country, Taiwan, and America. While I half regret posting on Facebook I am also glad I did because I have been able to ask these complete strangers questions. One of them was even nice enough to find the English links to the train timetable for me without me even asking (something that Google was failing to do). Will I ever meet one of these LE’s in person? Who knows. I think the United States has really ruined me and created a huge lack of distrust in strangers. But it is hard. Sometimes strangers are really nice and sometimes they are straight up jerks. But weren’t all my friends strangers at one point? I suppose you see where I am going with this huge internal conflict with strangers.
Either way I think I am slowly falling in love with Fengyuan. It is a chill little city with pockets of treasures, I just need to find them.
The most important lesson of the week: DO NOT LEAVE ANYWHERE WITHOUT AN UMBRELLA! It randomly rains here all the time. Let’s see if I finally learned my lesson.