Major: Teacher Licensure (Secondary Education)
Minor/option/emphasis: Social Studies endorsement
Hometown, State: Albany, NY
Type of experience: International Student Teaching
Experience: ISU Student Teaching in Taiwan
Experience website: http://isuabroad.iastate.edu/?go=IntlTeaching
Destination: Kaohsiung, Taiwan
This travel and work experience was truly unique in that I am an English speaking student teacher, fewer than 2 months teaching experience, I didn't speak any Chinese and had never even left the United States before I got on a plane to the opposite side of the planet. The cultural differences were many but my motivation and the willingness of the Taiwanese teachers and students around me to invest in a true cultural exchange made this a once in a lifetime experience!
I first heard about it when the School of Education began advertising for it via email, postings, visitors to our classes and once I met with the coordinator, I was hooked.
An impact to my life...
At first, the biggest leap I made in my life was moving 1,200 miles away from home to attend ISU. That thought, of course was thrown out the window when I landed in Hong Kong for a layover and then Kaohsiung, Taiwan for 8 weeks of teaching, travelling, and learning. The memories I made in Taiwan will be stories that I tell for the rest of my life. I made lasting relationships with the other ISU students who went as well as the many teachers and families that hosted me. Going forward, I am absolutely an advocate for these experiences to the students I work with in the U.S. For those thinking they could never or would never try something like this, I'll be there to encourage them to give it a chance.
My most valuable learning experience...
The students and teachers I worked with were very willing to try new things - that's what excited them, learning from and working with an American teacher. Because of that environment, we were able to try so many different ways of learning and even solicit the feedback from students. I feel so much more prepared to initiate some of these ideas in my U.S. classrooms as a result.
I will never forget...
I absolutely cannot narrow it down to one 'most memorable experience' because the way we reflected on a daily and weekly basis with each other was like we were telling other people our stories and doing that made the entire 8 weeks a spectacular memory. For example, stories of trying to communicate with a cab driver where we want to go, spending half an hour with some monks while someone on the other end of the phone translated so we could find a campsite without an address, learning how to spin a baton with the ends on fire with the bluest lake I've seen in my entire life sits in the background - etc etc etc.
A surprising discovery...
One thing that caught me off guard and took me awhile to realize was just how proficient my students were in English. Going into a Junior High School, I was expecting a similar level of skill level as in U.S. junior high language classes - this was definitely not the case. As time went on and I tried more interactive lessons with students, I realized their English skills are, in general better than high schoolers in the U.S. are at their second language. Week by week, I put more work on the students to really challenge them. In terms of teaching practices, it really emphasized the importance of frequent assessment, especially informally so that I can push my students to a level where learning can happen.
Advice for others...
Say "no" as little as possible. This applies to trying food, travelling, trying new things in the classroom if that's your situation, meeting new people, winging it when choosing where to eat, etc. I know it's a cheesy line that you hear a lot but that's because it's true - the greatest experiences occur at the edge of your comfort zone. At the same time, don't be afraid to ask questions. Communication is key, especially when working with a language barrier and expectations and such can really get lost in translation. In terms of reflection, do it as much as possible with the other folks in your program. Those people understand the most what you're experiencing (victories and frustrations) so talk about stuff a lot. Come up for air as much as possible to remind yourself what you're doing. You might be just getting lunch but when you think about it, you'll remember you're getting lunch from a street vendor who doesn't speak English in Kaohsiung, Taiwan.