Taiwan Part Three: Communication

Today marks the twelfth week that I have been in Taiwan. I finished my four week internship at Tunghai University in June, and then spend eight weeks working at an American style summer camp in northern Taiwan. Since I am exploring teaching and academia as a career path, the two internships allowed me different perspectives on teaching and learning. From these two experiences, the biggest lesson I have learned is about how to best communicate clearly and effectively.

At Tunghai, I learned about both written and oral communication. I wrote articles for their newsletter, which required succinct, descriptive writing. I also learned about oral communication when I gave a presentation at a local high school about studying abroad. I talked about my experience taking a class at Cambridge University as well as being a Davidson student. As I began talking, my main focus was not on what I was saying, but how I was saying it. The students understood some English, but I had to tailor the words I used and the delivery to my audience. This meant repeating some sentences twice, explaining words, saying the same thing a couple different ways, watching their facial expressions, and when I hit on something that was interesting to the students, then staying on that topic longer. In this instance, I ended up talking about Cambridge and how it looked like a scene from Harry Potter for a larger portion of time than I had planned. I learned that reading my audience was essential to delivering information.

I further developed my speaking skills at the summer camp. When I was teaching ecology, I would tell the campers about the four stages of the butterfly’s life and then ask them how to say each stage was in Chinese. This question served multiple purposes. First, it portrayed my vulnerability–I did not know Chinese, and I was trying to learn it, just as my campers were trying to learn English. Second, it gave the kids who understood English a chance to say “毛虫,” giving them the satisfaction of knowing an answer. Third, the kids who didn’t understand English were pulled into the lesson by hearing a chorus of “蛹.” I also realized that my facial expressions and body language were super important. It was simple fixes that made me be more understood. If I asked a camper where their hat was, I should touch a hand to my head–not blatantly, but a simple gesture.

These communication skills are important with people who speak English as a second language, but also as a first language. My time in Taiwan taught me the importance of visual cues, both the ones I was showing and the ones I perceived. And while there are some things I cannot change–a camper told me this past week that they way my eyes were tilted down made me look sad and angry–there were others I can control. This was an important lesson to learn for future professional and personal interactions.

presentation at a local high school


working as a camp counselor

Taiwan Part Two: Academics as a familiar space

As of today I have been at my internship in Taichung for three weeks, but this past weekend was the first time I had to rely on my Mandarin. Everyone I interact with at Tunghai University speaks to me in English. The only time I have to speak Mandarin is when I am ordering food–but even then I am usually with someone who can help me order.

To combat my dependency on English, I took a trip by myself to Tainan. It was a little bit messy, and someone asked me if I was by myself because I had no friends, but overall it was a good trip. In my mind over and over I kept repeating “say Tain An, not Tai Nan.” I was nervous. When I arrived in Tainan I took a bus in the wrong direction and ended up stuck at night in a not so great part of town. I tried to hail a couple taxis, but they didn’t stop–I learned later that in southern Taiwan you need to call a taxi for them to pick you up. Eventually a girl stood next to me at the bus stop and we started talking. She was originally from Korea, was 16 years old and worked as a hairdresser. She took me around through the city, and showed me a part of the Tianan life that tourists seldom get to see.

I got lost on a different bus in Tainan the next day too. It was a frustrating and challenging trip, but I am glad I went on it. My internship keeps me in a familiar academic space, and it was good that I pushed myself to be independent. I am used to the world of academics, and so the college provides a safety net even as I explore and live in a different part of the world.

For my internship, one of my jobs is to be a TA in a one-month robotics “minimester” class, which is taught by a visiting American professor from a liberal arts college. The class usually has about sixty students in it. My job is to take attendance, grade homework, print worksheets–basically do anything to make sure the professor only has to focus on teaching, not logistics. One day this past week, only fifteen students showed up to class. The professor decided to make it a discussion, rather than lecture. The first indication that a discussion based class was new territory was the students had a hard time maneuvering the desks into a circle–the girl sitting next to me said she had never moved one of the desks before. For me, as an English major at Davidson, a class that was not reconfigured into a circle is an anomaly. This attempt at a discussion didn’t work out. No one wanted to talk, and when the professor called on students he got stilted answers. The professor eventually gave up and it turned into a lecture. This was a glimpse into the teaching differences between Tunghai University and an American liberal arts college. My internship allows moments such as this where I see academic intermixing that works, or in this case, not work out so well. Being an intern allows me to be a part of the administrative side of the college, but my age also allows me to talk to the students. In this way I get a unique perspective that I would not get from simply studying abroad.

For an extra look into my internship, here is the Tunghai International College Newsletter I contributed to: http://ic.thu.edu.tw/upload/newsletter_upload/THU_Newsletter%20Vol.%204.pdf


Taiwan Part One: A Urinal Aesthetic (but everyone is nice so it’s okay)

My name is Hannah and I am a sophomore at Davidson College. As of yesterday, I have been in Taiwan for one week. I am interning at Tunghai University, located outside of Taichung, Taiwan. Every day I go into the International College office and do various tasks: I staple tests, grade papers, write quizzes, take attendance in classes, write summaries of lectures, write articles, write grant proposals. All of this is allowing me to become more familiar with the Taiwanese educational system.

Little things are different in Taiwan. You have to insert what looks like a credit card into an air conditioning unit to have the AC turn on. You cannot drink water out of the tap. Soy milk tastes sweeter. Some things are the same. The apples are from California. All the desks in the office are from Ikea. The printer constantly jams.

I spent my first weekend exploring the Tunghai campus. It rests above the city. If you stand on the roof of a campus building and the day doesn’t happen to be hazy (aka smoggy), you can look onto an urban mass of grey. Taichung isn’t all that pretty. There’s a lot of grey concrete juxtaposed against bright green plants. A friend told me that if she had to describe the urban buildings in one word, the word would be urinal. It sounds harsh. But all the buildings are dripping; they weren’t built to withstand the acid rain, so tears of color streak down their facades. And in the middle of July there is A LOT of rain. It’s all rather urinal. 

One thing I am learning to appreciate, and was certainly not expecting is the kindness of the people I have met and talked to. I had a taxi cab driver two days ago who spoke to me in English as I spoke to him in Chinese. He was born in Hong Kong and worked in agriculture in Taiwan until he retired two years ago. He showed me pictures of his sons and then gave me his card if I ever had any questions about Taiwan. A different day I was juggling a soccer ball on a tennis court when a professor stopped and talked to me. He said that most of the girls in Taiwan walk around with umbrellas, hiding from the sun. I looked at him with my red face, body dripping with sweat and grinned. He gave me his email and offered a tour of the city with his family. I am told this type of generosity is very typical Taiwanese. These small human interactions are grounding me, shaping Taichung into a place of smiles and kindness. 

Taiwan is an island, and it has an island culture. While the university is a place of study and work, it is also a place of relaxed smiles. It is a place of good, cheap food, red flowers, and white houses. I am excited to spend more time here, being simultaneously a part and apart of the culture and language that goes on around me.