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