It’s been 7 months now since I started teaching English as a foreign language at one of the many cram schools in Taiwan. My boyfriend and I moved here in August 2016, and the experience thus far has been a rollercoaster.
Whenever you hear about people jetting off to Asia, or some other part of the world, to spend a year teaching English it always sounds like the best time of their lives. It’s advertised as being enjoyably life changing, an exciting way to party in another country while making money and travelling. Overall it’s made to seem rather carefree and easy. While it most certainly is some of these things, very rarely (in my experience) is the other, less appealing, side of the coin mentioned. Perhaps I’m just someone who struggles more than most, but this journey has been one of the hardest of my life.
Packing up and moving to a new place (where few speak your language) is downright terrifying. Being away from family and close friends is hard, and adapting to a completely different culture and way of life is beyond difficult. Adjusting to a full time work schedule, that runs late into the evenings, takes more time than I initially anticipated… and don’t even get me started on the job itself. Teaching can be one of the most exhausting and thankless jobs in the world. For someone with an already low self-esteem and inflated sense of self-doubt, it can be utterly torturous at times.
I had minimal practice with teaching before we made our big move. In my fourth year at university I tutored first year psychology students, but that was vastly different to what I’m doing now. One of the biggest differences is that I am now teaching children (ranging from 6 – 16), and holy shit is it challenging. They say that children are the best teachers and I would definitely have to agree. I’ve learnt so much from my students in less than a year, but above all else I’ve had to learn to have patience and perseverance like never before. I’ve also had to grow quite a thick skin (they aren’t afraid to tell you what they think of you).
The kids drive me completely batty at times, but I cannot deny that they work incredibly hard. Each day starts with normal school, then they head straight to us at the cram schools in the early afternoons. Sometimes English lessons run as late as 9pm here. After class they go home, do their homework, and go to bed, so that they can wake up and repeat the process. Some of the older students have extra lessons on Saturdays, and summer and winter schooling runs during vacation time.
I am both inspired and horrified by the standard upheld by these children. 100% on tests and exams is the norm. Less than that is met with disappointment, and scores that drop below 90% are considered bad. The expectations here are massive, and failure is just not an option. I question how healthy that kind of mentality is.
Despite all the challenges, and the many, many moments when I’ve been certain I can’t do it, these 7 months have been some of the most personally rewarding of my life. I battle quite a bit with my mental health, which in itself is a difficult hurdle to overcome, especially living in a part of the world where disorders of the mind are not fully recognized. I am lucky enough to have found a psychiatrist here who can provide me with my necessary medication, but finding a therapist has proven more difficult.
Nevertheless I have pushed on, something I am proud of myself for, and feel like I am on the path that I need to be. I have lived some dark days here in my new home, but I have gotten through them too. Ultimately I feel like this experience is helping me grow in ways that will greatly serve me later in life, and aid me in following my dream of becoming a clinical psychologist. It isn’t all partying and travelling and fun; it’s hard freaking work, but it certainly is life changing.