2009 Teen Travel Writing Scholarship Essay - My Family Travels

So, how do you spell BLUEBERRY? Remember, spell it out! Let’s start with the first sound, BLUE—like the color! Can we spell BLUE? Yes, B-L…no, Jack not E. Sound it out! What has the “ew” sound? Yes, Alice, U! and then there is a Silent…No, Mag, not a Y. A…yes, Joe, an E!! And then, BERRY. Yes, B-E-R, and then another R, and what’s a vowel, that has the E sound but is NOT E…yes, Y! Great job, Chuck, have a candy!

I had come to my parent’s homeland, Taiwan, to teach English to children living in remote, sometimes isolated villages. I had come to this tiny island several times before, but mainly stayed in the bustling metropolitan capital, Taipei and never ventured off to the rural areas. Joining the Taiwan A.I.D. program was on my part, was filled with idealistic, rather naïve dreams about teaching kids English. I had dreamed that I could change the kids’ lives, inspiring them to learn English, to converse and talk in English, to become close friends. I was assigned, to Meinung, a small village in the province of Kaohsiung, Taiwan with a small group of six other people. The week before we traveled there, my partner and I toiled away on our teaching plan, constructing vocabulary lists, songs to sing and games to play for the children. Yet, when we finally go to the school, I encountered an entirely different world from what I expected. The kids were first of all, definitely not the quiet little automatons that were as eager to learn as I hoped. Moreover, they were distracted from the goal of learning English, concentrated on the more immediately gratifying target of playing with and challenging the teacher. So, gone were the lesson plans! Everyday after school, my teaching partner and I frantically racked our brains for games (that were hopefully, also educational) that the children could play without languishing in boredom. After the first day, all the teachers despaired over ever teaching English if we were to spend the majority of our time trying to go over the rules and establish order in the classroom. But after a few days, the students became so much more than the terrifying rascals whose only aim was to harass us. Rather, they became energetic, humorous, while still mischievous students who were active and eager to engage with us, the teachers. Many, tired of school and “cram classes”, only wanted to have fun and simply, play. They transcended from students to friends, each with their own quirks and idiosyncrasies. Instead of overloading them with only vocabulary day after day, hour after hour (an impossible task that would have left the children and me exhausted), I realized that it was far more important to instill a will to learn, and appreciation for this foreign language. By using games and activities, the students don’t see learning English as a useless burden, but conceivably, something that is enjoyable and worthwhile. There was Joe, one of the smartest kids I knew, who was a sort of leader in the class and helped me with anything I asked him to. Mag, a bossie little girl who was teased constantly but always brushed it off with bravery and nonchalance. Chuck, a very roguish little boy who once told me the fish he drew was very “sexy” (and he was only 10 years old!). I could go on and on and on but I think you get the idea. Each kid was so memorable and unique that they made the entire experience worthwhile. Moreover, Meinung was a gorgeous place found in a valley surrounded by lush, green mountains. Filled with Hakka culture, from handmade oil paper umbrellas to special Hakka vegetables found only in this village. I traveled there, hoping for some fun, and a way to touch the kids’ hearts. Instead, they found me—I experienced teaching in a profoundly meaningful way and they truly left me blessed, inspired by their enthusiasm for learning. I will never forget them.


[1] Found commonly in Asia, the cram classes in Taiwan are called buxiban in which children attend these after-school programs in a wide array of subjects to help them keep up in a competitive school environment.

[2] An aboriginal Taiwanese tribe

[3] Found only in Meinung, these umbrellas are made from paper but dipped in durable oil to make them practical for daily use. They are also hand-painted.

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