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I felt the familiar atmosphere welcome me with open arms as I walked out of the Taoyuan airport and into the searing humidity. Even the light breeze had no trace of cold, but I felt right at home.
It is still hard to believe that already one year has passed since I walked through the doors of Nan-hu Elementary School in Taiwan. When my mom first asked if I wanted to join the “Assisting Individuals with Disadvantages” program, I was a little hesitant, wondering if I wanted to fly half-way across the world to teach English. However, after giving it some thought, I agreed thinking that it was better having a productive summer than a summer wasted on watching television and eating junk food. I’ll admit that I was a little apprehensive about what this trip had in store for me, but at the same time, I could not wait.
Finally, after an extensive 18-hour flight, I made it to Taiwan. It was a little strange being in Taiwan by myself for the first time, but I felt a new sense of independence. Harboring this feeling of independence, I set out, ready to take on this new experience. During the first week (Training Week), I met many people from all over the United States and Canada, and become fully acquainted with my teaching partners. Soon, one week passed, and all the volunteers were split into groups and prepared to leave for our respective schools.
When information was given about our school, my teaching partners and I found out that we would be teaching fifty students coming from four different schools. Upon hearing this news, we started to worry if the variety of the students’ backgrounds would affect their willingness to cooperate. However, when we first walked into the Activity Center (where the classes were held), all the students were carrying their own chairs and tables to create a classroom atmosphere. Most of them greeted us politely with “Teacher”, “Jie Jie” (older sister), or “Ge Ge” (older brother). As I gradually spent more time with the students, I realized that I had nothing to worry about at all. When asked to play with them, activities that would seem simple to us, such as hand games, playing catch, and hide-and-seek, entertained them for long periods of time. I was happy being able to see the students each day and spend time with them. Unfortunately, good times only last so long. In an instant, two weeks had passed and I was dreading the good-byes we would have to exchange in the end. After many farewells (and even some tears), it was time to meet up with all the other volunteers for our last-week tour around Taiwan.
I will never forget going to nearby night markets, eating the delicious native foods of Taiwan, seeing the Taipei 101 building for the first time, or meeting a diverse group of great people. However, what really made this trip the most memorable was being given the chance to teach my students, watch them improve, and in return, learn from them as well. This experience, as well as the turquoise waves that washed ashore Kenting’s beaches and the lush, green mountains of Yangminshan, will forever remain vividly in my memory. Furthermore, the people I met have become some of the closest friends I have today, despite the many miles stretched out between us. Although I may probably never see my students again, I give them my greatest gratitude and owe it to them for making my 2007 summer unforgettable.