Growing up in America, I have always felt privileged. Compared to my relatives in Taiwan, I have far more tools and connections to access a higher standard of education and living. Due to these advantages, I feel compelled to share my experiences and knowledge with those who may not be as fortunate as myself. Opportunity came knocking when I was informed of a program that focused on teaching English to young students from underdeveloped areas in Taiwan.
Upon my arrival, I was consumed with excitement, anxiety, and shock. There were over 300 volunteer teenagers and young adults and evidently, they were all rather fluent in speaking, reading, and writing in Mandarin. Yet I was only capable of conducting small talk and could barely be described as literate. What had I gotten myself into? If I stayed, I was likely to inhibit the students from learning English. I feared for them and I feared for myself. I didn’t belong here; too bad I was 8,000 miles away from home.
Whether by circumstance or not, I knew I had to follow through with the program in order to achieve my goal in helping others. My “co-workers” and I spent hours devising teaching plans that we hoped would be effective. But throughout my first week as a teacher, I constantly questioned myself and wondered to what extent the students were actually learning and retaining what I taught them. I was afraid they would forget everything as soon as I left and I didn’t want this entire experience to be a waste.
So how could I make our time together worthwhile? It didn’t matter to me how much information I covered with my students; rather, it mattered how much they genuinely learned. For the remaining time I had left with them, I covered the basics over and over again, to the point where some students eventually became bored. This method worked well to my advantage, since my vocabulary was already severely limited.
By the time I had to say goodbye to my students, I was able to do so in English. We carried conversations through without speaking a word of Mandarin, and that in itself provided me with one of the greatest feelings I have ever experienced. Looking back, I realize my students weren’t the only ones who had learned something from our time together.
My inability to proficiently communicate in Mandarin had become somewhat of an obstacle, but it was nothing I couldn’t handle. At first, my minor pronunciation slip-ups provided a few laughs, but gradually, the students were able to help me improve my speech. These children whom I had been assigned to educate had, in turn, taught me a few linguistic concepts themselves.
My experience as a teacher has taught me to appreciate the power of knowledge. When I first arrived, I attempted to fulfill my duty as an educator, never expecting to be educated myself. By the time I left, I realized that even in the least expected situations, people are always learning from each other. We are teachers whether we have a certificate that declares so or not. I now understand that education develops through a give-and-take process. What we learn, we must give back by teaching others. In this way, knowledge expands and society is able to progress. Knowledge is a renewable resource that’s recycled and shared with the world and it is our duty to do just that.
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