teacher, you’re a papaya!–teaching in taiwan


School is fun! (I swear I’m not about to beat that child – I was demonstrating. Or singing.)

This is the post I entered for the contest on Expats Blog.

“Teacher! Do you have a boyfriend?”


“Why?? You’re so pretty.”

“Teacher, your face is like a child’s!”

“Uh, why?”


“Teacher, you so white! Come…”

*Kids try to drag me into the sunlight*

“Teacher, you’re a papaya!”

“That’s a fruit, you know.” (I said this in Chinese.)

“I know! Papaya! Papaya!”

Teaching kids is great. I teach fourth-graders, so the ages range from 9-12 in some cases. Our students love us; maybe because we’re foreigners, maybe because we act ridiculous since we don’t speak their language. Whatever the reason, it seems like every week I have kids telling me something hilarious.

I never wanted to be a teacher. Growing up in America and seeing the horrors of school from afar (I was homeschooled), I had an absolute abhorrence of the idea of teaching. But I loved travel, and I wanted to visit Asia, so when I had the opportunity to teach in Taiwan, I took it. It was the best decision I ever made. I’ve found (to my surprise) I truly enjoy teaching and that it has helped me grow as a person.

What is education like in Taiwan? I work in a camp, so I see different kids every week. There’s no testing or grading, so my experience is a little different than other ESL teachers. I see kids from every walk of life, from the poor farmer’s kids to the rich elite. Some have great English, some have none. It’s a toss-up every week about what the average level of the kids will be.

From what I’ve heard from my co-teachers, friends, and other foreigners, the school system here is very different than in America. Kids go to school almost all day until college. Most of them attend some kind of after-school program, whether supplemental classes or cram school. That means they are in school from six or seven in the morning until near midnight. Every weekday. Crime in schools is very low, as is teen pregnancy and drug use. Reason being – these kids have no time. They don’t have girl/boyfriends or part time jobs because they’re so busy. The pressure to succeed is so intense from all spheres that they throw everything into studying. The ones who don’t tend to sit around and smoke on mopeds or hang out at internet cafes, not go shooting other people or getting into serious mischief.

You might think it’s a great thing that the kids are so serious, but there are downsides as well. Many education ministries and administrators are trying to overhaul the system; Asian students simply aren’t as creative as their counterparts elsewhere, despite their phenomenally high test scores. The students learn by rote memorization and lots of studying, so they don’t get much practice in creative solutions or making mistakes; skills that are vital in this day and age. A lot of students also get so burned out during their primary education that by the time they reach college, they tend to coast through without putting much effort in.

Obviously, there are pros and cons for every school system, but it does help foreign teachers when students are pre-conditioned to respect and obey their authority, not question it.

It’s slightly entertaining to see kids see us. For a lot of the students we get, we’re the first foreigners they’ve seen up close. During our “Body” class, we have a part where we ask them what color our eyes are. Since their eyes are all varying shades of brown, it’s cool for them to get to see different colored eyes. One of our teachers has bright blue eyes, and my eyes are greenish yellow. They even get freaked out on occasion, peering intently as us only to fall back with loud exclamations. Sometimes they ask us if we’re wearing contacts.

We teach without a Chinese co-teacher, so we’re limited in what we’re able to do. Not speaking Chinese, we have to keep instructions simple and demonstrable by hand motions. I don’t think we’ve ever had a problem, but it can take time to communicate this way, and you tend to lose inhibitions on making a fool of yourself.

Is it ever hard? Of course. There will always be kids who are too cool for singing songs, too distracted to concentrate, too boisterous for us to deal with, or too sullen to accept our love. Do I ever regret coming here? Never.


One thought on “teacher, you’re a papaya!–teaching in taiwan

  1. Hi there,

    Loved this post – I can totally relate to what you’re saying. Teaching ESL is rewarding but can be difficult at times! I am currently teaching in Vietnam, it sounds kind of similar in that the kids are constantly studying. Their parents are really eager that they learn English as soon as possible. It’s good but can be stressful for them I think.

    I have just started up my travel/ESL blog and will be adding more articles soon. If you have a second, take a look and follow me: http://overdueadventure.wordpress.com/



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