(5/3) Fulbright Taiwan
Back in the beginning of May, I said the first of many goodbyes that would come to consume my last few months in Taiwan. Fulbright Taiwan was hosting a farewell dinner for all of the ETAs and scholars on the first weekend in May. It felt impossibly early to be contemplating saying goodbye because we still had almost two full months left of our grant. But nonetheless, I had begun receiving emails from next years ETAs asking questions about Hualien and the pros and cons of the county. I was slowly starting to open my mind to the fact that I only had 1/5 of my grant period left and before I knew it the time would come to say goodbye to my school, friends, and all of Taiwan. This realization started to hit me hard as the ETAs from other counties began to discuss their post-grant plans. I realized that most of these people would be heading to completely different states, countries, and jobs. We would be embarking on completely different adventures and I was very unprepared to admit to myself that I probably wouldn’t see most of these people again.
Despite these sad reflections, I had a great time. There was a live band and we all enjoyed the large buffet of food and the delicious desserts. There was wine and although we finished it off quickly it was enough release some of the inhibitions of the ETAs, leading to a large Fulbright dance party. Dr. Volke, the president of Fulbright, even made his way to the dance floor with his wife. We all stayed until the band left and then together made our way back to the hotel. Feeling slightly sad, we decided to go out together to celebrate the many wonderful times that we’d had together in Hualien. Although Sarah had returned home for sports day and Emma stayed back, the majority of us were together and we reminisced about the great times we’d had so far and would still have in the coming weeks.
The next and more painful goodbye was leaving the Tongmen community where I’d done community service with another Hualien ETA for the duration of the year. Although I wrote about this in a previous post, it’s an important step of saying goodbye to Taiwan because I was leaving something that I had become a part of in Taiwan that I knew I could not recreate anywhere else in the world. My students, my friends, and the church that had welcomed me into their home had in turn become an integral part of my ETA experience and defined many of my more joyful and challenging times throughout the year. Although I was happy to see that Gina and my time at Tongmen had meant so much to the people there, it didn’t make saying goodbye any easier. However, I will hold the memory of these people and their community close to my heart and when I return to the US, I will remember to be open, generous, and welcoming to others in the same way that these people were to me.
(6/5 and 6/12) English Camps
Since September, every Wednesday afternoon Karina, Emma, and I went to either Fengbin Elementary School or Zhi Xue Elementary School to teach English. Instead of classes strictly structured around a textbook, we were given more freedom to create our own creative lessons teaching themes provided by the English teachers at these respective schools. After two semesters of time traveling to these places, it was time to teach our last classes and close this chapter of our Fulbright grant. We prepared a short game of jeopardy reviewing the topics we covered in the last semester and collected all the assignments, worksheets, and projects that we had completed throughout the year. Then we made a book of progress. Each of the students wrote a short letter of reflection and covered their book with stickers. When the bell rang, we gave them each a piece of candy as we often do, placed three star stickers in their camp book, and waved goodbye. Several students lingered to ask us for our signature and say a few last words, but most kids were out the door like any regular Wednesday.
Although I felt very sad in that moment, I realized that these students would continue on with their lives. Perhaps we’d been able to teach them a few words in English or open their eyes to a larger world outside of their classroom. Maybe one or two students would find inspiration in our lessons and continue to study English diligently. Or perhaps not. But regardless, we had put in our best efforts and I had really enjoyed the challenges and opportunities that came with teaching in a school with three other ETAs and no Chinese-speaking co-teacher. I learned a lot about myself and I pushed my limits of patience, teamwork, and Chinese to new levels that I didn’t know were possible.
A few weeks later Karina and I were at the Dragon Boat Festival Races at Li Yu Lake when we spotted Candy, one of our students from Fengbin running up to us. She was beaming from ear to ear when she saw Karina and I and she was so excited to introduce us to her mother. The excitement she exhibited made me realize that we had managed to build a connection in this short year and I hope this carries her and our other students on to have positive memories of English as they continue on with their studies and lives.
(6/19) 6th Grade Graduation
My saddest goodbye to date has been my 6th grade class at their graduation ceremony last Wednesday. Leading up to the event, all of my students had been approaching me asking, “Teacher, will you cry?!” “Definitely,” I responded. They reassured me that there was no need to cry and gave me a hug to make me feel better. But I knew I would. My sixth grade class is only seven students and over the year I’d gotten quite close to them. I teach them four classes a week and sometimes six if I help with Demi’s art class. I eat lunch with them regularly and out of all of my students, I can communicate best with them because their English is quite good.
Since the start of the second semester, we’ve been preparing for graduation. In music class we have been rehearsing their graduation song and my music and English classes were occasionally cancelled for various graduation preparations. All of the grades had been preparing graduation posters and cards for the 6th grade and Demi and I were teaching a send-off song to that all of the younger students would sing to the 6th grade. It felt so far away for so long until the week finally arrived. The day before graduation, we had a rehearsal. The sixth graders dressed in their Toroko ceremony clothing and the entire school performed the dance they’d been rehearsing in the courtyard all year. The school presented awards and diplomas and finally the time came to sing. Before I knew what was happening I was crying! The students were surprised to see me crying and after the rehearsal was over, they ran up to find and hug me. By the next period the entire school knew that I had cried and it was rather embarrassing.
The day of graduation, I had the chance to say goodbye to my sixth graders early in the morning as they got ready for their ceremony. They too reminded me not to cry but I reminded them that I wasn’t just saying goodbye to them as the other students were, I was also saying goodbye to all the other students at the school, the teachers, Hualien, and all of Taiwan. All of these sad emotions were culminating in this one event and I was so sad. I did my best not to cry but before I knew it, I was already feeling emotional as I watched my students perform their dance. When it was time to sing, I was trying my best to hold back my tears. I was sitting with the third grade class and they kept glancing back to see if I would start crying. But then before I knew what was happening, suddenly the entire class was crying, which of course made me cry. It seemed that the whole school was in tears.
Even though they’ve already graduated, the sixth graders have returned to school several times since then to hang out. They added me on social media and promised to stay in touch. I’m grateful to have gotten to know them so well and I hope that they continue to study hard. Perhaps one day they’ll make their way to the US! With the first of the goodbyes behind me, I’m finally accepting the reality that I’ve only got one week left here in Taiwan. I’m far from ready to leave but I’m also frantically in the midst of packing, closing my bank account, cleaning my apartment, and tying up all of the lose ends. The undeniable reality is that many more goodbyes are just around the corner and ready or not, it’s time to leave Taiwan.