In these last few weeks in Taiwan, every movement has felt like another goodbye. Perhaps it was saying goodbye to my beautiful commute and the little boy I wave to every morning who cheers for me as I bike up the hill by his bus stop. Or its saying goodbye to my favorite track that I often go to run at after Chinese class. Or maybe when I said goodbye to my desk at school as I emptied the drawers of any last traces of me, and packed all my belongings into my three bags. The hardest goodbyes however were to the people that I’ve spent the most time with here in Taiwan.
Running and Climbing Pals
I have a group of close running and climbing that I met through my friend Daniel. We’d always run together at night either by the mountains, by the sea, or on the track near my apartment. Then we’d get dinner together. The last time that we arranged to meet, we went to my favorite running path by the sea. It was a stifling hot night and though we’d planned to run far we ended it short because we were so hot. My friends brought me to a delicious curry house for dinner and insisted on paying for my meal. We teased each other and Daniel and his friend insisted that if I ever moved back to Taiwan I could be their third roommate in Taipei. I was extremely grateful for their friendship because they frequently challenged me physically and made me feel welcome when I didn’t have many other friends to work out with. They were patient with my Chinese and even though Daniel is fluent in English they all helped me practice and taught me so much.
After saying goodbye I struggled to imagine that I wouldn’t see them again. However, it was just my luck that after Chinese while running I ran into them again! We had one last celebratory dinner together and said goodbye for good this time. I won’t forget their kindness and I hope that we can meet again either in the States or in Taiwan!
Language Exchange Partner
I spent the better part of first semester searching for a language exchange partner who I could practice my Chinese with and in return, they could practice their English. However no one at school wanted to be my partner and most of the people I asked were just too busy. One day at the track after I had just finished working out, a guy approached me and asked who I was and what I was doing in Taiwan. I soon learned that he was at student at the Tzi Chi University studying traditional Chinese medicine. He asked me if I’d be interested in being his language exchange partner and from that night on, we met a couple nights a week at the track when he wasn’t too busy with school.
His English was much better than my Chinese so we often spoke in English, but I learned so much about Taiwanese history, culture, politics, and medicine from him. My favorite memory I have is one day after a frustrating day at school I was feeling homesick and sad. I was running home from the track when I passed him on his bike. He caught up to me and I asked him where he was headed. It was around 9 pm and he said that he was on his way to grab some dinner. I hadn’t eaten and when I told him that he insisted that I join him. I didn’t have any money and I was sweating profusely but he didn’t mind and bought me dinner. What was going to be a sad and lonely night instantly turned into a wonderful night of friendship, good food, and language exchange. Last week he finished the semester at Tzi Chi and headed home to Taipei. For the first time it wasn’t me leaving but instead him. I was grateful for our time together and I won’t forget how his impromptu decision to approach me at the track resulted in a great friendship!
My Favorite Cafes and Restaurants
During the last two weeks I planned out which restaurants and cafes I wanted to go to one last time before I ran out of time. My favorite vegetarian restaurant Greenland, the Korean place across the street, the cat cafe (my home away from home), my favorite noodle restaurant, and Fat Boys, my favorite breakfast stop. At Fat Boys when they learned that I was leaving, they gave me a free coffee and told wished me safe travels. I’ll definitely miss the convenience price and cost of Taiwanese food!
Although it seems like a small factor, on my last day of school I was sad to say goodbye to the people that I’ve gotten to know who I commute to school with every day. They all work at the train station or Taroko National Park, and they are always looking after me and saving me a seat or giving me snacks. One day my friend who works at Taroko insisted on picking me up in Hualien on her off day because the weather was too hot. When I told her it was okay because I had to go to the bank, she insisted on driving me there and then taking me to meet her friend for tea. It’s the generosity and kindness of these complete strangers that became friends who made me feel at home and welcome here in Taiwan.
Since September I’ve been taking Chinese classes twice a week at Tzi Chi University. It’s something that I always look forward when the week starts because it is one on one classes twice a week where I can learn Chinese that I can later use to understand conversations with my coworkers and students. Since coming to Taiwan I’ve had three separate Chinese teachers. They have all been amazing and I’ve really enjoyed studying under them. I think my Chinese has progressed quite a bit and I passed Band A level 2 of the Chinese TOCFL which places me at an advanced intermediate level. I think that learning Chinese while living in Taiwan is an essential in order to best interact with the community and really get to know the culture in Taiwan.
I value speaking and listening as the most important language tools for me here in Taiwan, but I’ve also practiced quite a bit of reading and writing. I’m grateful for the teachers at Tzi Chi who pushed me really try hard and encouraged me take my Chinese to the next level. Walking out of my last class was really hard because I’m not sure when I’ll have the opportunity to learn and study Chinese again, or use the language skills that I have in the same way that I do now. I’m afraid that I’ll lose some of my fluency when I go back to the US and I don’t want that to happen.
Fu Shi School
The last day of classes was just around the corner and it was time to say goodbye to my school. I had already said goodbye to my 6th grade classes but I knew saying goodbye to all of the students and staff, who had become my friends, would be even harder. I prepared cards for each of my students with their name, a short note, and a funny picture on the front. I also brought bubbles, pencils, and erasers from the US. My co-teacher Demi had left early Wednesday but even though she rescheduled all of our classes, I still wanted the opportunity to say goodbye so I worked with the homeroom teachers. We arranged fun activities for the last two weeks including a candy house building class, making chocolate chip cookies, and making brownies. Each class had a chance to participate in a fun food event.
The last week, I prepared trivia games and visited each of the classes to hand out the cards. Several of the students also prepared small gifts for me. When I went to the third grade class, they all clung to me and shouted, “don’t leave us!” Several times I had to choke back tears because I knew if I started crying, everyone would follow in suit. We played a fun English “Teacher vs. Students” trivia game and yes, I’ll admit they won.
The last day started with an epic water fight which I somehow managed to emerge from relatively unscathed. The students then had an assembly and performance in the auditorium. Each class sang and danced to a Taroko song. After they finished, they called me and another teacher who was leaving up to the front of the room. The school thanked me and gave me a beautiful handmade bag with the Taroko pattern woven into the side of the bag. Then, all the students said goodbye. I received more hugs that could possibly count throughout the rest of the day.
In truth, saying goodbye to my elementary school was extremely hard. There were so many would have, should have, could have moments and I couldn’t help but scrutinize all of the actions leading up to this last day. Had I given everything that I have to this school? I felt that I had but at the same time the year flew by so quickly I still had so many ideas and projects that there simply wasn’t time for. I was only just starting to get to know my coworkers and I recognized how many more relationships I could have built and strengthened if I had even just one more year at Fu Shi. I had finally settled in a routine with my students and they were beginning to use English more comfortably in and out of the classroom. Now, they were approaching me in the hallway and asking me questions IN ENGLISH. This was huge because I’ve been the one asking questions all year. To see them turning the tables and taking control of English was a really powerful thing.
But there is no use in analyzing what could have been. It’s time to look back and reflect on the wonderful moments and relationships I was able to build. To look forward at the bright futures that my students can and will have. If they learned anything from me in the classroom, I hope they learned that English is a form of communication to reach other people and cultures and in turn to share their own. It’s hard to see the way that my students would give up hope when they tested poorly in English. My main goal of teaching was to help students to recognize that English isn’t just a subject to study for the sake of good grades but in fact a tool to reach out and expand their horizons.
Finally, goodbye to you Taiwan. The last few weeks were hard but not as hard as packing up my room, saying goodbye to Hualien, leaving the other ETAs who had become my family in Taiwan. But as we say in Taiwan, it’s 再見, or see you again and not goodbye. While I don’t know when, I know I’ll return someday!