If you looked inside the English classroom at You Mu School in Sanxia, Taiwan this summer, you probably saw senior Paige Korner in full uniform- a polo shirt, long pants, and sneakers.
For five weeks this past summer, Korner and approximately 400 students from the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, and Australia travelled to Taiwan to teach English with the AID (Aiding Students with Disabilities) Summer Program.
According to the 2013 AID Summer Program’s application, “the program is recommended for applicants of Chinese or Taiwanese descent, but some openings are available for non-expatriate youths who are advocates of Taiwan.”
“I was allowed in because I studied Chinese,” Korner said.
For the first week of the program, participants lived in a youth hostel in Taipei City. The soon-to-be teachers were required to attend lectures all day.
“We had to learn to be English teachers- how to create fun activities, how to handle rowdy students, et cetera,” Korner said, “I also roomed with girls I didn’t know, and one ended up being in my teaching group.”
After a week of training, Korner and the rest of the AID program were ready to be teachers. The students travelled on a bus ride from the bustling Taipei City to the remote Sanxia.
Korner described Sanxia as the middle of nowhere and isolated.
“After 40 minutes of driving to get there, we passed by a convenience store near a mountain,” Korner said, “our teaching mentor told us it was the nearest one to our school which was 20 minutes up the mountain.”
After the group’s travel day, Korner and her teaching partners met the principal of the school and the school’s soldiers. There are soldiers at every school in Taiwan who work as security and groundskeepers, because military service for boys is mandatory.
The standard school day included four 40-minute class periods followed by lunch, then three more 40-minute class periods.
Korner said that the first week was stressful.
“You’re in these super long uniforms, dying in the heat, and the kids are going crazy,” Korner said, “you’re trying to figure out who are the good kids, who are the troublemakers, and who doesn’t want you to call on them.”
Regardless to the stressful start, Korner realized that she had made the right choice.
“The kids were so sweet and you just love them when you finally get to know them,” Korner said.
For the AID teachers, no day was ever the same. However, there was always a standard format of lesson plans.
“The first period of the day was always review for us. We reviewed the previous day’s PowerPoint, along with all the previous ones,” Korner said, “the kids had a pretty good memory.”
Korner even learned how to better engage the students in the classroom.
“They wouldn’t participate a few times, but when we pulled out some Mickey Mouse stickers, they went full out ‘Hunger Games’ on each other trying to answer the question first,” Korner said.
Korner’s fellow teacher, Christina Chang, noted Korner’s admirable teaching efforts.
“Teaching was definitely tiring, but we all put a lot of effort into it,” Chang said, “I definitely saw Paige spending hours making PowerPoints and conjuring up lesson plans for her students.
For one of the students learning days, the class focused on American holidays. The holiday lessons were focused on integrating American culture into the learning.
“Thank’s to Paige’s idea, there was this one day where all three classes collaborated for a Halloween trick-or-treating event,” Chang said.
“One day, we taught them Valentine’s Day words,” Korner said, “we taught them phrases like ‘be mine’ and ‘will you be my valentine’.”
Korner stated that a typical classroom day included PowerPoints and hands-on activities.
“We just wanted a class where they could learn new grammar and vocab rules and then reinforce them with fun games and art,” Korner said, “it was hard to come up with a teaching method because every teacher had to come up with a teaching plan from scratch, but I think our school days were pretty fun.”
Once the two weeks of teaching had concluded, Korner was faced with the difficult task of saying goodbye to her students.
“The last day was kind of heart breaking,” Korner said, “I don’t know if I’ll ever see those kids again, but the notes that they gave me before they left and their goodbyes broke my heart.”
Leaving the students proved to be bittersweet for Korner.
“On one hand, I was happy to be done being stressed, worried, hot and tired in my classroom full of wasps, it was actually full of wasps,” Korner said, “but on the other hand I was wondering how these kids are going to grow up.
Korner felt uneasy thinking about the children’s’ future.
“Will they continue English and will they move out of their bad living situations?” Korner said, “it kills me that I probably will never know.”
After a fond farewell, Korner and the rest of the AID students travelled on a “tour week”, exploring all Taiwan has to offer. The students returned to the youth hostel and were split into smaller groups.
“We went to tons of places in Taiwan and I became super close to people I never thought I’d be close with, along with getting even closer to my own teaching group,” Korner said.
The group visited landmarks such as The National Palace Museum, Taipei 101, and various markets.
Following the end of tour week, Korner realized the end of the trip was near.
“By the end of it, when it was the closing ceremony at the youth hostel, I nearly cried,” Korner said, “I couldn’t stand to watch everybody go.”
In retrospect of her time in Taiwan, Korner has nothing but fond memories, which even kept her awake on the way home.
“I didn’t sleep on my flights to Tokyo or to America,” Korner said, “all I could think about was the fact that my trip really happened and that I spent five weeks abroad, teaching kids and making so many friends. Even now, it’s such a blur to me.”
Korner said she wouldn’t have traded her experience for anything.
“There’s no place in the world like Taipei city and certainly no place like Taiwan,” Korner said.