January 1, 2013

From Changhua to Logansport

Taiwanese teacher traded teaching English for teaching Chinese

by Sarah Einselen

— Yi-Chun Lin grew up in central Taiwan. But now she feels more comfortable teaching in the United States.

Lin, 27, began teaching Mandarin Chinese at Logansport High School this fall after completing her master’s degree at Indiana State University in teaching English as a second language. It’s her first time teaching high schoolers in the U.S., but she spent two years teaching at a school in Taiwan, one as a student teacher and one teaching part-time.

Lin had planned to return to Taiwan to teach English as a second language after earning her master’s degree overseas.

“I saw lots of people struggling to learn a language,” she explained. “I wanted to let people know it’s not actually that difficult to learn a language.”

In Taiwan, she grew up speaking both Mandarin and Taiwan’s Chinese dialect, Min Nan, and began learning English in high school, where English classes were a requirement for graduation.

A native of Changhua, Taiwan, she completed her bachelor’s degree in Taipei, the country’s capital city, where she studied applied English at the National Taipei University of Technology. Applied English, she explained, is the course of study designed to prepare college graduates to teach English as a second language to Asian students.

She spent one school year as an intern, or student teacher, before taking Taiwan’s teacher licensing exam. She then taught part-time for one year.

“After I got my teaching license,” Lin said, “I decided to study abroad for my master’s.”

Traveling abroad was no difficulty for Lin. She had traveled to other countries as a student and was not worried about becoming unbearably homesick. Instead, she was curious to find out what teaching was like across the Pacific.

Her first U.S. teaching experience came as a graduate assistant at ISU, where she found she’d have to explain Chinese cultural traditions and distinctives even to some students who were Chinese by heritage.

“What we have is we grew up there, we know our culture,” Lin explained. “Some haven’t had cultural experience though.”

Being immersed in American culture has been an education for her, as well, she said. English classes in Taiwan focused on the language, explained Lin, and did not incorporate cultural aspects, since students were already exposed to pieces of English-speaking culture through entertainment and media.

She had heard rumors that American students were more creative and studied differently, she said. But once she began teaching in Logansport, she found out how different real high school life was from the way it had been depicted in popular movies.

“Sometimes it’s not just about me teaching them,” she said. Her Logansport students have clued her in to what’s accurate and what’s exaggerated in movies about high school, and in turn she has told them about how students learn and are expected to behave in Taiwan.

“We like to work hard a lot,” Lin said of Chinese culture. “Americans work when you work, and then when you are free, you feel free to enjoy your life.”

In China, however, people are expected to spend most of their time, if not all of it, working or studying. Lin called it the “responsibility system.”

Having been in the U.S. for several years has acclimated Lin to the American way of life, she said.

“I feel like if you can work hard and finish everything on time, why would you have to stay overtime?” she asked rhetorically. That’s “the time that you’re supposed to spend with your family,” she added.

“I’m just so used to this environment and I decided to stay here.”

Living in Logansport is somewhat similar to the locale where Lin grew up, she said. Though Changhua City itself is the second-largest city in Taiwan, according to its English-language government website, it’s made up of 73 smaller villages. Lin said the village she lived in was small, a characteristic she also appreciated about Logansport.

It’s “very cozy,” she said. “Everything is very close, which I like.”

And teaching at the high school has been an adventure. She finds out something new each day — starting with the traditions surrounding the U.S. pledge of allegiance and moment of silence which begin each school day — and expects to continue doing so for the rest of her first year.

The process of teaching itself differs, too, though she’s teaching her native language now.

“I think the different part was the students,” she said. “I can’t guess what they are thinking. I can’t guess how they will act.”

The biggest challenge of living abroad, she said, has been having no family nearby and not being near enough to ISU to attend the Taiwanese alumni association’s events there.

About three months ago, she said, “was the first time I got homesick,” probably because she’s no longer in the international student climate.

“Here right now, you’re working, it’s actually different,” Lin explained. “You get into society... everything is just so new.

“But now I feel like, ‘ah, it’s OK,’” she added.