[Guest Post] From EIU to Taiwan

Hello, everyone! I’m an EIU alumna and current employee at HESS International Educational Group in Taiwan.

Overall, my experience teaching and living abroad has been filled with incredible moments and opportunities. I taught children’s English classes for a couple of years before moving into the human resources department at our company’s corporate office. I’ve lived in Taiwan for almost five years, and while I could go on and on about my experiences here, I will try to keep it to just a brief snapshot.

EIU alumna Amy Simpson accepts a 2013 Employee of the Year award from the CEO of HESS International Educational Group at the company’s year-end banquet in Taipei, Taiwan.

EIU alumna Amy Simpson accepts a 2013 Employee of the Year award from the CEO of HESS International Educational Group at the company’s year-end banquet in Taipei, Taiwan.

The first thing that stands out is something frequently mentioned about Taiwan: the people. The locals are unbelievably welcoming and helpful, and the foreigners come from all over with their own little piece of the world to share.

It’s not unusual for Taiwanese people to go out of their way to personally escort you to a gas station across town or chase you down the street to return the wallet you’ve left in a restaurant. Likewise, it’s commonplace for foreigners to strike up a conversation about which neighboring country is best to visit or invite you to join them at a dinner table. The people I’ve met have helped me to embrace Taiwan and enjoy all the things it has to offer.

When you live in a different place, you also start to re-evaluate the way you look at everything around you–and the way you look at yourself. You start to realize both how big and how small the world is.

Last Thanksgiving, HESS asked teachers what they were thankful for. We made videos depicting what we loved about Taiwan, teaching, children, friends, family, etc. It was an open-ended invitation to capture the truly enjoyable parts of life. We compiled those videos and called it “The Thank You Project.” (You can view the whole project here)

In my HESS Thank You Project video, I talked about a former teacher who used to say, “The more you know, the more you know the less you know.” This is definitely true of my time in Taiwan. There’s always something new to learn, always a challenge to be faced, always an opportunity to learn and grow as a person. For better or worse, as soon as you feel like you have something all figured out, you’re reminded you that you don’t. This can be a frustrating thing, but it can also keep you fresh and open-minded. If you can embrace those opportunities to grow, there’s always something new and exciting to experience.

It’s interesting to hear about perspectives, and there are plenty to be found all around us. If you haven’t already, definitely consider living, teaching, or traveling abroad to experience things that you might not get to at home. If you’re thinking about teaching abroad, I would recommend Taiwan as a great starting point.

New teachers strike a pose during their July 2014 initial training at the Main Office of HESS International Educational Group in Taipei, Taiwan. HESS provides all the support and guidance newcomers need to settle in and start their journey abroad successfully.

New teachers strike a pose during their July 2014 initial training at the Main Office of HESS International Educational Group in Taipei, Taiwan. HESS provides all the support and guidance newcomers need to settle in and start their journey abroad successfully.

Lastly, to everyone, I would encourage you to step outside your comfort zone and be willing to embrace the good as well as the difficult. Given the change, it will broaden the way you look at just about everything.

I’m happy to discuss any of these topics further, so feel free to email me at amy.simpson@hess.com.tw. Thanks for reading!

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Q&A: Teaching in South Korea

Former study abroad student Missy Muser has returned to South Korea to teach English after recently graduating from EIU in 2013. Read on to find out more about what it is like to live and work in another country! Missy Abroad

1. You loved South Korea so much that you just had to return! What is the best part about teaching in South Korea?
One of my favorite things about Korea is how friendly people are.  Every time I’ve been lost (which will happen at some point any time you travel) someone was always willing to help.  Half the time, I didn’t even have to ask.  They just saw my look of complete panic or distress and would try to help.  Another fun thing about Korea is that it is different from the States.  You really do get to experience a culture that is different from your own.

2. Teaching abroad can be quite different than studying abroad. What was the most difficult part in adjusting to your new job?
Teaching and studying abroad are very different.  I studied abroad in Korea just for the summer so it felt almost like a holiday.  It was easy to meet people through the program or on campus.  I still find it fairly easy to meet people because other foreigners are often in the same situation as you are, and many Koreans are intrigued by foreigners.  I don’t know how many random conversations I’ve had walking down the street or waiting for a bus or train.  Obviously, they aren’t always lasting friendships, but not everyone you meet back home would be either.  The major difference is the amount of free time; full time jobs are serious work.  Just writing this makes me miss the flexibility of university life.  I’m a little outside of Seoul and work until 9 pm so during the week I can’t do as much.  The weekends are where travelling and meeting new people really comes into play.  Or meeting up with those awesome people I’ve connected with that sadly don’t live right in my area.  Public transport is easy and affordable here thankfully.

3. How prepared were you when beginning this new job, and what do you think could have helped prepare you even more?
I did not go to school even remotely for teaching English so I took an online TEFL course to help feel a little more prepared for the actual job aspect.  For the day-to-day living, I studied abroad first so I could get an idea of Korean living.  On a personal level, I felt very prepared to live abroad and to take the leap away from family and friends.  Technology makes it easy to keep in contact and a year goes by quickly.  If anything, I loved the challenge of being forced to be completely independent.  I knew I could handle living abroad on my own, so I was more worried about actually teaching.  I was nervous the first few days, as everyone is at a new job, but it becomes routine quickly and you learn all the ins and outs fast.

Missy Abroad2

4. What is it like teaching in a South Korean school?
Korean schools can vary.  There are public schools which offer more vacation and can be a little more secure, and then there are Hogwans (private schools) that are easier to get a job in but you do want to pay close attention to your contract and to try to make sure your school is a good school.  If there is already a foreign teacher at that school, try to get as much information from them as you can. Also, manners are quite different in Korea compared to the US.  Try to be as respectful as you can and your boss or co-teachers might give you some hints towards how to act.  Just be polite and they usually understand you have different ideas of what manners are.

5. What is it like where you are living?
Now I’ll be honest… I don’t absolutely love the town I live in.  It’s pretty grey and there isn’t a lot of nature incorporated through the city.  But it is easy for me to travel into Seoul which I do like.  I also wanted to be near the town I studied abroad at so I could visit friends and walk down nostalgia lane. All cities surrounding Seoul seem to have plenty of coffee shops, food joints, bars, buses, and are usually close to some form of outdoor trail or hiking area.

6. What do you do in your free time when you are not teaching?
I enjoy hiking and reading a lot.   I can easily spend a good majority of my time doing either of those.  Korea does have a lot of baby mountains and they are fairly big into hiking.  Sometimes it can be more stairs than trail, but it’s still beautiful and a great way to spend the time. There are also a lot of groups that do hiking trips, kayaking, ultimate frisbee, language exchanges, etc through social media networks.  Awesome way to meet people who have similar interests as you. Also, you get to meet people from all over the world.  I love being in a group and being able to listen to all the different accents or languages. And, of course, there’s always food.  Now some food you will miss with a fierce sort of ache.  Normal tacos or a killer homemade sandwich would be glorious at the moment, but there’s so much food to be had here.  They have restaurants everywhere and a wide range of types of food.  My first time trying Vietnamese, South African, or Nepalese food were all here.  And they were all delicious.  They have cheap street food you can get for a dollar or Korean barbecue for maybe 7. Again, the public transport is simple and cheap so it makes it possible to travel around and see new areas.

Missy Hiking

7. ​What advice do you have for other EIU students that are considering teaching abroad?
Do it!  Seriously, just go for it.  You learn so much about yourself and about others.  It’s a great chance to earn money, travel around, make friends with people you may never meet otherwise, and, if you are an actual teacher, you get the added bonus of experience.  Even those, like myself, who have no future plans of being a teacher, the experience here has still taught me a lot of skills that will be beneficial to any future jobs.  The Internet makes it so easy to keep in touch with those that matter back home.  Also, if they matter, they will still be there a year or more from now.  It’s a great way to get into the travelling mindset.  I’m already making plans for a year in New Zealand, a month in Europe, a summer in Alaska, moving west coast in the States, looking into programs in South America… and so forth.

From study abroad to job offer

One minute you’re packing your bags to study abroad, and a few months later, you’re returning to teach in a local classroom. We got to talk to recent 2013 graduate, Jesse Garibaldi, and his plans to work in the Bahamas.
Jesse Garibaldi Bahamas

Science & Schooling in the Bahamas

Jesse majored in Elementary education with a focus in social science. A Glenview, Illinois native (just north of Chicago), he admits he was, “not used to beaches and warm weather every day like they have in the Bahamas.” When Jesse enrolled in the Science & Schooling Study Abroad program in the Bahamas, he joined his classmates on Andros Island for ten days. Led my Dr. Dan Carter and Dr. Marilyn Lisowski, Jesse expected he would have some fun and report back with some amazing experiences. He had no idea a job opportunity would come from this ten day adventure.

He says, “My parents were supportive of me studying abroad there but they saw it as a fun way to take some extra classes over the summer. So when I came back and told them I wanted to teach abroad, they were obviously shocked.” Jesse credits his time on Andros Island as opportunity to think about what he valued as a teacher. “There are many things I took for granted that many people do not have.”

What surprised him the most? The use of technology: “Just because we can create lessons on computers and guide activities with the use of a smart board, does not make it a good lesson.” Future teachers come from a generation dependent on smart phones and smart boards, but Jesse hopes they will be able to use technology in a more practical manner, not as a crutch. “I believe students learn best when they can have hands on learning experiences and sometimes the use of technology can get in the way.”

Jesse Garibaldi Bahamas

Hanging around on Andros Island

This unexpected return to the Bahamas is not all palm trees and clear waters. Jesse admits that going back to the Bahamas will be a major change from his experience as a study abroad student. “Living on New Providence is going to be much different than being a visitor on Andros. I will have to gain the respect of the students from day one instead of visiting an already established classroom. One of the biggest differences is when I was last in the Bahamas I was [being] influenced in many different ways. Now, I hope to be influencing others and passing on the information that I know.”

Jesse’s assignment will take him to an independent preparatory school in New Providence called Tambearly School. He knew he wanted to teach abroad, but found that many programs requested at least two years of teaching experience. In regard to finding his position, Jesse credits the world’s favorite search engine, Google: “I found this position with a little luck, some frustration, and a lot of searching. After a lot of time looking I finally decided to just google the top ten elementary schools in the Bahamas and email the school directly. I sent out three or four emails to some of the schools on that list informing them that I was a new teacher who had studied abroad in the Bahamas and was looking for a job there.”

Not thinking that anything would pan out, Jesse was surprised to see a return email from Tambearly within a few days, requesting a resume and some additional information. The principal, an American who grew up in the U.S. hires teachers from all over the world, and called Jesse to offer a phone interview about a fourth grade position. Students attending Tambearly hail from a variety of areas, which appealed to Jesse in terms of its diverse student body.

lost in the locals

This year while his peers begin their work in the U.S., Jesse will be teaching a fourth grade class, be a swim instructor, and be working to create a new club for the school. He says, “All of the teachers and parents are really involved with the school which makes everyone there seem like a big family.”

With his new found role abroad, Jesse’s advises future study abroad students “to keep an open mind and try new things.” He admits, “Before studying in the Bahamas I had no intentions of teaching abroad. But, my time on Andros opened up a whole new world of experiences and I would not change a thing.”

Congrats, Jesse! Best of luck to you in your new school.

If you’d like to talk to Jesse about his experiences abroad, or learn more about the Science & Schooling program, please drop us an email at goabroad@eiu.edu