13:10. The bell rings. Lunch break is over. Once more I check, whether I have all the materials required for the next lesson packed in my bag. I leave the office and make my way to the classroom. Class 401, the first grade of Senior High School. 45 students between fifteen and sixteen years old.
Other students greet me as I pass their classrooms, making my way through the campus. 'Hey Tom!' and 'Good morning teacher!'
I arrive at class 401 and open the door. It is quiet inside, the students are sleeping with their heads on the table. Now that I am present, they raise their heads and look at me with sleepy eyes. I wait untill I have everyone's attention, then I start my lesson.
'Love and Relationship' is the topic. A topic which easily wakes up my students after their lunch break nap. We discuss questions such as 'Do you consider it to be appropriate to have a boy-/girlfriend in Senior High School?', 'What would your parents tell you, if you told them that you were in a relationship?' or 'In which way can a relationship affect your education positively or negatively?'.
The students are trying hard to express their opinion in English. I can feel that they like to talk about this topic. It reflects their thoughts.
14:00. The bell rings again. The lesson is over. I forget to pay attention to the time when I teach. I make a few final words and thank my students for their attention, they applaude. Then I leave the classroom.
My name is Tom Weber. I am 19 years old and I was born and raised in Germany. Currently I am doing voluntary service, working as an English teacher in a senior high school in Tainan, a city in the south of Taiwan.
Starting off I would like to explain to you, why I chose to take a gap year and went abroad with a volunteer organisation.
I graduated from senior high school in May 2013. After this event I found myself at a crossroad. I had to make important decisions which would have a major impact on my future life. Study at university? And if so, study what? Or start to work right away? I had so many choices, but did not really know what was best for myself.
So I decided that I had to grow up a little more first. Get to know myself a little better. And in order to achieve that, I put myself into a whole new environment. Into a country who's language I could neither understand nor speak and who's people and culture I did not know. And it worked more than fine for me.
By this point you might ask yourself 'Why Taiwan?'. The answer is astoundingly easy.
First of all, I am and have always been fascinated by asian culture, mainly because it was completely unknown to me. So I already had a rough direction to where my adventure would be headed. In addition to that I wanted to challange myself by learning a new language, preferably Chinese. So in the end my choice came down to either mainland China or Taiwan, and I chose Taiwan.
Being in Taiwan for almost nine months now, I have hundreds of interesting experiences to share and funny stories to tell. So in order to keep it short, here are four of them. Two things that fascinated me and two things that I have learned during my voluntary service in Taiwan – so far.
The thing that fascinated me by far the most, is the kindness and helpfulness of Taiwanese people in general. In numerous situations, people who I had never met before treated me in a way that I had never experienced from strangers before.
One day – it was in August, during rainy season – I got caught in a thunderstorm as I was driving the motorcycle through town. Due to the poor visibility conditions, I decided to pull my vehicle over to the roadside and seek shelter from the rain under a nearby shop's porch. Other people had apparently had the same idea. After about half an hour the rain had almost stopped, but since I did not have a raincoat I chose to wait untill it would cease raining. Suddenly a young man approached me. He had been waiting with me under the porch for the last 40 minutes, but I had noticed him leaving a few minutes ago. He stepped up to me and asked 'Do you need a raincoat?'. 'Yes, I do! I forgot mine.' Was my answer. 'Here, take this one!' He said, as he pulled one out of his bagpack. He had apparently gone to the next convenient store to buy a raincoat. And he had bought one for me as well.
Thinking of situations like this makes me feel a little ashamed. Ashamed, because I know very well that, where I come from, people would never treat me the same.
The second aspect that I want to mention in this context are the cultural differences which I encountered during the last nine months. Differences that made me aware of how different Taiwanese culture is, from the one that I have known for 19 years.
For me the most significant is, how 'family' is defined in a whole different way. Before coming to Taiwan, I had already known how much Asian people in general worship and respect the older generations of their family. But I did not expect it to be that present.
While in Germany it is weird if you still did not move out at the age of 28, in Taiwan that is perfectly common, since you have to take care of your parents.
Another fact that surprised me is that Taiwanese parents usually have a lot of influence on their childs future career. I have asked a lot of my local friends who go to university how they decided which subject to study, and their answer usually was 'My mum told me to!'.
These cultural differences lead over to two things that I have learned in Taiwan so far. The first thing being, that you have to be extremely open minded about everything when you come in touch with a culture that you do not know. I had and I am still having a great time in this country. Within a short period of time, I was able to make very close friends. Just because I took everything that I considered to be 'strange' or 'different' for granted. I also learned that it is important not to compare. To compare your own culture to the one that you find in whatever country you are travelling to. Nothing is 'better' or 'worse'. It is just 'different' after all. And finally I learned that one should never project his own mindset, his own values, everything based on his culture onto a person of different origin.
But apart from that, I learned so much more. Although I am working as a teacher, somehow my students taught me more than I actually taught them. In conversations after class, they gave me an insight of how it is to grow up in Taiwan. I was even able to pick up a good bit of Mandarin.
Looking back at the past nine months, time has moved incredibly fast. And if time is moving fast that is usually a sign for that you are having a good time. Which makes me come to the second thing that I have learned – to capture time, and by that I mean taking all these things back to my 'old life'. All these things I have learned, all the experiences I have made, the people I have met. I am not the same person as I was before coming to Taiwan. I changed, I grew up. And I want to keep these things, in order to stay the person that I am right now.