I'm in Taiwan primarily as a student (studying TESOL but starting to focus more on Applied Linguistics). However, in order to support myself and gain a little experience here and there, I am also an English teacher at a 補習班 (buxiban, or cram school, or after-school school program place). So, as my students are in elementary school, I'm actually more of an English-speaking babysitter, haha (but that's a completely different discussion).
Anyway, before I digress, aside from being a student, I'm a part-time English teacher. Most foreigners here in Taiwan are either students, English teachers, or teachers of another sort or of another language. We're a large group and can be found everywhere, but naturally, I'm not your everyday English teacher in Taiwan. The ideal English teacher here is blond, white, female, and under 30. (Some ads even ask that only young, white women apply because, as some will put it, they don't want the children to be scared). Or male with the same remaining characteristics. Or at least white. However, being that I'm black, female, and under 30 I suppose I am a darker hue of the ideal...which is not ideal, at the end of the day.
Of course, my appearance plays a major part concerning my job. I won't go into details, but I feel I had to push for certain things that should be a given. But most of all, I had to work extra hard to gain the trust of the kids. I'm glad to say though that I have done so successfully.
It wasn't an easy task. During my first couple of weeks, anything I did was met with blank stares, some mild fear from the younger kids, and a comment here and there from them about my appearance. Nothing scathing, just innocent curiosity from kids brought up in a homogenous society. I think I was initially as uneasy as they were, wondering if I would ever get them to interact with me. And children are sort of like dogs; they smell fear.
But then I started to realize just how important it was to get them to be comfortable with me. After all, I can confidently say that I am the only black person these children see in living color on a regular basis, so I began to realize the magnitude behind me making a good impression. Most of them have not yet reached the age where family, society, etc. begins to groom them concerning what they should think. Many of them have not learned and do not yet understand what Taiwanese society thinks of black people. I began to think that if I could show them that we aren't what people commonly say we are, they will be able to think rationally and treat other black people they may encounter in the future kindly, and most of all, like humans.
Don't get me wrong; gaining the trust of these kids does not mean that I bent over backwards. I am never shy to discipline them, but I reward them greatly when they act properly. I've gone beyond what the school expects of me and made them games, did crafts with them, danced with them. I've told them jokes, I've consoled them when they've cried, I've yelled at them at the top of my lungs with the ferocity of a Nigerian mother.
And slowly, they really began to warm up to me. They give me hugs, they hold my hand, and sometimes they don't want to leave. In a strange way, I do feel like their mother sometimes as I love them like a mother would.
All in all, I'm glad we've come to understand each other, and I'm glad that they've experienced my presence at such a young age. Children may be young, but they never, ever forget. I hope when they grow up, they'll be confident enough to set those who think black people are "subhuman" or "angry" or "scary" straight. Hopefully, peer pressure doesn't force them to be quiet.
Me with some of the kids on Christmas!