1.16.2014

Molding them in their formative years

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!

19 comments:

  1. This is awesome and so true. These kids will have a positive image instead of the crap that gets sent out on the airwaves in the form of reality shows. You are a very intelligent young lady. Too many play into the stereotypes.

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    1. Thanks! Yeah, I'm hoping when they start to pay attention to media they're realize that not all portrayals are true.

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  2. Wow, this is sweet. Its unfortunate that you had to do all that, but its amazing that you did. When you said you yelled at them like a Nigerian mother I laughed. You're gorgeous and the kids are too cute.

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    1. Thanks you! Really, I didn't/don't mind going above and beyond for them. The kids work so hard at school so I like to give them a good time.

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  3. Ahh that pic is so cute. It is great what your doing and hopefully someday the agencies looking for english teachers will realize that a certain type of person does not make a great teacher. Your helping them to foster creativity as well as improve on their studies while also keeping them open and social. I do believe that racism is nurtured not a natural part of being human. So the more exposure to different people that are admired the better :).

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    1. Thanks! Yes, hopefully...but I wouldn't hole my breath. Appearances mean a lot here, and I think some of my experience and educational level played a part in me getting the job...most people who teach English here don't have a lot of qualifications, but they have the "look". It's definitely nurtured, and I want to paint a different picture in their minds.

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  4. You and the babies are too adorable. Clearly you're doing your job right.

    Have you thought about taking the job permanently after you graduate?

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    1. Thanks!

      I don't know if/how long I'll stay in Taiwan after I graduate. Starting a family is important to me and I don't think that's possible for me in Taiwan, so I'll probably be leaving soon after I graduate.

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    2. Starting a family is important to me and I don't think that's possible for me in Taiwan

      How come?

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    3. I don't really attract much male attention here, and I don't think many black girls do unless they have lighter skin. I get the sense that guys are reluctant to approach me because it wouldn't really be acceptable to date a black girl (parents, peers would laugh at them, etc.), and I'm not really interested in being someone's "secret".

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    4. Just curious - Do you go out a lot, go to parties, bars, clubs, etc? Do you network with other expats?

      I ask because someone else is going through something slightly similar and since she does have a full-time job and will be where she is for a while, I'm interested.

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    5. I go out, but I don't like to party as I don't like to drink and the sort of people you would meet at a club here (or anywhere I feel, really) are normally not the type of people you'd want to hang out with on a consistent basis. I tend to not network with other expats for a variety of reasons (I'll probably do a post on it) but I do have a couple of foreign friends that I consider very good people.

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    6. Coffee houses? Book clubs? Film screenings? Anything?

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    7. I'm in a writing club but haven't gone to a major event in awhile. Working on changing that, just kinda hard since I'm usually so busy.

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    8. I'd like to hear about other expats too, if it's not too much of a bother.

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  5. Children are blameless. Its the grown folks and environments that mold their growth in their minds. The best way to conquer their fears is exposure. As a whole, I imagine that you don't get to see an abundance of Black people in Taiwan.

    You are doing the right thing by showing love ,compassion and just having fun to the little ones. People tend to remember those who are for them. I can imagine years later, some of those kids will say "I remember Ms.Nicolette. She was a fun teacher who taught us a lot and we had a lot of fun with her."Those are the kind of teachers that I still remember this day.

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    1. Exposure is really important. Actually, there are a lot of black people from a variety of countries that go to my school, and there are two blasian families that I know of who live in the area. But yeah, in general I'd say the average person here doesn't really come in contact with black people.

      I remember my teachers and how my parents played with me when I'm with them. I feel they'll definitely remember!

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  6. Your post is one of the reasons I love my job as a teacher in Korea. My students have become so close to me. My coworkers te me that they have never been so open all the while respectful with the foreigners before me. They are getting a new perspective of who black people are. In the beginning they were so shy and afraid now its like going to work with all my younger siblings and couains being there. I'm on winter vacay now and I want to get back to my kids. Good post!

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    1. I see the kids as sort of family as well now! They're behavior is now compared to when we met is completely night and day. It's cool to see them change, isn't it? I'll miss them during break D: and thanks!

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