Apple for teacher? The norm to give your teacher a gift worked differently on the other side of the world. The student looked up at me and did not offer me an apple. It was a bag of oranges!
What was it like teaching overseas in Asia? As the saying goes, it’s like comparing apples and oranges. Teaching in the states is very different from teaching in a foreign country, particularly in Asia. The differences cannot be explained in a few words. Everything from the language, the weather, the customs, traditions, and expectations; the way a school is run in a different country is completely different.
It was my first year teaching in Taiwan and I received Mandarin oranges as a gift! The student’s family worked on a farm and so they gave their new teacher a welcoming gift of bright colored, round oranges that glowed like small fireballs.
It was a great first week; my 5th grade students interviewed me and to learn about their new teacher. Then they wrote their biography to share with me so I could learn about their lives. It was a great start to the year!
I had worked in South Korea the year before and I could see some similarities. The expectations of the schools in Asia I worked at were very different, as these were private English schools. It was the goal of the school to get the students to learn through different methods. These included constant exposure to the English language through a native speaker, lots of writing practice, as well as memorization and practice with communications.
Many students had a long school day. They would go to regular school during the morning or daytime hours, and then would continue their education at the private English school with me. Many students, especially the older classes, could be in school all day and then finish their classes at the English school by 9 or 10pm. Quite a full day! Education was the priority in these Asian countries.
The most refreshing part that I experienced was the excitement of the students. Though the students had a long day of school and studied into the night, they were bright, hard working students who would share their enthusiasm and energy with each other in class. It was my joy and privilege to spark their interest in the topic we were learning and encourage them in different ways to apply themselves and get engaged in the lesson through a variety of activities, skits, dramas and stories to bring the lessons to life.
So, when someone asks me what it was like teaching overseas, I enjoy using the apple and oranges metaphor. I tell them that I love apples. However, oranges are unique and cannot be compared; they are refreshing, vital and life-giving. They are like a spark of fire. It is truly an adventure and privilege to teach anywhere in the world and get to learn so much from the culture that is hosting you. It makes the teacher a lifelong learner. And it gives you a new appreciation for all of the apples, oranges, and other fruits.