Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Field Trip to Dong-ao

The second half of orientation today involved a field trip to Dong-ao Xiao Xue (Elementary School) in Nan-ao township. Within 2 weeks, the 12 ETAs will be assigned to different schools throughout Yilan County, 5 in Yilan City, 5 in Luodong, and 2 in outlying townships in predominantly aboriginal communities. The indigenous groups on Taiwan are primarily of Austro-Indonesian background. Their population is just over 440,000, about 2 percent of Taiwan's 22 million people. However, the vast majority of Taiwanese have some degree of indigenous blood from a long history of marriage integration. Like minority aboriginal groups throughout the world, they face many challenges, but have seen steps to securing more rights within the past few decades, and more recently have been included in a revival (or initial development) of interest for local cultures amongst the average Taiwanese.

The Fulbright teaching program is designed to allow for the maximum impact, which is why part of our commitment will include designing instructional materials and resources for English teachers throughout Taiwan; with any luck, we'll leave much more than a year's worth of teaching when we finally depart. While this facet of the program encourages extensive impact, the move out to the indigenous communities is aimed towards a more intensive impact. Two of us will be welcomed into a community described as close-knit and very appreciative of the Foundation's assistance. In the 3 years of Fulbright education at Dong-ao, children's test scores have increased, as well as their appreciation for learning English.

These teachers will receive as much as they give, as the curricula in these schools emphasize appreciation for and education of traditional indigenous culture. At one school, student's are all required to participate in music, athletic, and dance programs of traditional cultural significance; elementary student dances here are known island-wide.

My first impressions of the community were all very positive. With a population of just 3,000, there is a lot of room for close interaction with the community and substantial subsequent personal growth. I myself would still be confident that there would be many opportunities to practice mandarin within the community, as the majority of students speak mandarin at home, unless, we are told, they are talking to grandparents or elders, in which case they may use and indigenous language. The environment may offer more language reinforcement, as I am sure to develop deeper friendships with community members while simultaneously avoiding some of the distractions of the large(r) cities. My interactions with other ETAs would also be more infrequent; I would be sure to miss out on the company and fun, but see the advantages in regards to my language skills. I'd be willing to make the trade-off, should the situation arise, which is why I am confident that this will be a positive year. I am free to allow my portion of the co-teacher selection (co-teachers are affiliated with specific schools and will be close colleagues, mentors, and ideally, friends throughout the year) to rely on a personality match, an essential element to a successful year.

Rest assured, there is much more to say about both the program and about the indigenous cultures, but I will wait to share in more detail as I learn.

For now, here are some photographs of the trip out to Dong-ao (comfortable charter bus on difficult, winding, cliff-side roads that spill over to the ocean) and the community.

****Out the window during the ride****

****The school is small in population (around 125 children) but beautiful; nestled between mountains and cooled by the breeze of the nearby ocean, the buildings are large and aesthetically pleasing. The grounds are built to exhibit nature as well, harboring a revered, more-than-century old tree amongst other natural goodies. This is a view from the second floor****

****The Elementary school strives to be a bilingual environment, evident of the support for the English program********Ronald making sure everyone washes their hands properly; found in the courtyard that also houses the protected tree, the poster provides an interesting contrast****


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