Hardline Educational Rhetoric Versus Fun (Part 1)

This was originally a post I had been working on for a long time called “How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love The Ride”, but it had sat for so long unfinished I decided to breathe some life into it through this post. What I had originally typed was this:

This post is dedicated to my dear Kendo, who wished to hear this story.

In addition, this post is quite long. It explores such areas as linear education (and the downsides thereof), taking risks and chances, seizing any opportunity that comes across your path, living/surviving/finding work in a foreign country (specifically Taiwan), and language study along the way.

I also came across a quote from Danchan that puts this into words better than I could:

A language is not a subject of academic study, and people who treat it that way (like friends I know, real, real hard working friends) just don’t make it. They burn up and drop out.

This will still likely be a long post, in face, a long series of posts. But, for now, there’s a few points I wanted to touch on right away—that is education versus fun. First some background (and a break).

Linear Paths

Like everyone else in the American education system I did my stint through college. High school, while a mere blip on the radar now, did offer me the opportunity to study Japanese for the first time under my most influential Japanese teacher to date, Mr. Garneau. His Japanese impeccable, worked for the Bank of Tokyo while he lived in Japan and even taught us a modified version of RTK in class. I learned a lot of Japanese here and he wasn’t afraid to teach us Kanji. Unfortunately this did not carry over into my university classes; students complained when we had Kanji tests, said it was too difficult, and actively fought with the department to get the teacher to teach us less Kanji. A group of budding scholars, indeed! Slightly disenfranchised by this, I decided to give Chinese a whirl.

Did so and loved it, but it was the characters that got me hooked—I just loved looking at, taking apart, and constructing characters. Eventually I went on a study abroad trip to Taiwan in 2006 (originally was planning on Japan, but this is how life goes.. didn’t make it to Japan until 2010!). What I loved was the Chinese and Japanese influences in Taiwan, and decided to come back after I graduated.

And I did. In 2008 I finally returned to Taiwan. My next goal: Graduate School.

Getting Lost

That’s kind of when things fell apart. I haphazardly applied to a Teaching Chinese as a Second Language program, as at the time my goal of getting into the Chinese Literature department was a far off dream. My Chinese, simply put, was terrible and I knew it. I didn’t get in—but I wasn’t even sure I wanted to anyway. Afterward, I tried applying to East Asian Studies Programs in the U.S. (four universities in total). Each returned a rejection letter. After a later inquiry the response was simple: they just couldn’t see what I really wanted to do. And, it’s true, I really had no idea.

During this time I went from teaching English (which I found I really despise, the kids are cute but I don’t like teaching in cram schools), working in marketing for a Taiwanese B2B company (which was mostly doing English grunt work), and finally ending up at one final attempt getting into graduate school.

This time would be it, I told myself. My Chinese was good enough, I had had enough of being in a cubicle, I didn’t want to go back to teaching, nor did I want to go back to the states. I had invested so much time, money, and effort into Taiwan and I was going to come back with something. I got into gear and set out to begin applications to schools in Taiwan. I applied for the Chinese literature department, and the International Sinology Studies department.

Why Chinese literature? The second most influential professor I’ve had was that in my Chinese classes. He was the first foreigner to obtain a PhD in Chinese literature from National Taiwan Normal University and was strongly influential in my coming to Taiwan (after hearing such great stories and with the passion he spoke of his time here) and in learning Chinese. Classes were attempts at having fun, teaching cultural experiences, etc. While he had to use textbooks, it was clear he did not like the books much and tried to find other ways (such as movies and music) to get students engaged. College students being what they are, this was frowned upon, considered “easy”, and that were weren’t “learning anything useful”. So the dictations, written tests, and oral tests came back.[1] At any rate, it was because of this that I felt the need to go into the Chinese litertature department.

The applications were set, all the documents put together, and finally sent to the schools to go through the process, with no choice but to wait until I heard back.

A New Path Opens

Suffice it to say, and with as much modesty as II really hope transfers through text, I got accepted into ALL the programs and universities I applied for. It was a whirlwind of excitement. Faced with a tough decision—going to the alma mater of my influential professor or the top school (National Taiwan University) in Taiwan? After much internal strife and a discussion with said professor, the decision was made to go to the best school, which would be in my best interests after all.

Ready and set to go on my new semester, I prepared to take classes and get ready to enter life as a graduate student in Taiwan, about to start on my Master’s…

To be continued.


[1] Then they went and complained it was too hard but I digress…

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2 thoughts on “Hardline Educational Rhetoric Versus Fun (Part 1)

  1. Good stuff zhon. I do hope you get some free time to come hang out before too long. And i want to hear the rest of this story!!!

  2. […] 1 starts here, and while I’m lazy to do a recap of the previous entry, here’s the lead-in […]

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