A short glimpse at the clock jolts Chris Moodhe out of his thoughts: it’s 3:55 p.m., and English class starts in a few minutes. He grabs his books, and enters the classroom to witness an all too familiar scene: His best student Jolin is carving dents in the edge of her desk with her triangle ruler, and little Jason Wang squeezes a big drop of glue into little Tommy Chen’s hair.
Chris Moodhe comes from Westlake Village, CA. He has been teaching English in the Taiwanese capital Taipei for five months. The Californian explains how life made him become an English teacher in Asia: “In the US, I ran the marketing research department for a guitar company. My journey to Taiwan began with my wife – she is native Taiwanese. After her mother passed away, I thought it would be best to bring her closer to her family.”
Taiwanese children spend many hours in classrooms: during the daytime in those of regular public schools, and then, until very late in the evening, in those of that kind of establishment that can be found at almost every corner in Taipei: the buxibans, the privately run after school tutoring centers.
Science, math and Chinese are taught, but the most popular subject is English. Since Taiwanese parents tend to care a lot about their offspring’s correct pronunciation, the English teachers who work at the buxibans are mostly foreigners: Americans, British, but also Germans, Dutch and Scandinavians, short anyone who comes from a western country and speaks some English.
The Taiwanese psychologist Wang Hao-wei calculated that on schooldays, Taiwanese pupils spend an average of 16 hours either in classrooms, commuting, or doing homework. Television evenings, football club or computer games are past-time activities these kids can only dream of.
Concerning Taiwan’s educational system, Chris Moodhe has made up his mind: “I wouldn’t make my own children put up with this. Education is taken far too seriously in Taiwan. Here, the children are simply programmed like robots and not taught to think by themselves.”
Moodhe knew of Taiwan, or more accurately of the Republic of China, which is the country’s official name, from his wife. He’d been to Taiwan numerous times before finally making the move. From the beginning, he found the culture to be very similar to the US. According to Moodhe, Taiwanese eat many of the same foods, partake in many of the same leisure activities, and even purchase the same products as Americans do.
He began teaching as an English teacher at a buxiban within two months. Moodhe recalls his first rather traumatic lessons: “I felt somewhat awkward, as I have never taught before.
The main reason that I kept on teaching was that my wife accepted a job shortly after arriving, so without teaching English my days would have had become very boring very fast.”
The circumstance that the Californian was usually bombarded with rubber erasers by his naughtiest student Jason certainly didn’t help him much adjusting to the new working environment.
However, the money in his first hongbao, the cash gift envelope, which is always made of red paper in Taiwan, wasn’t bad. US$20 per hour is the usual pay. Although rather low when compared to Moodhe’s night job (he still consults the guitar company), he doesn’t mind. He says: “If I can snag an extra $1,200 USD per month for hanging out with kids and teaching them English, then I’m all for it!”
Besides, the cost of living in Taiwan is scientifically lower than just outside of LA, where Chris Moodhe is from.
In the countries of North-East Asia ‘higher, bigger, faster’–modernity sets the tone, but inner values have been cast by ancient Chinese philosophers like Confucius and Mencius. Apart from the ‘one has to respect one’s parents’-rule the most important pillar of their teachings is the reverence of education as if it were a kind of religion.
According to Xun Zi, the child is being born bad, but has, through education the chance to become good, whereas Mencius taught the child is being born innocent, but will, without adequate education, inevitably become an adult with lowest moral standards.
No wonder that there are so many buxibans: 14000 in the whole Taiwan according to Taiwanese media reports, with around 1000 citizens of western countries working as English teachers. In fact, no one knows the exact figures, since many of the schools are run illegally and a great number of foreign teachers work with visa other than the officially required one.
A handful of Taiwanese buxibans have evolved into large-scale franchise companies. Jordan Language School for example was founded in Taiwan during the eighties, and has since then expanded to China, South Korea, Japan and South-East Asia. According to company’s figures there are 500 schools in total, 20 of them in China. Each of the schools has, like Jordan’s Shanghai branch, more than 100 students.
Although this kind of combination between education and commerce is rather exotic to Chris Moodhe, he likes teaching English in Taiwan. He thinks that if someone likes kids and has the right personality, teaching English is very easy. According to him, working in a Taiwanese buxiban requires a lot of patience, but very little brainpower. Moodhe puts it this way: “After all, it’s simply teaching children how to speak a language that I already know. I suppose if I was teaching a more difficult subject, the job might be more challenging…”