To many, the word “camp” invokes connotations of mosquitoes, sickly sweet fruit juice, and arts and crafts on sticky picnic tables. For Taichung ETAs, the word now takes on a very different meaning.
Besides teaching at our host schools, Taichung ETAs are also required to design and implement a four-period themed English camp at a different school around Taichung each Tuesday. English camp has taken us to the coastline and into the mountains, from 1,500-person fortress-like institutions to quaint 30-person rural schools tucked into the mountains. In fact, by the end of our grant, we will have visited no less than 48 schools and have interacted with nearly 2,400 students.
When Taichung ETAs are asked what their favorite part of English camp is, the answers may vary. While receiving a fancy boxed lunch and getting the opportunity to wake up later and tour around Taichung every week are no small factors, our growing love for English camp has another source.
At the end of the day, the aim is to give the students the opportunity to engage with the English language through games, song and art while providing campers access to another culture in the hopes that it will expand their worldview. In order to accomplish this, every Tuesday we transform into dragons and knights, paper snowflake engineers and referees in both a fairy tale and season-themed camp.
At English camp, many participants view our presence at their school as a treat, which means we are often able to interact with the students when they are at their most well behaved and eager. Although they may shy away from us at first, each week we are able to experience afresh the feeling of having a student open up to us. Each week, we have the privilege of encountering new faces filled with burning curiosity and feel as if we are making their worlds a little bigger by sharing ours. This is not something we are able to do every day at our host schools, where schedules and tests often take precedence. In other words, English camp gives us the opportunity to experience the best parts of teaching, the parts where students really want to learn.
Over the past year, we have awkwardly signed dozens of autographs from enthusiastic participants, drank countless cups of tea with school principals, and have said goodbye far too many times. When the clock strikes three o'clock, we always find it difficult to conclude our lessons, especially when students ask us when we will be back. We know that we will likely never see them again, but leave with a noncommittal yet optimistic “See you around Taiwan!” There is no easy way to close the door on something so precious, so we leave it and hope that students will continue to push it open little by little.
Author: Sheridan Baker, 2015-2016