In college, I had a summer where I taught English to some grad students and their families a few nights per week. The gig was done on a volunteer basis and was fairly informal overall, which is good because I did not have any experience teaching adults. Additionally, most of my students already spoke English with a fair amount of fluency; they were mostly there to brush up on some grammar, to be able to ask a teacher questions from their day-to-day experiences in English, and for social interaction.
I adored teaching in this context. Interacting with (and learning from) people all over the world led to some very deep, complex, and nuanced conversations, and it was really fulfilling to problem-solve and simplify the vocabulary within these really complex issues without watering down the topic itself.
Nonetheless, I had one situation where I was at a complete loss for what to tell my students. One student was asked by another where she was from. “Taiwan,” she responded, at which point the question asker turned to me and asked, “Where is Taiwan?”
I don’t remember who began to answer that question, whether it was me or the Taiwanese woman herself (she was more than capable of doing so, but the inquiry was directed at me and in my memory she and I locked eyes and it seemed like she wanted me to answer, though that portion of the memory may be false). Regardless of who did the speaking, all that was said was “Taiwan is a country that–“
“No, it not,” another lady chimed in. “Taiwan is not a country.” She was one of the three students from China seated at the far end of our longish table, listening the conversation that had been going on. She was very matter-of-fact about her statement, and I don’t think she truly realized the hurtfulness in her words.
The original question asker, unaware of the deep-rooted issues behind this disagreement, looked very confused. “Taiwan is not a country?”
“The US recognizes Taiwan as a country,” I hurriedly explained. “And it’s located in the Pacific Ocean near China.”
I left the topic there. The question asker was still clearly confused, all of the people from China were tense, the woman from Taiwan was upset, but I did not know as a 21-year-old college student how to mediate such a conflict. I didn’t know if it could be mediated at all. These places were their homes; I was not going to be able to change any of their minds.
I also knew that I had some biases when it came to this topic. Growing up, I had friends who lived just a few houses over from me who were Taiwanese, and I’m pretty sure that I had more Taiwanese classmates than Chinese classmates in school. It’s entirely possible that I was aware of Taiwan as a country before I became aware of China. I obviously take Taiwan’s side.
Now that I am no longer a child, I know that those childhood experiences influenced my thinking on the matter, but I also know more about the conflict now, and I am pretty sure that I would still stand with Taiwan. Those biases, though, as well as my dislike of conflict and my fear of losing respect from some of my students, made me doubt whether my voice was worth raising on the topic. So I just stuck to the facts and didn’t add my opinion. I still don’t know if that was the correct choice.
Photo by Yaroslav Shuraev from Pexels
I’d like to thank everyone for being so kind in response to my last post. I may have been a tad dramatic in some of my wording of it. I was sincerely just trying to gauge whether the people who read my poetry would be interested in reading other things, too. The great thing about writing as a hobby is that I get to write whatever I want. Whether (or at what point) I publish that writing to the internet is an entirely different consideration.
I know that back before I narrowed the focus of this blog, my poetry seemed to be preferred over anything else I published, which is how I found myself in the niche I’m in. I don’t regret that; in fact, I feel like having a narrow range of content has helped me to grow and find fellow bloggers with a similar interest.
With all that said, you can consider this post as part of a trial run of posting a greater variety of content to this platform. If it goes well, I’ll continue to post other things. If it doesn’t, I’ll either keep my prose in draft-form or make a new blog to contain it.
Thanks again, everyone! Peace out!