My name is Michelle Riffle, and I am in the eleventh grade at Ravenswood High School. My sister Teresa Riffle is in the seventh grade at Ravenswood Middle School. Last summer, we traveled to Taiwan with our mother to visit our maternal family for the entirety of our summer vacation.
Teresa and I have made a few trips back to Taiwan since the time we were born there. Our father is from Jackson County, and he lived in Taiwan for several years.
While we were in Taiwan, we also attended school for a few weeks. We volunteered in the afternoons to read English books at the local elementary school near our grandmother’s house, which was the same elementary school that our mother attended when she was a child. During the day, my sister and I took part in classes with the students. I went to the fifth grade, and Teresa attended the fourth. It proved to be quite an enjoyable yet challenging experience for both of us.
The students and staff at Sahes Elementary School received us with a flurry of warmth and excitement. Every morning when we went to the elementary school, Teresa and I were greeted by cheerful first and second graders.
They liked to be around us so they could see a “real American” up close. Teresa and I spoke Chinese most of the time, but the students liked to hear us speak English simply because they liked the sound of it. (However, most students in Taiwan begin learning English in school starting from the first grade.)
Class started at eight o’clock each morning, but everyone had to be on campus by seven thirty. Everyone had to pitch in to clean the school because janitors are not hired there to clean the building. Janitors are hired for mowing the grass, locking up after the day, and cleaning portions of the school that may be inaccessible or too high to reach for students. All students from the first through sixth grades had to do something, whether it was sweeping, mopping, picking up sticks and leaves outside, or even cleaning the bathrooms!
Each morning, children would gather their mops, brooms, rags, and dustpans and report to their assigned areas with the teachers acting as supervisors. Teresa and I even had our own jobs to do. Teresa aided her classmates in scrubbing the restroom while I was charged with keeping the classroom clean.
Sahes Elementary School did not have air-conditioned classrooms. Instead, we had to use fans and hope that a breeze would drift in through the windows. Luckily, it rained almost every day for two weeks. The torrential rains cooled things down slightly, so the tropical, humid weather wasn’t quite as unbearable. However, schools in Taiwan are built differently than schools in the United States. The hallways aren’t walled in on both sides; there are classrooms on one side of the hall with a low wall on the other, forming a walkway similar to that of a long balcony.
Page 2 of 3 - When the rainy spell came, that meant that the rain could blow in from outdoors, creating gigantic puddles in the hallways.
Teresa and I were allowed to go home for lunch. If we had decided to eat at school, we would have had to take our own utensils, such as bowls, chopsticks, and so on. A 50-minute resting period followed lunchtime where students brushed their teeth before taking naps at their desks.
I recall telling a few teachers there that napping after lunch is not the practice in the U.S., to which my comment was met with a mild exclamation of, “How can anyone stand to concentrate on classes without an afternoon nap? How would you not feel uncomfortable?” I suppose it’s whatever you grow up with.
Teresa and I would walk back to school when resting was over and be in class until school let out at nearly 4 p.m.
We were let out so much later compared to the Ravenswood schools due to the fact that between each class period, there was a ten minute break. I thought it was a great change from having to rush around in the mere four minutes allotted at Ravenswood High.
Sahes Elementary School did not have many students – only 72 from grades one through six. However, Teresa and I still had a great time talking and interacting with them. We also leaned many valuable things from our teachers and our daily homework assignments. Teresa and I truly improved in our Chinese language abilities, but not without the help of teachers (especially our fourth and fifth grade teachers), the students, and the principal.
We felt welcomed every day, and we look forward to visiting this wonderful school again sometime in the near future.
In addition to attending school, we traveled to different parts of Taiwan. One place I enjoyed seeing was the “city.” Taiwan has a few cities with populations of more than one million people, and Taiwan has about 23 million people living in an area that is slightly larger than half the size of West Virginia. Taiwan’s cities are alive at night with flashing neon lights and the night markets. People are everywhere, on foot, on motorcycle.
The night markets are like carnivals with vendors advertising their wares and shouting into the throngs of shoppers. Little stands line the street, selling everything from clothing to jewelry to virtually any type of food on a stick.
There aren’t very many dominating stores, and that is how night markets and family-owned businesses can be successful. In the United States, many small businesses have been eradicated by large retailers.
There are so many beautiful and different places to see in Taiwan and new things to try. If given the chance, I recommend that students living in Jackson County should travel overseas just to see what the rest of the world is like. Asia in particular is such an interesting part of the world because the culture and language is exceedingly different from ours.
Page 3 of 3 - I know that I had a lot of fun, but knowing the language was a key part of it. I believe that students should push themselves to master a foreign language. After all, the world is wide, and no one knows just exactly where they will end up in it someday.