Twenty-five of us were selected for this anticipated IEA Taiwan adventure. It was delayed a few years due to Covid but it was well worth the wait. The “Our” in the title of my report references the group experience of not only the 25 participants but our Fulbright hosts (Randall, Charlie, Astin, Kevin, Stephen, Sandy, Yolanda, and others), who we grew to love through “warm reminders,” countless photos in which we shouted “Fulbright Taiwan”, and bus karaoke sessions. “Our” also includes all those we visited from the elementary school children, their competent ETA teachers, the high-schoolers who made us gifts and gave us individual tours, the debate couches and their impressive students, the Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistants (FLTAs) we got to share our advice with, our aboriginal archery instructor, the city and country officials we shared large oval tables and gifts with, and the many professors and administrators in the 16 universities, schools, and intuitions that we visited. I’m still sorting through the stacks of name cards, university brochures, and gifts while I eat my pineapple cakes and plan my return visit.
The trip was also personal. At the farewell dinner, our table shared our most memorable moments. Mine were the times I watched as our hosts’ eyes glowed with excitement when I broke into Chinese mid-conversation. I was asked several times why my last name was “Wong” (I am of Irish descent), and as one professor put it, “Oh, you are ‘Mary Wong’ because you married a Wong, and that’s why you speak such good Chinese!” Sort of, I replied. I taught English in Beijing in 1981 and returned to the States to get a Master’s degree in Chinese (UCLA), and later an MA in TESOL (APU), and a doctorate in International Education (USC). I was a Fulbright Scholar in Hong Kong (2012) and Burma (2016), so my previous experiences in the region and extended Chinese family made me feel right at home in Taiwan and able to communicate. The years I had invested in learning Chinese were paying off, allowing me to connect more deeply with the people of this island we were coming to love.
My TESOL background was another point of connection as it seemed everywhere we went, they brought up the government’s 2030 bilingual goal and the push for English as a Medium of Instruction (EMI) at the university level. During our time in Taiwan, I got the final email notice from Azusa Pacific University (APU) that my field-based TESOL program, which American teachers taught English in China, was officially “sunsetted.” The program I directed for 23 years was gone since my students could no longer get visas to teach English in China; however, a door to Taiwan was opening. I hope to return to Taiwan to offer TEFL certificate courses in person in the summer to the ETAs and other teachers there, with the option to continue studying online to get an MA in TESOL while they concurrently teach English full-time in Taiwan. We hope to get some of the tuition subsidized through Taiwan so we can bring more American teachers to Taiwan to get an affordable MA degree as they stay on for two years to complete the degree, setting them up well for a career in teaching English in the U.S. or abroad.
Other memorable moments were during the three weekends when I met with eight APU alumni who were my former TESOL students. The first was Pat, a Taiwanese woman I knew well from a study abroad trip I led in which she taught English on the Thai/Burma border in a refugee camp for her practicum. Pat met me early the Saturday morning I arrived. She had arranged a private driver to take us to Taipei’s Northshore for the day. We had perfect weather to visit YehLiu Geopark, the Golden Waterfall, and Jiufen Old Street. We walked along the beautiful windy, rocky coast seeing the iconic “Queen’s Head” rock formation, the Elephant trunk, and where the ocean was gold and blue at Jinguashi 13 Ruins, a decommissioned gold mining mountain town. We sat in the tea house that inspired the Japanese film Spirited Away as she told me about her life in Taiwan. It was a magical day. In the evening, another former student of mine from Taiwan joined us with her fiancée for delicious beef noodle soup in Ximending. We learned she was accepted into a graduate program in Taiwan, moving her teacher career forward. It was so meaningful to reconnect with them, learn more about their lives in Taiwan, and reminisce about their time in the U.S.
The next day, another APU alumni and former student of mine met me, Elayna, an American serving as an ETA advisor in Taiwan with FSE Taiwan. I had alerted her to the application for that position and was thrilled she got it. We spent the sunny Sunday morning on the Maokong gondola, selecting a car with a “crystal” see-through floor to take in the fantastic view below, including National Cheng Chi University (NCCU) not far off, which I would visit later that week. We had a lovely meal on the top of the mountain as she explained all about the ETA, Fellow, and Flagship programs for English teaching in Taiwan. She was making the most of her experience in Taiwan, mentoring the ETAs and supporting EMI programs at universities.
My final weekend I met with the director of a college with which we have an MOU to discuss the four new students coming to APU in the fall. Joining her were four others, my former students / APU alums, who hosted me for a delicious meal near Taipei 101 as we discussed their work and lives, some as English teachers and new moms. On my final day, one of my current Taiwanese online students, who I had known only virtually and never met in person, took me to the National Palace Museum and treated me to a meal at the Museum restaurant. I was in heaven seeing treasures spanning 8,000 years of Chinese history, artifacts I had studied in my Chinese Art History and Chinese Literature courses. We saw bronzes, ceramics, paintings, and calligraphy. One of my favorites was Along the River During the Qingming Festival (Qingming Shanghe Tu), a hand-scroll painting from the Song dynasty. I have a copy of it at home but now got to see the original. This was a glorious end to the trip, with a personal guide, my student, explaining what we were seeing. I returned just in time for my 4:30 taxi to the airport.
Now back at home, I have several followup tasks to work on. As the Fulbright Program Advisor (FPA) for Azusa Pacific University, I will promote the many Fulbright opportunities for our students and faculty in Taiwan. Then there are all the professors I met and want to follow up with, perhaps offering a summer faculty-led study abroad trip or an intensive EMI workshop conducted online or on their campus or our campus in southern California. It is hard to name a favorite university out of the ten we visited. I plan to meet with my dean and colleagues and share the snacks and gifts I received, as well as brochures and the Foundation for International Collaboration in Higher Education in Taiwan (FICHET) PowerPoint that I will use to discuss collaborative STEM or TESOL research opportunities at National Taiwan University (NTU), Fu Jen Catholic University (FJCU), Taipei Medical University (TMU) and China Medical University (CMU).
As I eat another pineapple cake, several questions remain: Who could we bring to campus as a Fulbright Scholar in Residence (SIR)? Who could go to Taiwan to teach? How can I get back to Sun Moon Lake and learn more with my students about the indigenous peoples through visits to National Chi Nan University (NCNU), Tung Hai University (THU), or National Chung Chi University (NCCU)? What opportunities are there for international collaboration for research, presentations, and publications as Taiwan takes the lead in foreign language pedagogy and programs in CMI and EMI, perhaps working with National Chung Hsing University (NCHU), National Cheng Kung University (NCKU), or National Sun-Yat Sen University (NSYSU)? How can the 25 participants plan a reunion and share how we have followed up on our time in Taiwan? When will I get approval on the MOU we drafted from notes on a napkin during a Saturday follow-up lunch? When will I return to Taiwan?!
Weekend 1 Saturday Tour of Northshore Taipei & Beef Noodle with Former Students
Weekend 1 Sunday Elayna at MaoKong Gondola
Day 1 at FSE
Day 2 MOFA
Day 3 FJCU & NTU
Taipei 101 and city tours
Day 4 & 5 TMU & NCCU
Day 8 & 9 CMU & NCNU
Day 10 Sun Moon Lake & NCHU
Day 11 THU & NCKU
Day 12 KCHS & NSYSU & Farewell dinner
Last weekend meeting alumni and National Palace Museum
Managing Editor: Chih-Hsuan Tsao 曹芷瑄