Works and Days

A Long Overdue Reflection, McGill Lawrence Internship Award, Sunny Yang

The author, Sunny Yang, holding a microphone and being the MC for the closing ceremony of the summer pre-service training.

Me being the MC for the closing ceremony of the summer pre-service training.

The past two months have been a whirlwind of events, feelings, and encounters. Quite different from my original imagining of this summer internship, yet equally as fantastic, or even more so.

Originally, the plan was to spend half of my time doing a field research project in rural regions in Taiwan for the organization Teach for Taiwan, and the other half of the time would be spent assisting the organization in finding mentors for Teach for Taiwan's pilot cohort teachers. Well, plans don't always work out, especially independent internship projects like this.

The playground of an elementary school in Taitung

I ended up spending more time helping out during the summer intensive pre-service training for Teach for Taiwan's first cohort of teachers than doing anything else. I still conducted the field research project, though with a slight twist. Instead of living in rural regions for a month or so to observe the communities and talk to teachers and community members, I interviewed 15 elementary school principals and teachers over a period of two weeks and did very short-term preliminary community observations. I then spent a week transcribing all the interviews to create a profile for each school, which was then given to the teachers before they entered the communities. 

Now, enough about the facts of what I did. What exactly was my summer like? Both geographically and emotionally, I was all over the place. Teach for Taiwan contracts with schools in the Eastern region and the Southern region of Taiwan, so that's where I went for interviews; the summer pre-service training was held in the Central West region; my parents live in the Northern region. Therefore, over the two months of my internship, I basically toured around the whole island two or three times, and out of these two months, I probably only lived at home for 1/4 of the time. I was constantly with luggage, constantly on the move. If this description sounds hectic to you, I assure you the real experience is more hectic than it sounds.

The entrance sign of the Long-Chuan tribe next to an elementary school in Taitung

Feeling-wise, I also experienced a roller coaster ride. The passion and commitment for education of the staff team and the first cohort of teachers brought me to tears countless times. Several educational philosophies and techniques taught during the training also got me excited and hopeful about the future of Taiwanese education. However, sometimes I would get frustrated by how unorganized the organization was and how important decisions were often made in a rush due to time constraints. At times, my mind would be so cluttered by every little thing I was doing that I became confused about where I stood, and I would wake up in the middle of the night, asking myself: What am I doing? Why am I here? 

Kids washing their own dishes after lunch in an elementary school in Tainan

Over the whole summer, my job ranged from menial administrative tasks to preparing a presentation for Teach for All representatives and hosting them to evaluating the entire training curriculum with the staff team. I got to live with a local family in Tainan (Southern Taiwan) for 4 days, which forced me to face my subconscious stereotypes about people with lower socioeconomic status in Taiwan. I also experienced unexpected hardship when observing a tribal community in Taitung (Eastern Taiwan) due to tactlessness and rashness. Through the interviews, while I learned a lot about different exciting efforts of reforming support rural schools and revitalizing communities around, I also got to hear many aspects of how the current system paralyzes education in these regions and creates vicious cycles that exacerbate the existing inequality. 

The local student family in Tainan with whom I sated for 4 days

The Teach for Taiwan staff team, first cohort of teachers, and mentors

Looking back at the whole experience, I would say that I never expected to meet such a wide range of amazing people and witness so many different lifestyles, to learn so much regarding the complex dimensions of running a startup nonprofit, and, above all, to grow so attached to the TFT team and the first cohort of teachers. Despite various ups and downs and the fact that I might not have accomplished exactly what I set out to do, I could not adequately express how fortunate I feel to have done this, to have been connected to all these people I met over this summer, and to have experienced what I experienced. This summer internship has enabled me to see my home country Taiwan through a whole new lens in so many different ways. Both as a college graduate in the process of reintegrating herself back into the culture she grew up in and as someone who seeks to contribute to Taiwanese education reform in the future, this could not have been a more valuable experience. 

Tags: summer, mcgill lawrence, internship, taiwan, teach for taiwan, international, independent project, research, education