Kayla Rusher

Major: Early childhood education
Class: Senior
Timeframe: 10/2017-12/2017
Type of Experience: Student Teaching
Destination: Taiwan

Overall Experience

While teaching mostly 4th grade, I learned more about how students learn English (or another language). They learn how to read the word and recognize the word before they can state the word through a picture. In America, we teach the picture first then the written word so it is opposite. I saw how kids who were behind the rest of their class in understanding got bored with me quick because they could not understand a word I said. Because of this, I tried to make interactive activities that worked for all levels of students to keep everyone’s attention. This is something I will do for all classes no matter where I am, but it was more necessary here due to language barrier. Kids get bored if they are having to listen to lecture, but not being able to understand the lecture is even more boring. This idea can tie into my teaching when I am teaching new concepts. When I am instructing them on a new skill and they don’t understand, they will stop paying attention. While in Taiwan, we traveled most weekends. Getting to see so many new sights has heightened my love of travel even more. Seeing new places really opens my eyes to how much more there is in the world than what I am used to in little Iowa. Having taken my first big step by going to a country that is quite different from Iowa has showed me that there is no reason to avoid any places no matter the language barriers or uncertainties as long as it is safe. Taiwan has been so safe the whole time I have been here. The people have all been helpful and are patient with me as they can tell I am not a local. This has helped encourage me to reach out more to locals. Reaching out has helped me learn and understand more about their culture and just information in general. Having this great experience of going to new places and feeling comfortable doing it will help me be more open to new things in the future in everything I do. Going to Taiwan, I was nervous about the language barrier and accidentally offending people or doing something culturally wrong. I do not think any of this has been that big of a deal though. I have only had slight trouble with the language barrier. I always find a way to communicate in the end. I do not think I have done anything culturally wrong or offensive. I was sure to ask when I felt something might be different than what I am used to, to help me understand and do stuff the “right” way for here. If there were differences, I always talked about what I am used to and what they were used to here. It was so cool to see differences and how things can be interpreted in completely different ways. For example, I asked my mentor why a lot of people do not smile in pictures here (kids and adults). She said laughing is seen as kind of rude so smiling just kind of gets clumped into that and people just aren’t used to smiling a lot. I told her that in America if someone does not smile for a picture, people might think they are upset or do not like the person they are in the picture with. Neither one of our views were bad nor wrong; it was just different ways to look at it. The most important thing I have learned about cultural differences is to take time to understand them. It is easy to watch and judge. I catch myself having initial quick thoughts when I see something that is not normal to me, but when I take the time to observe, learn and understand then I usually end up either agreeing with it or at least understanding their perspective on it. One example that I was confused about before was why people squat while waiting for something/someone. To me, that would be so uncomfortable and awkward feeling. However, after understanding how they go to the bathroom here (and attempting it myself, failing though) I see how they would be very comfortable and good at squatting while waiting. I took the time to try it out myself and see it from their perspective and totally understood. In my future it is important for me to understand student behavior from their perspective. I may have students who come from a house with no rules. These students will not be used to sitting and listening to me. I need to make sure I understand the norms of my students to help adapt my room and lessons for them and help teach them the norms of my room while respecting their culture still.

Learning experience

I learned the most through my interactions with people. I learned how the people in Taiwan value others a lot. Students were called on to recall information about me that I had told them the previous lesson. I think it is amazing for the students to learn to be vigilant about others. This helps them be very supportive of each other and be understanding of each other's differences. I want to utilize this skill in my own life. It showed me how much I do not try to get to know strangers in my day to day life.

Memorable experience

One weekend we went to a camp and we could not find the camp for the longest time. We ended up biking up and down a mountain for hours looking for it. I was miserable, in pain, and wanting to give up. This showed me how much I can keep pushing on when I am on the edge of physical exhaustion and remind myself to be thankful for our advances in life, for example, a car.

What did you not expect?

I was shocked with how welcoming the people of Taiwan are. I was given gifts daily. People tried their hardest to communicate to me in English. One day I will show this kind of acceptance to all of my students. I know some might not speak English and I will try my best to meet them where they are at. I will try to speak some of their language, use gestures and pictures and just show simple patience with them.

What advice would you give?

Just do it. There are so many scholarships to help cover the cost. There is not experience in the states that can match an abroad experience. You will grow and learn skills that can't be taught near home.

How has this experience impacted your life?

I want to be a person who can adapt efficiently and be okay with change and challenges. Going to Taiwan, I knew there would be a language barrier. I knew I could use google translate, gestures, simple spoken or written words, and pictures to try and help communicate. I was really happy to find that most people were extremely patient with me. Some places have English already on signs and menus, some have people who can speak English, but sometimes I had to adapt and use my phone to translate or just find pictures that looked good and point to it. That taught me to be flexible and creative. A skill I need for teaching and for life in general. I need to be able to adapt to life around me and different situations. As a teacher I need to be able to change lessons while teaching them if students are not responding well to initial teaching idea. Also as a citizen, if my initial plan for the day does not go as desired, I need to be able to adapt and think of a new idea without getting stressed about it. It will make me a happier person to be flexible.

How did you learn about this experience?

I went to one of the open house type of events.

International Connections