Olivia Imel

Major: Elementary education
Class: Senior
Timeframe: March 2018 - May 2018
Type of Experience: Student Teaching
Destination: Taiwan

Overall Experience

My experience in Taiwan taught me so much about myself, both as a person and as an educator. I made lifelong friendships, immersed myself into a new culture and language, developed my problem solving and flexibility skills even further than I thought possible, and walked away feeling the most accomplished I have ever felt during my time at Iowa State. I experienced what it was like to work in an education system different from Iowa or the United States. I learned to collaborate with people who spoke a different language than me. I wouldn't trade this experience in for anything. A unique door of opportunity was opened for me with my abroad experience, and I feel like developed a new set of skills and learned treasured life lessons during my time in Taiwan.

Learning experience

The number one thing I learned from this experience is how to connect with my students. Something I learned about myself as a teacher was that I depend heavily on the relationships I have with my students in order to feel like I’m doing my job. Because I had 170 English Learner students, I had to find some creative ways to get to know them. There were so many of them, which was a challenge in and of itself. In addition to that, many of them knew little English, some knew none at all. They wanted to tell me about themselves and talk to me but didn’t know how because we spoke different languages. From this, I learned to connect with them by learning all their names- all 170 of them. It was hard, but it was the one thing I had to communicate with them that I cared about them, and that I knew who they were. Another strategy I used was to open up my own personality while teaching. I used dramatic gestures, acted silly and even tried my tongue in Chinese to show them that I care about their learning and that we can have fun together. I know going into my own classroom how important it is to know your students- not just their names, but the things they like, where they come from, how they learn, and what motivates them. It is an essential part of being a teacher for me and the number one thing that led to my success.

Memorable experience

Nearing the end of my time in Taiwan, I was getting ready to give (what I thought was) another presentation on American culture. This was something I had been doing every week with different grades, so it was nothing out of the ordinary. I gave my presentation in a “Audio Visual Room” which is a fancier term for a big meeting room, like an auditorium. I went to set up my materials, get my Prezi up, and display my props. Outside of the room, I met some of 5th grade students. We waved at each other and exchanged hugs. Then, they led me into the room. All 6 sections of 5th grade, 170 students, were there as a “surprise going away party.” They sang me a song, made thank you notes, and each class prepared a short speech about how much they were going to miss me. This was the most memorable moment for me. It took me a long time to feel like I was making a difference for them, and this moment showed me just how much I did impact them. It was so heartfelt, and I was overwhelmed with all the people I love in one room! It was an amazing, unforgettable feeling.

What did you not expect?

I was thrilled to be travelling to Taiwan, so when my supervisor said, “You can expect to get homesick,” I was surprised. I thought it would never happen to me, but it did. It was evident how big of an adjustment being in a new culture would be. The people, place and language were all different from my own, and on top of that, I was adjusting to my school and classroom culture. It was an overwhelming feeling that I didn’t expect to have. Over time, I learned to adapt. It helped to build friendships, whether it was my cooperating teacher or other colleagues. It also helped to explore new things and step out of my comfort zone. When you’re homesick, that’s the last thing you want to do, but it really does help! With this, I learned how important culture is, whether it’s the city’s culture or the classroom culture. As I look for a job, I know that when I get hired somewhere that I can adapt to a school culture quickly. At first, I didn’t think to ask questions about how the school works. Going into my first job, I know that I need to ask questions and really apply myself to get to know the people and place that I’m working with.

What advice would you give?

If you’re wanting to study abroad, do it! This next part is cliché- but you won’t have any other experience like studying abroad. Once you’re there, you finally understand the true meaning of “once in a lifetime.” There are lessons I learned that I wouldn’t have been exposed to had I stayed in the states, and this is something so valuable. Studying abroad pushes you to develop skills you didn’t even know existed. You learn how to be adaptable, a problem-solver, a friend, a communicator, any many other things. If you’ve already decided to go abroad, great! Once you get there, don’t be afraid to try new things. Don’t be afraid to get lost, wander, and meet knew people. Being in a new place is already outside of your comfort zone, but the more you can broaden your horizons and try new things, the more you’ll learn and take away from the experience. It’s likely that you’ll never have an opportunity to do this again. So take advantage while you can!

How has this experience impacted your life?

This experience has impacted my life by showing me a new side of myself. While abroad, I was put into situations I never could have imagined, and I learned a lot about how I handle certain issues under stress. This taught me that even when something seems impossible, you can do anything you put your mind to. It motivated me in all aspects of my life to take on a challenge headstrong, and don’t give up until something is accomplished. Personally and professionally, I know that I can take on any challenge. From this experience, I gained a certain diligence to overcoming obstacles. I experienced stepping out of my comfort zone and learning from my mistakes, which is a valuable skill in your personal life, as a learner and as a professional.

How did you learn about this experience?

I first became aware of student teaching internationally when I declare Elementary Education as my major. I have always thought I'd like to go abroad, and I wanted to know what my options were early in the program. My freshman year, I started looking into abroad opportunities for Elementary Education, and I found the International Student Teaching Program. I've gone to the open houses each semester ever since.

International Connections