Teaching a new language overseas

It was no surprise that after two weeks of early morning Bible study, English classes and art projects, sophomore Erica Chang left Taiwan with friends for a lifetime.

Chang traveled to Taiwan in August for a mission trip organized by the First Evangelical Church of San Gabriel Valley to teach children English. Most of the members who went were part of Chang’s youth group, the Christians in Action (CIA). Over the course of two weeks, Chang and the CIA visited three schools.

“You get annoyed in the beginning because the kids are annoying and mean, but if you stick to it, it’ll all turn out okay,” Chang said. “Now I’m more patient when I deal with frustrating situations because I realize that some things take time to start getting better.”

Chang keeps in touch with many of her former students through Facebook. They still look to her for guidance and occasionally ask her questions about American culture. After the mission, Chang found herself more motivated to go to church retreats. She now goes on these trips with the intent of becoming more involved with Christianity.

“When I used to go on church retreats, I used to just do it for fun as a vacation trip with my church friends, but I guess the mission prepared me in the way that I actually have a goal now of trying to get closer to God while I’m there,” Chang said. “I don’t take opportunities like this for granted anymore and actually try to make the best of them.”

Several weeks beforehand, Chang was trained by other church members who had also been to the Taiwan mission trip. They practiced the lessons by having one person pretend to be the teacher and the rest of the group be students.

“In the beginning, I felt forced into it because my dad made me go,” Chang said. “I felt reluctant and not ready, but by the end of the training, I got the gist of it and felt more prepared.”

When Chang and the CIA arrived at Taiwan late at night, they boarded a bus that took them to the countryside, where the campsite was located. The streets were too narrow for the bus, so they had to climb up a steep hill in order to actually reach the campsite. The rooms in which she stayed were empty except for sleeping mats, pillows and blankets.

“Sometimes I looked out the window and [was] surprised to see how minimalistic the countryside was, because in America you at least see some technology,” Chang said. “I grew to really like it. The parts we went to were rural, with all the mountains, and it’s pretty poor there. It felt really modest.”

Each day began with daily devotions and reading and analyzing passages from the Bible at 6 a.m. The bus took them from the campsite to the school and they met the students in the gym, where they prayed, played games, sang songs and practiced dances. After, they split up into their classes, organized by grade level.

“I had the oldest class. In America, they’d be incoming freshman, so I was pretty intimidated,” Chang said. “Often, there’s a language barrier because a lot of us teachers aren’t good at Chinese, but once we make the bond we felt really connected.”

Chang and the CIA taught students holiday-themed terms using printed booklets and paper crafts they prepared beforehand. On the first day, they talked about Christmas, teaching the students terms such as “tree” or “present.” To practice the material, they had conversations with the students and had them fill in the blanks with the correct word.

“Even [the most basic terms] are hard to teach because most of them don’t know their alphabet, so it’s pretty difficult to teach them the words,” Chang said.

They also included some gospel in their lessons, teaching students about Christ and resurrection. But above all, they focused on making students feel loved by frequently praying and talking with them.

“A lot of [students] come from broken families, so it’s really hard for them to bond with people, especially people from another country who don’t understand anything,” Chang said. “It’s a lot about being patient and letting them know that we love them.”

Chang watched her rowdy students start to mature and act more friendly as the week went on. During breaks, the students usually went outside to play, but later on, they stayed inside with her to talk and pray together.

“It’s really cheesy, but it’s a big change. You can see how their attitudes have changed, how they talk to you has changed and the way they interact too,” Chang said. “It was really touching to see that happen.”

Chang and the CIA shared a common goal: to teach the students English. Working together as a team to accomplish this goal helped them connect with each other and develop meaningful relationships. Bonding with people was what made this experience truly memorable for her.

“We got really emotional, and people would start crying from time to time. Bonding was really the highlight of the trip for me,” Chang said. “At first, everyone’s down because they’re not doing the right things. You’re gonna feel defeated, but it’s about not giving up when you face problems.”

By Natalie Jiang, Staff writer
Photo courtesy of Erica Chang