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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Foundation Camp in Niemen

So, in the beginning of July I was a teacher in a 3 day English camp for some "disadvantaged" kids outside of the city.  It was one of those experiences that is difficult and grueling at the time, but a great memory to look back on.  The team of us running the camp included 5 Taiwanese high school kids who are former Hess students, a current Chinese teacher at Hess, one other foreign Hess teacher and me.  They all knew much more about what was going on than I did, because I didn't find out I was going until after the camp training and because they all live and work in Kaohsiung, while I live in Tainan.  I basically had no idea what I was in for.  Luckily, I am pretty used to going with the flow by now.

The days went like this.  We'd wake up early, get ready, eat breakfast at a breakfast shop, head over to the local elementary school where the camp was held, entertain the kids who were already there and prep for the day, then start the camp at 9.  There were about 70 kids who were separated into 5 groups.  Each group was headed by one of the high school kids.  Most of the day the other foreign teacher, Rachel, and I just assisted or did nothing while the other did team building activities with the groups.  Then, each day Rachel and I would have 1 lesson each for an hour or two.  It was definitely a challenge to teach 70 kids at once, ranging in age from maybe 7 to 13, with little to no prior knowledge of English.  The lesson plans we had from Hess were basically useless, so we just made it up, sometimes beforehand and sometimes on the spot. :)

I'll take a break from typing for a sec and just show you some of the (many) photos I took.

the school

One of my favorite boys - he was such a punk. :)

This group had mostly boys and was my favorite.  Why do I always identify more with little boys than I do with little girls?

The room we used when inside.  The first day the kids sat in these chairs, but it was waaaay too cumbersome, so the next two days they just sat on the floor.

Grounds adjacent to the schoolyard.

elephant slide

random animals abandoned behind a shed

One of my favorites.  English name was "Key."

The other foreign teacher, Rachel.

During any downtime, it was Rachel and I's job to entertain the hoard of kids.  They were fascinated with us and I think they hadn't really seen, or at least talked to, any foreigners before.  The conversations went like this:

Kid: (says something in Chinese)
Me: Uhhhh....ting bu dong (means "I don't understand")
Kid: (more Chinese)
Me: Uhh...(laugh) eh bu chee ("sorry") ting bu dong

You get the picture.  I tried real hard to communicate though and so did they and sometimes we would get a small thought through the confusion.  When that happened it was always cause for great celebration.  The kids were very endearing.  It's so strange to be such a celebrity for absolutely no reason.

Most of the day Rachel and I had no idea what was going on, because all the games and activities were explained in chinese.  It was pretty amusing sometimes to try to figure out why they were doing what they were doing.  At the end of the day, hearing so much of a language you don't understand can really make your brain hurt.  It's exhausting.  Another exhausting element was the heat.  We just sweated constantly, all day.

Finally, at the end of the day, we would get a ride to a Buddhist temple, which had some dorms on its grounds that we stayed in.  Kind of cool to stay on the grounds of some Buddhist temple.  Definitely one of those, "I'm not in America anymore" feelings.  I shared a room with 3 of the others.  We would chat for several hours and then go to bed and do it all over again in the morning.

She was one of my favorites.  Very small, well behaved and sweet.

This kid was hilaaaarious.  So outgoing.  His name was Kevin.  Anyway, to illustrate, one time Rachel and I was up on the stage trying to teach this horribly cheesy song.  It was VERY awkward and pathetic and he, seeing our misery, jumped up on stage and started doing it with us.  That got everyone else into it and saved the song.

Another favorite.

Another favorite.

One of the days, after we were done with the camp for the day, we went to this local farmers place for dinner.  He had hundreds or thousands of chickens.  We sat around for quite a while, then were fed SO MUCH FOOD.  First we ate frozen lychees.  Then....

...we at the 4 dishes pictured below plus some other ones.  Honestly, at first they looked nasty and I didn't know what several of them were.  But, miraculously, they all ended up being really good.  After that I was already full, but the main course was yet to be eaten.  In the above two photos you can see our chicken and the guy cooking our chicken.  After it was cooked, we all just gathered around it in a circle and pulled bits of with our fingers.  Everything was eaten, including the innards and the egg that you can see in the chicken picture.  It was fun.  After that, we still had watermelon, mango and more lychee.  There was probably even more, but I can't remember.  It was a great experience though!

I had no idea what this was at first, but it's mushrooms.

I didn't even try this because it had eel in it and eel just isn't my favorite.

Another mystery dish.  This one ended up being my favorite.  It's bamboo shoots with sweet mayonnaise.  I avoided the mayonnaise, but the bamboo shoots were very refreshing.

Anyway, like I said at the beginning, the camp was really tiring and hard, but very worth it.  The kids were wonderful and endearing and it was great to be even more immersed in the local Taiwanese culture.  On top of that, I really enjoyed working with the other members of the team.  It was refreshing to have some girl talk!  They really were all great to work with and I have zero complaints about them.  I was especially impressed with the maturity of the high schoolers.  I know this was a super long post, and I'm sorry for that, but I really want to remember all of this!


  1. The food never ceases to disgust me, lol. Cute kids!