Wanted: Individuals Desiring An Adventure

Wanted: Individuals Desiring An Adventure

By: Esther Wei
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I have yet to meet a single person at SFU who doesn’t want to travel abroad. One problem: traveling is expensive. I’ve got a potential solution, the Assisting Individuals with Disadvantages (AID) program. It’s an annual volunteer program that provides university and high school students with the opportunity to teach English to elementary or high school Taiwanese students in rural areas. The July-long program includes a week of training, 2 weeks of teaching, and a crazy week of touring around Taiwan. Cost-wise, everything, from meals to accommodations to transportation during the program, is covered. Essentially, the Taiwanese government pays for students like you and me to go on an adventure.

                I participated in the program in July 2011. My older brother had done the program before and as he told tales of his adventure, I became jealous. When my turn came, I was determined to have just as much, if not more, fun than he did. By the time I finished the program, though, I realized I had gained far more than just stories I could use to compete against my brother. I had made new friends, experienced a different culture, gained valuable transferrable skills to impress future employers, and formed fond memories that will last a lifetime.

                The program started with training and I was teamed up with 7 girls who would be teaching at the same school as me (Our school’s accommodations only allowed for female teachers but most groups are mixed-genders). The week was spent preparing lessons and socializing with other volunteers. I appreciated the chance to meet people from all over the States and Canada, swap embarrassing stories, and explore Taipei, including the ever-popular night markets. The downside was having to say goodbye to people as we embarked on the next stage of our adventure.

                Our team of 8 and a couple other teams travelled south by bus to our respective schools. My teaching partner (I’ll call her “C”) and I taught a Grade 5/6 class. Some days, the lessons worked wonderfully and other days, everything we had planned was thrown out the window in the first 5 minutes. Other days, the kids were on their best behaviour and other days, C and I never wanted to see some of them again. They never failed to make us smile, though, no matter our mood. It was all part of our unpredictable adventure.

                Every day was another chapter in my Taiwan adventure. I laughed uncontrollably while my kids played charades, and freaked out in the middle of a shower as thousands of little black bugs invaded the bathroom. On weekends, we visited the surrounding area, picked fresh watermelon and dragon fruit, visited a historical mine, and explored the city of Chiayi, complete with bowling, karaoke, and delicious food. The last day at school was emotional as we, the teachers, said goodbye to our students. They presented us with handmade gifts and embraced us with sweaty but heartfelt hugs. I’ll always remember sitting on the bus, waving to my students as they rode their bikes alongside the bus on the dusty road.  Thankfully, my sadness was tempered by the excitement of the upcoming sightseeing trip around Taiwan.

The tour was jam-packed with activities, sights, and food. We were fortunate enough to take in the stunning beauty of Kenting National Park, visit the National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium, and explore the famous National Palace Museum, which has an extraordinary collection of ancient Chinese artifacts and artwork. During the tour, I also tackled a ropes course, attended a circus performance, had my feet nibbled at by tiny little fish, went on a carousel ride on top of a skyscraper, and visited numerous night markets. At the night markets, we revelled in the delicious food available, from barbecued corn to grilled octopus to delectable desserts. What made the tour even better was getting to explore Taiwan with the volunteers from other schools.

The goodbye at the end of July was tough. I was leaving friends with whom I had spent every day of the past month. Encouraging notes were left on washroom mirrors, promises to keep in touch were agreed upon, and tearful goodbyes were reluctantly made. As my taxi pulled away, I was heartened by knowing that the heartache of leaving was temporary while the memories of my recent adventure would last forever. 

If this sounds like something you would like to experience for yourself, you can find out more information here. The current program information is for their winter program but it’s generally the same as the summer program. Applications for the summer will be accepted starting end of January. If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them!

Lead Image: from AID’s website

Esther Wei is a second-year student pursuing a life of adventure and a psychology degree. She believes in the value of experiences outside of the classroom and has been fortunate enough to travel to numerous foreign countries. Her dream is to use her experiences to mentor teens while working as a high school counsellor.

Posted on November 10, 2014