Note: I will NOT disclose where my children attended summer camps and preschools in Taiwan. Due to internet safety for my four young children, I choose to keep this information private. If you know me in real life and/or have children who attended the same camps as mine, I humbly ask you to not say that my children were in your camps.
It seems like only yesterday when I was frantically packing for our six week trip to Taiwan. I blinked and now, we’re back. (Also, due to the beauty of time travel, we ended up arriving in America three hours before I left Taipei. I’m amazing!)
I’m still jet-lagged and have all sorts of BTS-related things planned for this week so forgive me if my brain is all mushy and I don’t address something you’ve been wondering about. If that is the case, please let me know in the comments and through the magic of the internet, I can reply to your comment and then add it to this post.
Language Status Prior to Taiwan Trip
It’s been two years since our last extended trip to Taiwan for the purpose of Chinese immersion and since that trip, we have steadily declined speaking in Chinese at home. This language slide is a combination of my children making the switch to communicating primarily in English with each other, my inability to have any sort of will-power to force them to consume only Chinese media, and my complacency as I get dragged into English conversation. Plus, my husband doesn’t speak Chinese and since they spend a lot of time with him, it was inevitable.
I came into the trip hoping that it would jumpstart my children’s Chinese again and get them in the right frame of mind. My kids were incredibly resistant to the trip so I blatantly bribed them with promises of fun activities (whatever that meant) the first two weeks.
Though my older two children (9.5 and 7.5) read a lot of Chinese books and have good comprehension and speaking abilities, they actively bristle against the suggestion. Gamera (7.5) is furious when I tell her to speak Chinese because I clearly understand English. Cookie Monster (9.5) will make attempts to speak Chinese but ultimately, lapses back into English.
As for Glow Worm (~6), he is still at the stage where he will try to speak Chinese if I tell him to and if someone speaks Chinese to him or he is in Chinese class, he will remain in Chinese mode until his older siblings start chatting away in English. So basically, that halo effect lasts about five minutes. Sasquatch (2.5) barely has a chance to speak Chinese and his mouth is full of English though he understands most things I say to him in Chinese if they are developmentally appropriate. He will also repeat whatever Chinese words I teach him and will use the Chinese word if that’s the only term he knows.
Thus is the sad state of Chinese affairs at the Mandarin Mama household. I am annoyed at myself for letting it slip to this state because I know a lot of it is my own fault. However, I also have to concede that what’s done is done and that I did it because a person can only do so much. Since my life was falling apart last year, the fact that the kids can still speak and understand Chinese is a relief so I will take my wins where I can get them.
Goal for Taiwan Trip
My hope was pretty simple. I wanted my children to be re-immersed in Chinese and get more of it in their brains for six weeks. All I really needed was my kids to be spoken to by adults whose dominant language was Chinese. I didn’t care if they learned anything – that would be a bonus. I also wanted to be re-inspired to ramp up the Chinese Language Ecosystem when we returned to the US. (This remains to be seen.)
What Did we Do?
For the first two weeks, Hapa Papa was with us so very little changed except that the surroundings were in Chinese and not in English. In deference to Hapa Papa, I allowed the kids to consume as many English movies on TV as possible. However, I warned them that as soon as their father returned home, they would only be allowed to watch Chinese videos – both on YouTube and the TV. They bargained it down to allowing English music in the background and watching other language videos or silent videos.
We also visited family and tried to do the promised fun activities, but mostly, very little changed in terms of how we lived.
Then we had four weeks of local camps for the older three and a local preschool catering to ex-pats for the youngest. To get a more detailed glimpse of our lives during this time period, I refer you to my previous article on what a typical day looked like. We saw family and friends on weekends and I tried to do a few more fun activities.
Local Camp and Preschool Experiences
As I have done in previous years, my older kids went to local camps and the kids who were too young attended preschools that catered to ex-pats. I chose local camps for the older kids because I didn’t want them to be chatting in English with all the American kids.
However, the only reason I could do so is because my children’s speaking, comprehension, reading, and writing are at a level where they can navigate these camps with relative ease. Their presence in these camps wouldn’t cause an undue burden to the local staff who are NOT equipped to deal with kids who only speak English and can’t communicate or do the work required.
I chose preschools that catered to ex-pats for my youngest because I just cannot deal with more local things and they make it easy for foreign parents. I’m all about a life of ease, friends. I AM A LADY OF LEISURE. (Wait. Did I just call myself a prostitute? NOT THAT THERE IS ANYTHING WRONG WITH THAT but decidedly not the angle I was going for.)
Sasquatch attended a well-known preschool that was over-half full of ex-pats. (Because of this, the cost was really high: about $1,300 USD for four weeks.) Though this annoyed me, I knew it was inevitable and again, as long as the teachers spoke primarily in Chinese to my child, I didn’t really care. After all, it’s not like Sasquatch is at the age to chat aggressively with other tiny humans. Furthermore, I probably was cause for annoyance for someone else. I constantly forget that my kids aren’t native either!
This was the same school Cookie Monster and Gamera attended back in 2014 during our first summer experiment. I was so happy to be back at this school because it is so much closer to my Airbnb and the older kids’ camps. My drop offs and pick ups were exponentially easier this year because of this!
In fact, this is why I had originally rented my Airbnb back in 2016. All the schools and camps were one stop away from each other and my apartment. All I had to go was boom boom boom down the line. Unfortunately, back in 2016, the preschool wouldn’t accept Glow Worm due to his many food allergies and I switched to another school. In the end, it all worked out and now I was back to my original plan.
I don’t really know what to say about the preschool experience because honestly, it’s the same as any preschool experience – except in Chinese and a full day. (Drop off at 8:30am and pick up at 4:30pm.) The school was Montessori-based and Sasquatch seemed to enjoy his time there. They played, sang, read stories, cooked, danced, and had weekly pool time that my baby despised and cried during because he was afraid of the inflatable alligator.
Things to Note
If your child is attending a preschool, keep in mind that you will likely have to provide bedding for nap time. I borrowed mine from my cousin. Otherwise, you can buy it at a local store or just bring a tiny pillow, foldable mattress, and blanket. You bring it to school on Monday and take it home on Fridays to wash.
Most schools are full-day and lunches and snacks are provided. If your child has food allergies, the current law in Taiwan only allows medical doctors to administer a shot – including an Epipen or AuviQ. If your child is highly allergic, you may be refused as a student or you may want to consider teaching your child how to self-administer (which is really difficult as a preschooler!) or providing all food for your child. I have found that schools catering solely to foreign students to be a little better about food allergies than those mainly for local students.
In addition, your school should provide a list of things you need to bring for your child. Usually, they are a small towel, 2-3 changes of clothing, bedding, water bottle, hats, and indoor shoes.
My older three attended a local camp we have been going to since 2016. They have a variety of subjects such as science; memory improvement; cooking; building toys, robots, or drones; sports; magic; and Kpop dancing. The cost was approximately $1,900 USD for four weeks for all THREE children. (~$630 USD per child for four weeks).
For more on costs, I direct you to this article I wrote for Romper Magazine.
Lunch and snacks were provided and camps last from 9am – 5pm. Many offer early drop-off and late pickup for additional costs. Because Glow Worm has so many food allergies, I packed his lunch and trained him, Gamera, and Cookie Monster on how to use his AuviQ. Since Cookie Monster can now ingest up to two peanuts a day (and has to for his oral immunotherapy), I was comfortable with him eating the provided school lunch – which he surprisingly enjoyed.
My kids loved the camps and teachers (despite initial complaints). There were a few mishaps at the beginning, but after figuring things out with the kids and discussing with the teachers, it was fine. The main problem was that the teacher thought Glow Worm couldn’t understand Chinese and made Gamera translate for him. That was a lot of pressure on her and she was crying and freaking out about it. I reminded her that it was not her responsibility to do this.
Turned out that a kid kept talking to Glow Worm during the instructions so he couldn’t hear the teachers. Plus, he didn’t know how to tell the kid that he didn’t want to play so instead, he would run away. I taught Glow Worm how to tell the kid to shush as well as talked to the teachers and it was fixed immediately.
Other than that, my kids had a great time. Several of the camps required the kids be able to read and write Chinese so I was pleased that at least the older two could keep up and do the homework every night. They all expect to attend in the future and didn’t complain about it.
Things to Note
Most local camps will also have a list of things for your child to bring. Usually this includes eating bowls and utensils; pens/pencils; eraser; water bottle; and other school supplies. (For instance, I had to buy aprons for their cooking classes as well as random fruits and bottles for their science experiments.)
Keep in mind, many camps that teach your kids to create things will result in these creations coming HOME. Having learned from years past lugging back tons of heavy crap they made or bought and could not bear to part from despite it occupying perfectly good Chinese Book Space, I made sure to only sign up for things that imparted only knowledge and nothing physical. Even this backfired and I still had to haul back three plastic water rockets they made.
I should consider myself lucky. My friend, Dots, ended up lugging home giant paintings on canvas, TREEHOUSES MADE OF WOOD (plural), huge dolls, in addition to books and the stuff her kids bought. I love Dots and still think she hates herself for allowing this to happen.
Since the first two weeks were mostly of the kids speaking English to their father and each other except in a different location, I did not expect there to be much improvement right away. Once Hapa Papa went back home, it took about two weeks of daily Chinese camps and them watching a ton of Chinese television for my older children to finally slip into Chinese every now and then. But by Week 6, everyone was so sick of being in Taiwan that we were back to screaming at each other in English.
I’m pretty sure their Chinese comprehension increased just by passively being in Taiwan and spoken to in Chinese all day. That and they really loved watching Phineas and Ferb in Chinese. They also loved Teen Titans, Go! more in Chinese than English. They claimed it was funnier. My friend, Irish Twins, who lived in Taiwan with her two kids for about nine months a few years ago concurs.
As for Sasquatch, he arrived in Taiwan speaking in broken English baby babble and left Taiwan able to tell me he wanted to go home and didn’t want to go to school in perfect English sentences. Make of that what you will. Other than the first two days of school because he didn’t know better and didn’t realize school was a permanent state of affairs, Sasquatch cried every day on the way to school.
He constantly felt insecure and if I recall correctly, was even more of an asshole than Glow Worm was in Taiwan at his age. I suppose it’s because it’s always the younger three’s first school experience EVER when in Taiwan so I did expect it. I had to hard carry him every day from our apartment to school and for the first few days, he literally held onto me by the skin of his teeth. I still have the scars on my shoulder to prove it.
He does sing English songs and throws in a few more Chinese words here and there, but I can’t really say the camp made him a fluent speaker or anything. He did already understand Chinese prior to the trip but I’m sure it helped to be in a reinforced environment.
Honestly, now that the kids are older, I am expecting the Taiwan Halo Effect to last for shorter and shorter periods. It will be all for naught if I do not continue to upkeep the Chinese speaking and media consumption now that we’re back. So, I have already given the kids fair warning. Starting next week, we’ll be on Chinese media lockdown again. (I will make exceptions for watching TV with their dad.) No one is happy about this – least of all, me because now I have to exert effort again.
I better swap out those BTS CDs in the car.