I am a first year part-time PGR student, working in a leadership role in an international school in Taipei, Taiwan. Taiwan has had remarkable success responding to the pandemic; we have never been in lockdown and only seven Covid-19 deaths have been recorded. This is my ‘view from Taiwan’….
This weekend, the first of our new teachers started to arrive in Taiwan (from China, Malaysia and Thailand) and have begun their fourteen-day quarantine. Each of them has been able to move into their new apartments, found for them by colleagues, while some others who are arriving later have chosen to stay in a quarantine hotel.
Last week, myself and others collected spare keys for the apartments and delivered groceries. Whilst sadly we could not be there to greet them on arrival, the housing agents – gloved and masked – were there to hand over the keys.
So far, everything is going to plan, but obviously getting people here has been a lot more challenging than in other years. Everyone is dealing with the situation with good humour and I know the new teachers who are already in Taipei are glad to finally be here.
There have been some glitches, and there will likely be more.
For example, we were told by new teachers that the Taiwan Representative Office in London was initially uncertain about issuing visas for their dependents.
Thankfully, after an intervention from our marvellous HR department (who have been pushed to the limit this year), the situation was swiftly resolved so that teachers arriving from the UK don’t have to leave their spouses/children behind! This was never an official policy, but it seems the government left it up to the officials in each country to make the final decision.
Similarly, the requirement to provide evidence of a negative Covid-19 test within three days of departure for Taiwan is proving to be a challenge for some people, especially those arriving from the UK.
However, putting everything in perspective, the additional challenges are necessary, and I think every member of staff, all of whom are holidaying in Taiwan this summer, is grateful to be in our host country. This year, we have leaving colleagues who are stuck in Taiwan without places to go (their new contracts cancelled) and without places to live (leases expired and shipments ready to go, but with no certain final destination).
Clearly, it is a very, very uncertain time for international educators.
In some countries, parents withdrew their children from school because they didn’t want to pay for online learning. Teachers in some international schools have taken pay cuts and foregone benefits and allowances.
In my school, we have had three short periods of online learning. The first time was when the Taiwanese government postponed reopening schools by extending the Chinese New Year holiday. The second and third closures were elective (local schools stayed open).
The second closure was when a sizeable number of students had family members returning from overseas (for example, older siblings returning from university) and the requirement then is for all members of the household to quarantine. The third closure was after spring break, when there were concerns about large numbers of visitors to tourist hotspots in Taiwan, which included members of our school community. The government advice was for those people to stay at home.
Life has now returned to some semblance of normality, although for a period of time, the ban on large gatherings meant we had to cancel (or adapt) some of our annual traditions: the school show was cancelled, as well as the prom, and the high school graduation ceremony was held on campus, without parents and guests.
Face masks are to be worn on public transport and the same rule applies at school. Once upon a time in my career, I was used to telling students to tuck their shirt in. Now, it’s more common for me to be heard saying, “put your mask on.” However, our students appreciate how fortunate we are, relative to many other countries, and every day we count our blessings.