By Daniel Wallace
April 1, 2019
Every morning before 8 a.m., Sofia Ahmed (’18) stands in line with a group of local commuters in Taiwan, and she catches a public transport bus from Fengyuan District, a northern district of Taichung, where she lives, to the rural township of Houli District, where she co-teaches in the Neipu Elementary school.
“I smile every single day because of my adorable, wonderful students,” she writes from Taiwan.
Ahmed, a former Honors College student at the University of Houston who graduated in May 2018, with a bachelor’s degree in English literature and a minor in Chinese studies, received a 2018-2019 Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) Grant to Taiwan, and her experience, abroad, is now underway.
“My experience in Taiwan is almost entirely positive,” she writes. “The food is delicious, it's very safe, and there's so much to do and see. I hope more people will come to appreciate it as I have.”
With a population of almost three million people, Taichung is the second largest city in Taiwan. The Central Mountain Range is located just to the east of the city, and rolling hills run along its horizon to the north. At night, the skyline is lit up with glowing, colorful lights from the city skyscrapers. “It’s a beautiful place with the friendliest people I've ever met,” writes Ahmed.
At the school where she teaches, she hosts a Wednesday morning Chess Club with 6th graders, a storytelling club on Thursday and Friday mornings, and a teachers' language club on Wednesday afternoons, where she helps her co-workers at the school, who want to practice their English.
“Outside of class,” she writes, “I spend a lot of time with teachers and other people from my school. Sometimes we will take weekend trips together to other parts of Taiwan. I also spend a lot of time with the other ETAs. We do our best to meet each other every week or so. It’s been great.”
Ahmed is interested in linguistics and language geography. While attending UH, she worked at the UH Writing Center, and, in 2015, she received a Critical Language Scholarship to study in Beijing.
“I knew teaching English in Taiwan would offer me a wide variety of situations in which I could observe people from a linguistics perspective, thereby exposing me to different sub-fields in linguistics and helping me to decide what area interests me most. As I have traveled throughout Taiwan, I've listened very carefully to what languages are spoken, and who speaks them. I've heard Mandarin, Taiwanese, Hakka, and snippets of Aboriginal languages such as Atayal,” she writes. “Eventually, I would like to use my knowledge to work on speech-to-text software that is more sensitive to different accents. And, ultimately, I would like to teach at the university level in Asia.”
According to Ahmed, being a Fulbright ETA has completely changed her outlook. “Now more than ever, I know how important it is to be outside of your comfort zone,” writes Sofia. “It’s vital for personal growth. Taking a lot of solo trips around in Taiwan and to other countries during the winter break—something I never thought I could do—has honestly made me more confident.”
She believes that being in another country for so long, and being a teacher, will help her succeed in a variety of future workplaces.
“It has made me at once a better team player and a better leader,” writes Ahmed. “I’m so grateful for this opportunity.”
The 2020-2021 Fulbright application cycle will open on April 1this year. All prospective candidates are encouraged to contact Ben Rayder at firstname.lastname@example.org in the Office of Undergraduate Research for more information, and visit Fulbright Day on April 5 in the Honors College Commons.