May 17, 2013
Foreign language teaching assistants offer a unique perspective on Pacific University in a five-part series continuing today.Wanda Laukkanen | Writer
Yu-Chun Hung of Taiwan took her first English class when she was 10 years old.
But she found it surprisingly difficult to understand the language when she first arrived at Pacific University.
“The first two or three months, I had difficulty understanding what people were talking about, because there’s more colloquial meanings, like ‘you bet!’ or some slang,” she said. “And also, I found I need to pay extra attention to really grab the word in the beginning.”
Hung is one of five foreign language teaching assistants at Pacific this year, here on a Fulbright grant to help teach language courses and support language learning activities for students studying Chinese.
Today, she feels like she has a better handle on understanding native English speakers.
And, she said, “Sometimes, even if you don’t understand every word what they’re talking about, if they are laughing, you just laugh with them.
“I’ve learned how to use the emotion to communicate as well.”
People also are more open with strangers, she said.
“When I was on the MAX, people would just say, ‘Oh my god, I had a bad day,’ … they talk to you, and I’m like, ‘Whoa, do I know you?’
Hung assists in the Chinese language program and says that more than half of the students in the classes have some knowledge of the language, either because of family connections or because they have studied it elsewhere.
What Hung has found interesting about American culture is that people obey the rules. For example, she said, “The parking lots around the campus — there is a parking lot only for students, only for staff, then some only for visitors — and people just follow the rules.
“In my country, we don’t have such strict rules about a parking lot. As long as it’s a possible spot, we will take it right away, since sometimes it’s hard to find one.”
Hung also said she appreciates the opportunity at Pacific to meet mainland Chinese residents and discuss sensitive political issues that intertwine the two countries.
She also believes that college students in the United States work harder than in her homeland, because the Taiwanese system requires high-schoolers to pass exams to be placed in a university. There’s tremendous pressure on high school students, she said, and they relax more in college.
“Here, students really study the hardest when in college,” she said.
Hung, who holds a bachelor’s degree in English, plans to return to Taiwan to teach Chinese or English as a second language after her assistantship at Pacific.