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Garth Synnestvedt ‘14

English Teacher in Taiwan

1) What are you doing now?

I am a foreign English Homeroom Teacher at Tamkang Junior/Senior high in Tamsui, New Taipei City, Taiwan. Although I created a neuroscience major at DePauw, I wanted a change of pace and have come here to try my hand at teaching English. I primarily work with J1 (7th grade) students, and am closely connected to my homeroom class of 35. I also teach J2 (8th grade) and S2 (HS Junior) students. In sum this year, I have taught about 500-600 students. I teach English in classes such as listening and speaking, cultural studies, writing, literature, and grammar. I have had a chance to travel briefly to South Korea, and am planning on traveling a bit more this summer.

2) What sorts of ethical dilemmas have you encountered, or sought to resolve, in your career or studies?

ESL and English teachers face many ethical questions of note. Some examples include 1) the of teaching English in a country that has many endangered or disappearing languages. The political and socioeconomic power dynamics involved in the gradual decline of a language are closely related to the overarching influence of English as a colonial language--- a language that I am teaching. This raises questions about the balance between trying to give my students more options and opportunities for their future while simultaneously respecting the local culture and traditions that the rise of my profession have helped to erase and commercialize. 2) Racial dynamics as a white expatriate in Asia raise many ethical questions about privilege and prejudice. As a foreigner and a native speaker of English, I am paid a higher salary than most Taiwanese with equal or even higher qualifications. On one hand, this is a move to be competitive and bring foreign teachers to Taiwan. On the other, I am a recent college grad making a very modest salary by US standards, but a pretty generous salary by Taiwanese standards. Ethical questions thus arise about the relative value of qualifications and even what constitutes qualification for this work. 3) A more personal ethical question I have been pondering is about my own purpose and efficacy. I wonder about an individual's obligation to use their strengths to benefit society to the best of their ability. My training as a scientist is rarely used in my work. Sure, I'm a liberal arts major and can apply knowledge broadly across disciplines, but I still find myself caught in a more personal ethical dilemma-- Is my move to teach the most ethically justifiable and beneficial choice? Don't my students deserve a teacher who chose teaching as their passion and profession more directly than I did? Am I squandering the resources and skills myself and others painstakingly worked to develop in the sciences just to travel and try something new? These questions are of a more personal nature, but carry ethical undertones nonetheless.

I have sought to gradually resolve these conflicts, but because of the overarching nature of most of them, I have focused mostly on addressing the micro-events that are related to them. I have a few smaller, more detail-focused ethical dilemmas that I have addressed, but they seem less significant and more internal to my own school and its operations.

3) Did your experience as a Prindle Intern influence your career choice, graduate studies, travels, etc.?

The Prindle internship encouraged me to look at my own life choices with an even more critical (thinking) lens than I had before, and contributed slightly to my final decision to step away from the field in which I had been most thoroughly trained to try something else in which I was interested. It also helped me gain some professional confidence through my work experience as an intern, and helped me to further develop my global perspective during my time at DePauw.

 

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