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Tilert in Taiwan: Frontier Central School graduate teaches English, explores Taiwanese culture

SCHOOL SMILES — Pictured is John Tilert with a recent class of ninth graders. He had 44 students in his class. Photos submitted by Tilert.
HAMBURG — Cultural exploration and its significance is defined by French novelist Andre Malraux, who said, “Culture is the sum of all the forms of art, of love and of thought which, in the course of centuries, have enabled man to be less enslaved.”

In the words of Malraux, the purpose of travel is to learn and expand personal depth of knowledge in the hope of gaining more insight, acceptance and interconnection. John Tilert, a Frontier High School graduate, found such an opportunity.

After graduating from high school, Tilert went on to receive his undergraduate degree in biological education from the State University of New York at Oswego and then, after two years, received his master’s degree in teaching English to speakers of other languages from the City College of New York.

He lived in Harlem with the intent to teach but, due to a hiring freeze, he said that he struggled to find a position. Following a visit to a friend in Taiwan and, after a few interviews, he was hired at a K – 12 bilingual private school as a science teacher in Taipei.

From the last week of August to the end of June, Tilert lives the culture of the country of Taiwan. He currently resides in his own apartment with a Taiwanese friend he met in New York City. Occasionally visiting the friend’s residence, he said that he is able to still have a home experience, even while being a 15-hour flight from his family.

The people of Taiwan speak mostly Mandarin and Taiwanese; Tilert’s undergraduate lessons in Chinese help him navigate.

The local native said that, for the most part, he manages well in Taiwan, with his knowledge of the language. He said that on only rare moments does he notice real differences living in another country, compared to the United States.

“Everything takes longer and it really teaches you to be patient,” he said.

He has now submerged himself into the Taiwanese lifestyle. He peruses the night market, which is open from 7 p.m. – 1 a.m. He said that he especially enjoys scallion pancakes. Other items sold by the street vendors are barbecue mushrooms, dumplings, chicken hearts, blood rice cakes and stinky tofu (which, according to Tilert, is appropriately named).

He said that he began to notice differences, while hopping the barrier between the two cultures. The women of Taiwan will completely cover their chests, but will have plenty of leg exposed, whereas, in America, the shorts continue to shrink and the V-necks steadily drop.

The music scene is comprised mostly by Mandopop, a sub-genre of Chinese pop music, Taiwanese music, ballads and U.S. Top 40.

TRAVELING TAIWAN — Lovers’ Bridge of Danshui at the Danshui Fisherman’s Wharf crosses the Danshui River; people will take about an hour-long subway ride from downtown Taipei, to watch the sunset on this bridge.
In addition to popular culture, Tilert has also become familiar with Taiwan’s political history and the democratic struggles within the city of Taipei. He uncovered facts that paint an image of what Taiwan is like, as a country.

“Taiwan believes they’re the true keepers of Chinese culture,” he said. Chinese artifacts were transported and hidden in Taiwan, during the invasion of the Nationalists.

The country’s primary religion is a combination of Daoism and Buddhism; most of the world’s Daoists reside in Taiwan.

He has videos of Taiwanese religious rituals, in which people walk with burning incense, chanting mantras and say prayers to a Buddha, followed by bowing three times. Utilizing many sticks of incense, people pray to each Buddha for something different.

Tilert said that familial culture also differs drastically from America’s. He said that Americans are more independent, but in Taiwan, families are very dependent on one another and more involved in each other’s lives. Children are taught to focus on school, which he said leaves them more sheltered. There is also a very strong emphasis on respect toward elders.

At his school, Taipei Fu Hsing, Tilert has developed a science curriculum for the elementary level. Being the only foreign certified science teacher at his school, he said that working toward installing a solid program will be trial and error. This year, he will also be observing first – sixth grades, to determine what works for each skill level.

“If there is one thing I’m learning there, it’s to be patient,” he said.

FUN IN TAIWAN — John Tilert is shown in front of a temple in Tainan, the former capital of Taiwan, during both Dutch occupation and the Qing Dynasty. People in Taiwan travel to Tainan mainly to eat, especially the fresh tropical fruits.
Tilert encouraged aspiring teachers, travelers and recent college graduates looking for jobs to consider opportunities like the one he has taken advantage of. More information about participating is available at


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