New Year, New Semester

January always straddles the period between the end of the calendar year and teaching and then a month or two of a mix of grading, independent work, and Lunar New Year. This time, for the first time, all three kids will have four full weeks off at New Year. We’re hoping to do a mix of camp, travel, and classes for them.

They are all doing pretty well. I’ve been impressed by how everyone’s Chinese has taken a leap forward. It is still a struggle. Eva often gets 40s on tests, probably because her teacher is tougher, but she knows the local writing system and is learning characters and is a little more independtly directed on English. Sam reads a lot and seems to be doing well, but still struggles with math. For whatever reason, even basic caclulations (9+6, 7×5) are still a struggle for him. We have workbooks, apps, and flashcards, but it’s not easy. Eli, our more hard-headed, intense child, is actually doing very well. I think he likes the structure of the school and he seems to know what he needs to do and do it.

I have stayed busy on a mix of things. I preached last Sunday at the local episocpal expat church and will preach the coming Sunday at Shuanglian, the downtown Prebyterian church. I like both of these congregations and feel at home with them. In the month ahead I have some reviews to finish, grading, a manuscript proposal, and a lot of summer planning to figure out.

We still struggle with periodic culture shock. It’s funny to me how hard it is to adjust even after being here a decade. Today we did some of the exams for applicants for the fall. I was on the music students’ groups. In the State, admission for seminary is basically transcripts, a test like the GRE, and letters of recommendation. I don’t think an interview is normally required. Here, I believe that students submit transcripts, but we essentially ignore them. Instead, students are submitted on the basis of either recommendation and oral exam or a written and oral exam. In Taiwan, questions are a lot more personal. Today the interviewers asked students about things including their parents’ divorce, church conflicts, BMI, etc. The interviews also use a huge amount of time. This is partly because they cover part of what in the US would be a church process, so later on we will also get pscyhological exams and it’s not uncommon to gather information via social networks (“her brother’s pastor’s wife was my classmate’s friend and she said…”). I objectively can often see an upside to this approach–students often enter with a lot more support and are better known by classmates and teachers–but it can still feel a bit alien to me.

I’ll try to write here more in the weeks ahead. Both the twins (at public school) and Sam (at the bilingual school) are going along but I’m always fascinated by their worlds also. Emily is a lot more active in the twins’ school and seemst to enjoy the mix of volunteer, church, and other work she is doing. I’ve navigated the new accreditation faculty input system and am also looking in the how/when/where of US church visitation schedules.

Fall Forward

After an unplanned blogging hiatus, now seems like a good time to return. 

New Semester

The new semester has been a good one. For my Taiwanese religions class I have a group of students that I really like. Most come from Christian families, but there’s also a couple that grew up in non-Christian families, which means they know local religious traditions really well. It’s interesting to me, because they often seem to enjoy the class the most, as if they both can revisit what it was like to be a child and also have a depth about what their faith means now. Recently an older student asked me “what generation Christian are you?” and it was a reminder of how different the world is from which I come. (Short answer: I told him that my ancestors are a mix of not very good Christians, with some OK Christians, and also some great Christians, but it’s kind of a mix.)

I’m also co-teaching a course on youth ministry with a returned student Yu-Hui CHANG. It has been a really fun class. It’s not something in which I have a lot of training, but I’d done PTS’s youth ministry certificate and worked as a part-time youth director for a number of years, and I really get a kick out of both the material and student engagement. I think it’s the first time our seminary has offered this class (although they do have some background in campus ministry and run recruitment camps for young adults). Yu-Hui’s background is in education, so I also learn from her. A challenge for me has always been how to do good student discussion. “All class” discussions never worked great, but this semester we often split students into smaller groups to talk and then come back to discuss “in the round.” It’s made me happy to see books translated into Chinese by teachers or classmates, including Kenda Dean, Jason Santos, and DeVries. Andy Root has just come through Taipei (he’s actually in Taiwan now) and his most recent book has been translated. This is an area I hope I can encourage with modest effort until we produce others locally who can encourage it at our seminary.


The kids’ schooling is always a bit of a dilemma. In general, it’s been a very good semester. Sam likes his English teacher a lot. He’s also gotten along really well his current Chinese teacher (she gave him an award recently for “obedience”). Unfortunately she’s had eye troubles and is leaving mid-semester. This has happened with this class before, so I feel sorry for the teacher and wonder if there’s more to the story. Sam’s interested in moving to one of the international schools, probably Morrison Academy. I think the area he needs the most help is likely with math, and doing this might help him. We’d hoped he could stay at Lih-Jen through grade 6, but now may be a good time to move him. Still, it’s a lot of paperwork.

The twins are also doing well at their school. They are in the afternoon program, which gives them extra homework help. One of the continuous tradeoffs we’ve had has been Chinese/English. They have really incredible Chinese right now, but it’s still a struggle to keep them up with peers, and we will need to do some extra work on English reading and writing, perhaps over new year. I think the parents that do bilingualism the best are the ones where they each speak a different native language. For Chinese, it really helps to have parents that have the characters cold and can explain/teach (we can do some of this, but we’re not great).

Sam’s doing the National Write a Novel in a Month program. I think it will really be good for him. I feel like he sort of naturally corrects for curriculum gaps. He’s been really big into Percy Jackson, so he’s pretty much memorized large chunks of Roman, Greek, and Viking mythology, and for his own books he wanted to use the Egyptian pantheon.

Emily’s been able to be more involved at the twins’ school. She’s a story-telling mother 故事媽媽 gushi mama and helps in the library. An oddity of schooling here is that public schools and international schools request/demand parental involvement but at the schools like Sam’s they are almost hostile to it.

The kids continue to do scouting, some music, some swimming, and church. I think it’s already a pretty full schedule. Sometimes I wish they could do more outside activities, but this is a pretty full schedule.


This year I’m headed to the American Academy of Religion again. I’m in two groups that meet, Society for Buddhist-Christian Studies and the Chinese Christianities group. There are a lot of other conversations I enjoy when I can get to them (a seminar on immigration, the Chinese religions group, world Christianity, Reformed history and theology). I’ll get to see Yakhwee and a former student here also and am just really excited about it. I’ll also visit one of our supporting congregations in Boston and I’ve tacked on several days pre-arrival to see my aunt and uncle in Williamstown, MA and hopefully to visit the Williams College library (they have at least some materials I could use).

School Begins…

It’s good to be back in Taipei. Our biggest adjustment this year is that we have the twins in first grade at the local elementary school, Ren’ai. I wrote about the application process for a newsletter. In short, this is the neighborhood school, and we had several thoughts: (1) it might be good to front load Chinese, (2) if we could have them that close it would give them more time at home and more time to rest, (3) maybe it really is easier for us to teach them English than to help them with Chinese.

So far things are going well. They adjusted well to school and mix Chinese in with their English. They seem to love their teachers and have friends both from their old school and the neighborhood.  The paperwork to get them in was enormous. Ever since the twins were born (2x hospital medical forms) I’ve been in awe of how many forms it takes to keep them alive and registered in all of their institutions and activities.

They like the school itself. They do 課後輔導 at the school. In Taiwanese public schools, children attend five mornings but only one afternoon at first and then build up up to all day. Of course, many children actually attend a class to fill in this time, and many kids go much later (until 6pm or 9pm). We’ve signed them up for the fill-in class, which keeps them in school until 4pm, instead of noon. There’s an interesting article here on how much Taiwanese parents save in order to buttress their children’s education. Basically the entire area around our house is after-school programs. The good news is that now the twins are done at 4 with their homework basically complete. We’re going to get a tutor to help them some working on their reading and writing English, but it will just be a few hours a week.

Sam is in fourth grade at a bilingual school. He really likes Lih-Jen and seems to have a good coterie of classmates. He is into the Percy Jackson series now and has read the five books in the last couple of weeks. His English reading/writing is good and he loves science and the humanities. His Chinese, however, seems a little worse since the summer, and during third grade we began to realize he was struggling in math. We’re going to try to add some tutoring for Chinese and for math I’m going to work more with him more. We really like his English teacher this year, Gloria Wang. She has her class working through the whole math textbook (rather than skipping components), and we’re hopeful the English curriculum might stretch to include some more math. (Right now they basically have an hour a week plus several pages of homework, which isn’t enough.)

All three kids are doing scouts, some music, and swimming lessons. A perennial challenge is how much to force them to do and how much to go with the flow or follow their interests. At this age, they change their opinions a lot, so they loved the first swim lesson but complained about the second. The twins seem to be opposing music on the grounds that Sam opposes it, but then Eva really seems to like it and Eli actually isn’t bad. With scouts, they all like it but that may change.

Having the kids settled makes the rest of work and life a lot easier. I’m hopeful that this could be a really good semester and excited about this new chapter where all three are in elementary school.

Summer 2017

Summer 2017 saw us split between Decatur, GA, my family in Birmingham, AL, and Emily’s family in Cincinnati, OH. The time in Decatur was good. I liked Decatur as a place to live. We stayed in “Mission Haven,” which houses church workers from around the world who are home on leave. (I wrote a bit about it for them here.)

Decatur has several benefits over past places we’ve stayed. There’s a good sense of community. Because Columbia Seminary is next door, and the community has Presbyterian ties, we found that there were a lot of people to connect to. I saw several classmates at Columbia and Candler, we visited the local Taiwanese-American church (see newsletter here), and kids could do a lot of local activities. Sam, Eli and I went to cub scout camp. Sam did an art camp and then at Agnes Scott College did a sports camp. Because Birmingham is only a few hours away, the kids were also able to do stretches there.

I am always grateful for the chance to see how different churches do things. Besides the four Taiwanese-American churches, we visited congregations in Samford and Matthews, NC and in Princeton, NJ.

My conference of the summer was the Yale-Edinburgh Group on World Christianity. It was a nice chance to see what others in the field are doing, and I was able to catch a ride down to Princeton with my advisor. The conference this year was the 25th anniversary and marked the retirement of Martha Smalley, who has been a force for organization, sharing, and coherence in the field. I was grateful also to meet new grad students who are doing this.

We would like to go back to Decatur in the future. One of our dilemmas as a family living cross-culturally has been to find spaces that can house us. We could return to the US for a large chunk of the 2018-2019 school year, or we could wait a year and go back again next summer. This was a good a summer and it helped us to think about how we might put down roots and develop our work. One advantage of being in teaching is that it’s not a huge sacrifice if we return to the US during a semester-sized chunk of time, but on the other hand we don’t want to just churn through places. There’s also some human cost to all the travel, so it is hard to figure out how to do this in a sustainable way.

Elementary School Enrollment

We’ve been working on school plans for the fall, especially for the twins. Sam is happy at Lih-Jen and will continue into fourth grade there. This semester we took him out of CSL. He has made a fair number of friends through CSL but in the end we decided he would do better just attending the regular Chinese class. He can’t keep up with the reading and writing and we don’t have the time to have him do the homework that would be necessary to do this (probably an extra hour a night + tutoring). At the same time, he seems to follow along in class and be fine with this arrangement. He’s doing well in English and science.

The public school next door for the twins?

With the twins, we had considered trying enrollment at the local public school. We had several reasons for this: (1) they’re a little older for their grade and seem farther along than Sam was at this point (they know their ABCs, are doing some sight words and know Bopomofo), (2) there’s a good public school right next door to us, (3) it would be nice to “front load” more Chinese since we’re more confident about how they’ll do on English (with Sam we weren’t sure how reading would go heading into elementary school but then after six months of first grade he was fine), and (4) public school is cheaper.

That said, enrollment at the public school across the street seems nearly impossible. Emily went and checked in with the enrollment officer at Ren’ai and that teacher told it was an “overfilled school” 額滿學校and asked her to pick from two other schools for our zone (Guangfu or Sanxing). I was kind of distraught by this. I went and checked in with the enrollment officer again—she’s very nice—and she gave me the elementary enrollment people for the education department. On Friday I went and met with them. They talked to me somewhat reluctantly for about a half hour and here’s what I gathered from that.

Things to Know about Public School Enrollment

As background, here’s what I would say:

+ I had heard that foreigners can essentially just enroll at the closest local school, at least for the early grades. This is not true.

+ While the English guidelines suggest that schools will have an enrollment plan for foreigners (guidelines 17 and 20 here), this rule supposedly applies only to schools that are seeking out exchange opportunities.

+ The guideline here says that you can enroll your child if there are 35 or fewer per class is outdated. The number is now 29.

+ If there is competition for slots, to get into the “drawing” for the school (where an individual school will go through its priority lists and enroll students), foreigners need to go to immigration to get their full record of visas and entries/departures.

+It may also be necessary to go to the local household registry place and confirm your status for the draw and get on the school’s drawing list.

+Apparently there are different priorities for schools, which include: low income students, owned/rented housing in the district, when one moved into the current zone, number of children, possibly being a foreigner, etc. I don’t understand the priority lists yet, but will try to post a current list when I do.

+Things work differently for public kindergartens—where often a small number of applicants can draw into the school—and for junior high and high school where there’s a whole other series of tests and so on.


I’ve talked to some parents in our local park, and they helped provide additional info new parents should know:

+If you don’t draw into the preferred school, you will be able to have your kids attend any other school in the zone with openings.

+If you want kids to do homework and keep up, they almost always have to go to an afternoon school program and/or do tutoring.

+For elementary school, classes start with four half-days and one full day a week.

+Local schools (and even the bilingual schools) assume that parents will work to keep their children up to speed and the onus is on the student to stay up to speed.

+Local school offices are often not used to working with foreigners and will not necessarily know how to help you with enrollment (at Ren’ai, they were friendly but at first told us the twins couldn’t sign up for the waiting list until the start of first grade).

+Even for private schools there’s still a lot of variation on how enrollment works. Some definitely require foreigners to draw and at other you can just enroll.

We’re leaning towards just having the twins go to Lih-Jen, the bilingual school, with their siblings. This has a number of pros: easy enrollment, all-in-one 8-4 education, rather than having to shop a separate program for the half-days, a Chinese curriculum + an English curriculum, multiple teachers (so they aren’t out of luck if their one teacher is a bad match), and some extracurriculars as part of the school day. It’s still hard to do English and Chinese well and it will probably be hard to keep them at grade level in Chinese, but for us it’s a reasonable compromise. A friend in the park also said they like the diversity of the public schools, whereas the private schools are all wealthier. Eva has a friend in a public school (she also could not go to the closest school and was slotted into the one with the most openings) who seems to have done fairly well (parents don’t speak Chinese but they have a good tutor). For us the challenge is that with three I just can’t see us realistically walking the twins somewhere a half hour away and getting Sam to school and dealing with after school programs that are farther from us.

Bright and Clear Festival, remembering the ancestors

This weekend is the weekend for Bright and Clear Festival 清明節, also called Tombsweeping Day. In Taiwan, it’s the time when the ancestors are remembered. Families typically return to their hometowns to care for the tombs of the deceased and to make offerings. Many Christian families substitute hymns and prayers.

In March, two former PCT missionaries died. First was Milo Thornberry, a Methodist missionary who had taught at my seminary and was exiled from Taiwan for his association with a Taiwanese dissident, Peng Ming-min. I met Thornberry several years ago. My seminary gave him an honorary doctorate. He’d published a memoir, Fireproof Moth, about his time in Taiwan.

Just last week, during a visit to Danshui, I received notice that a former Danshui missionary, John Geddes, had passed away. Carys Humphreys, who oversees much of the ecumenical relations work for PCT, sent us the notice. I had taken students to Danshui that day to visit two museums and then to meet with Louise Gamble, a retired Presbyterian Church of Canada missionary still working in Taiwan. On Saturday evening I watched the funeral online. I mentioned the death in class on Thursday and one of my Taiwan Seminary students said both her mother and she had been students of Geddes.

I am grateful for these predecessors, for their commitment and work across many years. There are not a lot of us still serving in PCT and every story I hear fills in a puzzle piece. I teach at Taiwan Seminary and Emily has been volunteering in Danshui, so these two feel especially familiar.

PCUSA Mission 2017

A year ago around this time PCUSA World Mission was in the middle of a financial crisis, apparently the biggest in forty years. In 2015 for the first time in decades we had recalled workers from abroad, and then in 2016 through about April things were still very much up in the air. Several office staff were eliminated. At one point there was talk of recalling a quarter of our workers, and we were up for renewal last year. For us as a family it was a time of a fair amount of anxiety. We’d struggled with how to transition if we needed to–stay in Taiwan or head back to the States?–and we also began reevaluating some of our work balance (in our first two terms we spent a lot of time on language and getting to know church culture, coworkers, and institutions here, and we realized we needed to tend to US connections more). We held off on moving apartments until we knew on reappointment, and I let my school know that things were unclear in case they needed to make alternate plans. We went back to Ohio for a semester, which let us be closer to our headquarters, visit more churches, and spend time with family, and then in the end everything worked out and we’re back in Taiwan now.

At the same time, the institutional culture continues to shift. Our last director finished in October. Currently our two associate directors are acting as interim directors for PCUSA World Mission. The institution has felt more relaxed to me. Overseas workers are now included on conference calls, which has helped give the pulse of the organization better (denominational politics can sometimes feel like Kremlinology). I learned on the last call that we are now at 128 mission workers overseas, which is about 60% of the number from when Emily and I started seven years ago. Our numbers have dropped mostly through attrition, which is how things more often worked in the past. We also have a number of positions that have been left open pending announcement of a new director (which we will hopefully know about in a few weeks).

I’ve often said that part of the challenge of our work is that we have fewer models to look to for how to do it. I have a gazillion classmates who are suburban pastors, or teach at colleges or seminaries, or work in non-profits. Sometimes I envy their office culture and their vocational clarity. I am grateful to live in the age of teleconferencing, social media, and email, but there are not a lot of people doing what I do. I’m cautiously optimistic about the coming years and hoping that things will be a little calmer.

New Year Break

Finishing out the semester

We’re now heading into our winter, Chinese New Year break. When I say “heading into,” I’ve sort of intentionally skipped the last week of grading and meetings.

The last weeks have been good ones. I went to a NTNU seminar last Sunday on TPSR language methodology taught by Terry Waltz, the main guru for Chinese learning in Taiwan (she goes by “Ironlady” on the main expat forum, Forumosa). It was good inspiration not to give up on improving Chinese, and also gave me some ideas for working with the kids. The other participants were also very interesting, and included Chinese teachers from the American school, European school, NTU’s language center, and other programs.

This week I taught at DMin class at the Methodist Seminary. It was a small class, with just a student from Malaysia and a Taiwanese Brethren pastor. They were enthusiastic and I am looking forward to their finals. I also met Liao Shang-hsin 廖上信, a former president of my seminary (although one I had never met before, likely owing to our unique institutional culture).

Next week is busy. Monday is our juridical committee meeting, followed by presbytery and then a meeting with the academic survey group that is studying Taiwanese churches.

Break travels

Wednesday I fly to England with Sam. We will visit our family friend, Yakhwee Tan, who is in Cambridge at the United Reformed Church theological college. Yakhwee’s a sort of godmother to Sam. When Emily went into labor and I went with her to the hospital Yakhwee came and stayed with Sam, and she spent a lot of time looking out for us when the twins were born. I’m also planning side trips to London, Oxford and to Edinburgh. I’m grateful for these UK connections, since most of my life has been US and now Taiwan. UK is the home to the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies and an old mentor, Tom Harvey. I knew Tom in Singapore and he was doing the type of work I’d started to do, but was two decades farther along. Along with Philip Wickeri and Scott Sunquist, he’s one of three PCUSA academic types I know that have been engaged in Chinese-speaking East and Southeast Asia and the mix between theology and Chinese studies. I’m excited to see him. I’m also happy to see Alex Chow who is a big name in Chinese Christian studies and leads the AAR Seminar on Chinese Christianity. Originally I’d hoped to do some research on my Morrison/Milne project, but I think with Sam along it will change the dynamics (hopefully for the better).

In preparation, we’re currently studying all things English—Elizabeth I, the Arthur Legends, Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, etc. He’s at the perfect age to really immerse himself in new things and I’m excited to do this. We’ve read a lot of the children’s English classics (CS Lewis, Tolkien, Roald Dahl) plus some contemporary authors and we’re on book 6 of Harry Potter. For Potter, we’d read the British version, and he had an English teacher last year, so he’s already used to different meanings for trainers, jumpers, and biscuits. Cambridge has several paleontology collections and we’re going to try to see some performances also (I found discount Aladdin tickets for London yesterday). I’m grateful to travel somewhere where I know the language (more or less) and have a list of contacts if we run into any troubles.



Taiwanese math

After my last post I saw that the PISA test results are out. Predictably, Taiwan is very near the top–4th in math and science and 23rd in reading. Taiwan was also 6th in the world for where girls do best at science.

Of course, last night I also went to look for a tutorial on division with remainders–which I cannot believe my third grader is doing now–and saw that in the US it’s usually taught sometime in 4th grade. I’m still hoping this is all going to click for Sam, but the back up plan is to keep him on track for the US and then if we’re back for most/all of 5th grade see how he’s doing.

The picture in Taiwan is probably more complicated than this looks. A lot of parents poor huge sums into after school, tutoring, summer work and so on, and there are some kids that struggle with it. Our kid is mostly oblivious–he loves to read and write and draw, and seems to spend a good stretch of the day (and maybe of Chinese class) doodling and talking to friends.

Schooling, Tiger Parents, Cram Schools, and Kid Socializing

We’re several months into this new iteration of our time in Taiwan. This has been a new leap for us and things are coming together but we’re always learning on the go. Sam’s now in third grade at Lih-Jen and the twins are in kindergarten (大班) at Xinguang Catholic Kindergarten.

Parenting Cross-Culturally

Sam’s life looks both more relaxed and fuller this year, but the pace of instruction here is fast. He has at least two good school friends. One is an Indian student who has also grown up in Taipei but went to Dominican (a Catholic English/bilingual school) until this year, and then his buddy Connor, who is Korean-American and came in early 2016. There’s a Monday afternoon park play group, led by Jane, mother of Kevin, who is kind of a Tiger mom who aspires to less pressure for her kid (but Kevin is studying Japanese and French, piano, swimming, and ping pong, and his mom speaks to him in English). I know all the kids and parents fairly well now and I like them all. Right now my parenting style feels like:

expat parenting + Gen X helicopter parent + raising a PK/MK (pastor’s kid, missionary kid) + living among urban competitive Taiwanese parents

I always fear we’re going to crash and burn eventually. On the other hand, it’s pretty reassuring to talk to other parents (from cub scouts, church, Lih-Jen, the twins’ school) because there’s just no way to do everything and we’re all trying to figure out what’s enough and what’s too much.


Sam’s English teacher this year gives him a much longer leash, which is nice. It’s meant he sometimes gets behind or doesn’t do great on assignments, but the teacher also figures as long as we’re okay, he’s okay. Sam does a lot independently (he likes to write little books about dinosaurs, cars, or pokemon, and he’s a good drawer).

I feel like Sam is doing well, but he also won’t be the model student, even in English, because:

-He sometimes goes too fast. We read the assigned book, Superfudge, in a week, but most students are reading a page a day over a semester. Sam’s often forgotten whatever they’re to be tested on by the time we get to it.

-We don’t always see his school work. This meant on tests he struggled with place values for numbers and with calculating time differences (I’m grateful for the tests, since it told us what he was missing).

The upside is that Sam is really loving school. Sam’s friend’s mom worried that maybe her son ‘is loving school too much.’ At Lih-Jen the computer teachers lets him and his friends look up car designs during nap time, and he seems to like recess, art, and the rest. We’re probably going to let him drop violin, but he’s said he’d switch to chorus. Our only real dilemma is math, where Taiwanese school is fast. They’ve already done multiple digit multiplication and are on division now. We’ve started working with Sam on flashcards and a poster and the rest, but he may just be slow out of the gate on this. With reading we didn’t push him at all but he also seemed to get the hang out of it without a lot of stress. With math, it seems he’s caught on basic memory work (8 +7, 4×4). I wonder if some of it might be language, so we visited a local cram school and the owner helped sign him up to work with a teacher twice a week. To me it feels a bit insane to have him in buxiban in 3rd grade, but most of the kids I see there are his age or younger. Connor’s mom also signed him up, but with a different teacher. I don’t want him to be too far behind US work, and I also don’t want him to feel like he’s bad at math, when really he’s just had a lot fewer hours doing it than his classmates.

The school itself is not a perfect mix. It’s really designed for native Chinese speakers and non-native English speakers, and we’re the opposite of that. I feel like in Chinese, he gets almost forgotten, because the teacher is used to ignoring the non-native students. I wish I could have another curriculum I could help him with. The Chinese program is mostly texts to copy plus writing characters. There’s no core vocab, no writing exercises, nothing like I studied when I had Chinese.

Sam seems to also learn a lot on his own. We’ve been reading about US presidents lately, and he’s very into sports cars (which was never something that hooked me). He’s memorized dozens of cars and is interested in the mechanics. He watches youtube tutorials on drawing. For novels we’ve done Harry Potter #5 and are now doing a mix of Little House, Charlotte’s Web, Geronimo Stilton, some audio books (they love Dan Gutman), and whatever looks interesting from the library. I really enjoy reading with them. I started Roald Dahl’s the Witches with the twins and they love it, and I have the audio for Frog and Toad.

The twins seem very happy with their school. They are older for their grade (just turned six in October), so I feel like they’re used to being in charge more and seem to have the run of the school. Their Chinese is great right now and they both have a modest amount of well-thought out homework. We may try public school for them with some additional tutoring for English, because they seem a little more mature than Sam was at this age. They also have each other, which is a nice help. And often if we don’t understand the instructions in one classroom, we get another explanation for the kid in the other room. It’s an unexpected benefit of twins.

Taiwanese education, with an escape route

With our kids, we really have an escape valve. Probably by junior high they’ll be in an English program. For Taiwanese students, all paths have traditionally led through a series of hard exams (to get into junior high, then high school, then university), so anything that radically undermines this is dangerous. Cultural expectations are also quite different. We expect school to be fun and we value a mix of activities. I want my kids to read a ton of books for fun, to draw a lot, to play in the park, go to church, and so on. I’m probably naturally an over-scheduler, but Emily often feels we’re already doing too much.

With our kids I still struggle to give them conflicting messages: learn everything you can, follow your passions, but don’t close doors because you don’t like something right now, respect your teachers, but institutions can also be soul-crushing, be independent, but ask for help when you need it, trust others who know what you need to know, but listen to your own voice.