Building a Career in Taiwan: An Interview with Jesús Trapero

Posted by Helena Trapero • Tuesday, April 26. 2011 • Category: Crossing Cultures
Jesús from Madrid, Spain, is a true devotee of everything Chinese. When he, with the help of a government grant, finally went to experience life among the Chinese people in Taiwan, he got hooked to the culture and now plans to build his career there. From starting out as a language student to working for national radio and lecturing at universities, in the five years since he made the move he never regretted his decision. Not least due to the high demand of native language teachers in Taiwan his future looks very promising. The enthusiasm he expressed in our interview will be an inspiration for many.

(c) by Jesús Trapero Sandoval

KM: Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.

Jesús Trapero: I was born in Madrid in 1979. After I finished school, I studied Fine Arts at Madrid Complutense University. In 2001 I was living in Dublin to improve my English language skills and there I made a Chinese friend who made me take my first step into Chinese culture. Two years later I started to learn Chinese in Madrid and in 2006 I finally moved to Taipei, Taiwan. I came here because I wanted to study Chinese for a year, but after that year I realized there are many things I still needed to learn and one year was not enough at all. So I decided to stay longer. After 5 years in Taiwan I took the decision to develop my future in this country.

KM: What did you particularly like about Chinese culture before moving to china?

Jesús Trapero: I like many aspects of Chinese culture. “A story speaks a thousand words”… When I was ten, I went with my family to a Chinese restaurant. That day my father taught me how to use chopsticks and from that very day I started to use chopsticks instead of knife and fork whenever I could. I also like Chinese music, painting, literature, medicine, and philosophers like Kongzi, Mengzi, Zhuangzi or Laozi.

(c) by Jesús Trapero Sandoval

KM: Why did you decide to start studying Chinese?

Jesús Trapero: Actually it was not really a conscious decision. It was a direct result of my curiosity. In 2001 I wanted to get to know some Chinese girls, so I started to learn my first sentences. After the first lessons I loved to write Chinese characters – it felt like a big mystery that needed to be solved. This way I started to learn the language and now it’s just a part of my life.

KM: How many years have you been studying Chinese in Spain before moving to Taiwan?

Jesús Trapero: I studied three years in a governmental language school. In the fourth year I stopped taking classes but I continued teaching myself.

KM: And then you went on to Taipei University?

Jesús Trapero: Actually I never studied at Taipei University like a regular student. I participated in their special program for learning Mandarin Chinese.

KM: What do you like about Taiwan now that you have been living there for 5 years?

Jesús Trapero: I love to study their society, customs and I like discover things that even Taiwanese people don’t know about their own culture. By now I really enjoy reading Chinese classic literature, and watch TV programs and ask my students many questions on their ideas about life. I love to drink tea in the mountains and write calligraphy. Another passion of mine is to read books about self-help, psychology, and “how to be successful in life”. Those kinds of books are really popular in Asia. I use to call them “successful-maniac-addiction”, but find them really amazing.

KM: What did you feel when arriving for the very first time in Asia?

Jesús Trapero: When I came here I didn’t feel any culture shock. Actually I felt more comfortable here than in my own culture in many ways. After a while I started to discover some differences and had some problems, like Taiwanese people’s ideas about “the others”. Many people don’t care about what happens to “other people”. I mean when you are in the street and somebody has an accident, most Taiwanese don’t seem to care. Now I understand why and I don’t judge them, but I still have problems with this attitude.

KM: What did you do to immerse yourself in the local community?

Jesús Trapero: Just being natural, trying to do everything I like to do with Taiwanese people, thoroughly studying their language, culture, and society, but especially trying to be flexible and understanding the reasons why they do things I don’t like myself personally.

(c) by Jesús Trapero Sandoval

KM: Where have you been working in Taipei?

Jesús Trapero: In Radio Taiwan International for 2 years and in a language gram school for more than 4 years. Now I’m also working for Spanish Official Exams, as evaluator, and guest-speaker in several Taiwanese Universities.

KM: Is it very different to teach Spanish in Taiwan than in other places of the world?

Jesús Trapero: I think so, because you should understand how they learn, which topics you should teach them and which you shouldn’t. Most manuals for teaching Spanish are not designed for Asians, but rather for European or American people and that is a big problem for us. But at the same time this makes us improve our teaching skills.

KM: How is your relationship with your students?

Jesús Trapero: Nice! They are very polite and try to work hard, but sometimes I need to spend a lot of time changing some of their preconceived ideas and attitudes about life. For them study is a very painful burden and it is often difficult to convince them otherwise.

KM: What about cultural similarities between Chinese culture and your native Spanish culture?

Jesús Trapero: Maybe the idea of “family” is similar. For both cultures “family” is really important. In both cultures children often live with their parents for many years and parents continue to pay for their children’s higher education. Curiously, our famous “Spanish Siesta” is in fact probably more common in Taiwan than in Spain. And the way we invite our friends for lunch and dinner is also very similar.

KM: Please also share some of the cultural differences between Chinese culture and Spanish culture that come to your mind.

Jesús Trapero: There are so many things to talk about. But just let me give you an example: the way to say “hello” in Chinese is completely different. When you come to Taiwan teachers tell you “ni hao” means “hello”. But that’s a big mistake. Why? We used to say “ni hao” to our neighbours in the elevator, but in Taiwan that is weird. In Spain we also say “hello” to our family when we have just arrived home, but in Chinese that is impossible. So they have a lot of different ways to say “hello” depending on circumstances. For example: “Mum, I have returned”, “Did you have your lunch?”, “Mr. Brown” (if you see Mr. Brown), but sometimes you should just smile, or don’t even say anything. These differences are very subtle and nobody told me, so it was very difficult to understand in the beginning.

KM: Thank you so much for your time Jesús and the many experiences and insights you shared with us.

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