Carole Lovely-Belyea of Windham thought she’d never step back into the classroom after retiring from teaching years ago, but when the opportunity arose to teach English overseas, Belyea packed up her things, paid her utilities bills in advance and took off across the globe to the island of Taiwan last August.

“It never occurred to me that I’d ever be in Taiwan,” Belyea said, now returned from her six-week adventure, “but now that I’ve gotten a taste for the Asian culture, I ‘d like to see more of it.”

The Taiwan-Windham connection came from Town Councilor Lloyd Bennett. While doing work on Lovely-Belyea’s house, Bennett told her about his son Nathaniel and daughter-in-law Nini who run a private school in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan.

His son had been asked by the New Taiwanese University of Science and Technology to help start up a program for engineering students who wanted to learn to speak English, and Bennett encouraged Belyea to consider teaching in Taipei.

“The more he talked about it, the more interested I became,” Belyea said.

And so Lovely-Belyea made the 24-hour flight across the world to Taipei.

“The feeling was one of relief. I was not terribly tired,” Lovely said of her arrival. “At first I was aware of everyone around being of Asian descent, but as time went on they were just people.”

Lovely-Belyea said it took her a couple weeks to get oriented to the culture. With Nathaniel and Nini as her guides, she explored the streets of Taipei where she was urged to try “stinky tofu” at the sidewalk vendors, bartered with merchants at the jade market that spanned two blocks, and marveled at the Taipei 101, a 101-floor skyscraper, built to resemble a piece of bamboo, that sticks out sky high in the middle of the city.

Belyea was amazed at the number of motorcycles that crammed the streets, some with whole families riding together on one bike.

“When the light changed, it was like you’ve stepped on a hive of hornets,” Belyea said. “They’d just take off down the street.”

At the university, Lovely-Belyea settled into a dormitory with other teachers and students. Each day, she would guide her students through vocabulary lessons and teach them how to speak English.

Many of the students could already read and write at third or fourth grade level, but had no instruction on how to speak the language, Belyea said. And because she didn’t speak Taiwanese, Belyea said she became good at “mime” and sometimes drew the meaning of certain words the students were unfamiliar with like “octopus.”

“The surprising thing was how much they knew and how quickly they learned,” Belyea said.

Belyea said she was also surprised by the level of respect the students showed her. For instance, they simply addressed her as “teacher,” because it was considered impolite to call a teacher by her first or last name.

And when the students still sat in their chairs after she had dismissed class, Belay asked why they didn’t rush out the door like her former students back in America. To which they replied, “We don’t leave until teacher does.”

Her students took her on many weekend adventures to show her different parts of Taiwan. On a trip to Yangmingshan National Park, she commented on a gray cloud that shrouded the mountain they were hiking. The students then explained to her that the cloud was steam and that this wasn’t just a mountain; it was a volcano.

“It’s just awesome to know you’re standing on a volcano,” Belyea said.

The students taught her the tradition of sending off “sky lanterns,” – miniature hot air balloons that the Taiwanese write messages on before letting them loose into the atmosphere.

“There’s a belief that if you write your wishes on a balloon and let them into the sky, the gods will read them,” Belyea said.

The students came to consider her “their favorite grandmother,” Belyea said, and at the end of her trip, the students gave her gifts and a book of farewells, written in English, thanking her for teaching them how to speak the language.

“It was a very good experience and I love seeing people learn. It’s very rewarding,” Belyea said. “I think it’s made me more ready to go somewhere else. And teaching seems to be a wonderful way to meet people.”

And on the planeride home, when she picked up a fork and knife and found she didn’t have elbow room to eat her flight meal, Belyea wished she had brought along some chopsticks.

This January, Belyea plans to return to Taiwan, bringing along her daughter Kim this time, to teach again at the university.

Windhamite Carole Lovely-Belyea, middle, stands with her Taiwanese students on a weekend adventure outside of Taipei, Taiwan.

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