After planning to move to Taiwan with his wife, Texas State alumnus Graham Oliver found a teaching position at an elite, private high school in the capital city, Taipei. Teaching English Literature and Writing to 8th, 9th, and 10th grade students since June of 2019, Oliver says he “[has] a lot of freedom over what [he] choose[s] to teach.” This freedom allows Oliver to assign one of his favorite books as an interesting text for his students, Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, while conducting his courses with a similar rigor to American universities.
Oliver earned his MA in Rhetoric and Composition at Texas State in 2014, returning immediately after graduation to enroll in Texas State’s MFA in Creative Writing (Fiction) program and earning an additional Master’s degree in 2017. His love of writing, craft, and structure persists through his previous work as a tutor at the Writing Center, a Texas State Lecturer, and now as a high school English and Writing teacher in Taiwan.
Of his time at Texas State supporting writers in the Writing Center as well as lecturing in literature and writing courses, he claims the teaching preparation he gained in the English Department is his most valuable knowledge for teaching abroad: “anyone in the Department would, at the drop of a hat, help you with any kind of situation that you are having.” This generosity guided him when he began teaching and prepared him to address a variety of needs in a classroom, enabling him to adapt to new situations that still challenge him today in Taiwan. He reflects that the one-on-one instruction in writing he carried out with students in the Writing Center at Texas State remains among his favorite methods for interaction with his Taiwanese students, although this semester, Oliver is challenged by teaching through a mask during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Part of a foreign teaching program, Oliver works alongside mainly American and Canadian teachers. A normal day involves interactions with a variety of students and pursuing a number of interests and creative projects on campus. Typically, he stops at Starbucks for a coffee; teaches his classes; and then steals away from the communal office housing more than twenty instructors, opting to complete his work free of distractions and in an empty classroom.
After school hours Oliver likes to take advantage of the walkable city streets, using the Taipei 101 tower as his guide towards Wuxing, his favorite neighborhood just outside downtown. The neighborhood features some of his favorite comforts abroad: a farmer’s market of fresh produce, vegetarian food, and a small park. One of his favorite activities is to explore unfamiliar areas of the city with his wife – “sometimes we pick a subway station to go to explore” – an adventure that has led them to some of the best food and sights of the city. In addition to wandering the streets of Taipei and teaching his courses, Oliver has been studying Chinese and trying to piece together the elements of the language: “trying to learn a new language has made me use a completely different part of my brain. It’s sort of like having a jigsaw puzzle that you go add a couple of pieces to each day.” Pleasantly surprised by some of the words he has learned, he lists a few favorites: “good is woman and child; bread is the word for flour combined with the word for package; popcorn is written as the characters for exploding, rice, and flower put together.”
Oliver also notes that another of his hobbies while in Taiwan is baking bread, an activity he picked up in graduate school. Amid the stress of completing his Master’s degrees and the uncertainties of teaching, neither of which offers concrete immediate results, baking bread was a stabilizing activity to manage stress; “with cooking you have a final product … there is an end that is exactly what you’ve hoped for.” Now living abroad and teaching in an entirely new environment, he still bakes, though he also enjoys reading and playing video games in his free time.
While his main priorities now are teaching and adapting to life abroad, Oliver still investigates video game narratives as a scholarly research interest. Among his published works are two essays, including a personal essay in the Harvard Educational Review (2013) on his experience as a sixteen-year-old high school drop-out; and a peer-reviewed essay on storytelling in video games, “Renegade or Paragon?: Categorizing Narrative Choice in Video Game Storylines”, published in Dialogue (2020).
-Kennedy Farrell, English Major