Other important criteria were that the school should be small and should be situated in an area that was relatively pollution-free. Although Taipei's air quality has improved a lot over the last 20 years, there are still many areas that are quite heavily polluted due to the huge numbers of two-stroke engine scooters that are driven. Some schools we discounted immediately because they were situated right next to busy main roads.
We visited an international school first, the Taipei European School. As we suspected, despite this being a very nice school, the language of instruction was English (or French, or German, depending on which section the children attend) and the children only had two hours of Chinese tuition a week, so the school didn't suit our purposes. We also tried a private Taiwanese school with a bilingual programme, but again we felt there was too much English spoken there (Taiwanese parents who can afford it send their children to these schools so that they can learn/maintain English language skills).
There are a few schools in Taipei that cater to the needs of children with Mandarin as a second language. The one we went to see was Xinsheng Elementary School. Like many Taiwanese schools, this school is very large. Most Elementary schools in Taipei have 1000+ enrolments. It's also situated on a main road (in an expensive area!). So, although this school could provide the Mandarin support Conrad needs, we carried on looking.
We finally found a very small school halfway up a mountain in Beitou, Taipei's hot springs district. This school was well-suited to our needs, being very small and set in a beautiful environment. They were a little evasive on the question of Mandarin support but generally it seemed the best choice. Unfortunately, although we had a verbal agreement that Conrad could attend this school, on a later visit they told my husband they no longer had any places. So when we arrived in Taipei last Monday we faced another school hunt.
It's very hard to find an appropriate school for your child when you're in a foreign city, don't know anyone with children and don't speak the language! However, we finally hit upon Gongguan Elementary School. The Director at this school was very happy to have Conrad and said they could help Conrad with Mandarin. They also wanted him to start on the first day of term so that he didn't miss out on that time when children form their school friendships. So, in short, he started school on Tuesday!
Here's a photo of the school:
It looks quite large but there are only 20 to a class, and there are lots of school offices (those are the ones with the airconditioning units outside). Roughly 200 children are enrolled.
This is the view looking out of the back:
Conrad in a classroom waiting for me to finish speaking with the Director on Monday:
Despite this being only the third day Conrad has been to school, we're already getting a taste of Taiwanese culture. The parents are exhorted to bring their children to school by 7.50 a.m. at the latest, but classes don't actually start then. In fact, I don't know when they start. There's nothing happening by the time I leave at 8 o'clock. I think we may be having a longer lie-in!
Also, when I asked what Conrad needs for school I was told just pen and paper. It turns out he also needs a bowl and chopsticks for lunchtime, and a toothbrush, toothpaste and mug for post-lunch teeth-brushing. Just today he told me he also needs a pillow for his desk for the post-lunch nap (poor thing has been trying to sleep on a hard wooden desk lid!). Luckily I thought of the water bottle by myself. I think he may need a cloth too, for cleaning his desk and the classroom windows. This is not a special punishment, by the way, they all have to do it.
Of course it's early days and it's all quite difficult, so I must be honest and say that Conrad isn't the happiest child at the moment. He' a good complainer, so sometimes it's a little hard to tell when he's genuinely unhappy, but I think he's finding this very challenging. I'm trying to be understanding and encouraging but be clear to him that he must go and that things will get easier.
We found a shop selling huge lemonade slush puppies the other day, so at least there are some nice things to take his mind off it all.