Friday, October 6, 2017

Taiwan to Windham - the story of how one woman made Windham her home by Lorraine Glowczak


Nini Bennett of Windham took a moment of her time a few weeks ago to share her story. A story of her journey to America; leaving her home of Taiwan 10 years ago and becoming a naturalized citizen of the U.S. and making the Sebago Lakes Region of Maine her new home.
 
Aspiring to provide her three children with a balanced educational experience, Bennett saw the U.S., and Windham specifically, as the perfect location to put that balance in their lives. 

Nini Bennett in the center with husband and mother
Briefly, the Country of Taiwan is a densely populated island off the coast of China and is home to an eclectic mix of successful enterprises and hardworking individuals. With a population of approximately 23 million people, doing and being one’s best is necessary to participate and flourish in a highly competitive job market. 

But not only is the market competitive for adults, children of all ages start their scholastic involvement young, studying long hours every day, in preparation for a future that will lead to 70-hour work weeks, if they are lucky.

“The students spend a lot of time studying and testing but little time thinking for themselves,” Bennet said. “There is no such thing as ‘what is your dream and what do you want to do with your life?’”

“Children begin classes at 6:30 a.m. and continue until 5 p.m.,” Bennett continued. “But their studies do not end there. After school, many students go onto an after-school program called a bushiban [pronounced ‘boo-she-bahn’] school and will study for another couple of hours before returning home later in the evening.”

Bennett was the owner and proprietor of a bushiban in Taipei City, offering a variety of afterschool studies that promoted the study of English. Her job involved the hiring of teachers, including an American from Windham, ME. His name was Nate Bennett. 

Obviously, Nini and Nate fell in love and married. Their partnership expanded to include the purchase of a bushiban school, together becoming co-owners of the academic afterschool program. 

They named their new school Katahdin English School, of which they both still own and operate from Windham, with the help of their office manager (and long-time friend) in Taiwan who manages the day to day operations. Together, Nini and Nate focused on teaching English studies in Taiwan for a decade, at levels ranging from kindergarten-aged children to college level programs.

The Bennetts are still actively teaching those students from their home here in Maine. During the summer months, the Bennetts host the students from the Katahdin English School, giving them an opportunity to travel from Taiwan to Windham, with the purpose of continuing their education in fun, hands-on experiential summer camp programs. The Bennetts collaborate with schools such as a Cheverus High School and Waynflete in Portland which both offer summer educational programming. 

“Students [from Katahdin English School] get to explore different subjects and activities while they are in Maine such as drama, computer studies, tennis and basketball,” explained Bennett. “And we always take time to travel to a number of places in New England that include Portland and Boston.”

Despite her busy entrepreneurial schedule, Bennett spends quality time with her two daughters, Eliza and Emma, and son, Jeremy, supporting them in their various educational and extracurricular activities.

“I love Maine and am very happy that I have made my home here in Windham,” Bennett said. “Moving here was a great choice for my children.”

Additionally, she enjoys the kindness she has witnessed since moving to Windham. “People here are very kind and are willing to stop on the road to help you if your car breaks down,” Bennett said. “And I love how the winter makes Mainers strong and tough. I really like their ingenuity.”

When asked if she had any advice she wanted to give to others, she shared a few pieces of wisdom she has learned in her 10 years of living in the U.S. “For immigrants, I would just say they need to be patient in their new homeland, doing their best to be openminded to the new culture they are in.”

For those who were born a U.S. citizen she stated, “You all are really lucky. You have so much freedom here. I think people need to cherish that more.”

For everyone, whether a new citizen or a citizen by birth – young and old, she reminds us, “Take chances and work hard. If you do, you can have everything you’ve ever dreamed of.”

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