The Taiwan Intergenerational Study Tour: Not just for intergenerational specialists

Posted: May 12, 2014

Loriena A. Yancura, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Dept. of Family & Consumer Science University of Hawai`i at Manoa
Taiwan Intergenerational Study Tour participants - 2014.

Taiwan Intergenerational Study Tour participants - 2014.

I begin this synopsis of the Taiwan Intergenerational Study Tour with a confession. I am not an intergenerational specialist. Aside from hearing the term –which I had previously believed to be self-explanatory – I didn’t really have a good understanding about intergenerational programs. As a gerontologist, I study relationships among psychosocial factors and health in older adults. My studies occasionally examine interactions with younger family members, but my focus has always been on how these influence adult development. Before attending the study tour in Taiwan, held March 3-7, 2014, I’d mistakenly believed that intergenerational activities were identified solely by the involvement of two or more generations in simple, unidirectional exchanges such as children singing Christmas Carols at a nursing home. Throughout the tour I was disabused of that notion. The projects we visited emphasized the bi-directional, cooperative, and synergistic nature of intergenerational work.

The 12 people members of our group were from Singapore, Hong Kong, the United States, and Japan. We had various reasons for attending the tour. Some of us worked for public or private service agencies, while others were academics. We also varied in age – from 20-something to 80-something. What we all had in common, however, was a sense of wonderment at each stop of the three-and-a-half-day whirlwind of a tour which spanned four cities (Taipai, HsinChu, WanLi, and Taichung) and nine intergenerational sites. We also had so much fun being in the middle of a constant flurry of beautifully wrapped gifts, countless group pictures, and unforgettable group meals.

There were three main components to each site visit: presentations, facility exploration, and demonstrations. From the presentations At presentations organized by the National Chung Cheng University as part of the 2014 International Conference of Elder Education and Intergenerational Learning (sponsored by the Taiwan Ministry of Education), we learned that the government of Taiwan is interested in intergenerational programs as a way to keep older adults active in communities and to pass cultural knowledge and history to younger generations. I was also fascinated by the use of technology to connect generations, such as the digital photobooks written and illustrated by Dr. Meng-Fan (Mandy) Li’s students as part of the Shi-Chien University’s Digital Intergenerational Curriculum Sharing.

The facility tours gave participants a sense of the physical contexts of intergenerational programs in Taiwan. We visited the Nei Hu Parent-Child Center, a brand new, state-of-the-art intergenerational center funded by the Taiwanese government. The center differs from a traditional pre-school in that children and parents or grandparents visit the center together to interact with children in developmentally appropriate ways. The center contains a series of play areas specifically designed for infants and toddlers. The infant areas include toys to encourage sensorimotor play, while areas for older children include books, play equipment, and art supplies. The most popular area is called the heritage area; it is a child-size model of a historical Taiwanese dwelling complete with costumes, cooking equipment, and a traditional well. The heritage area provides a unique way for grandparents and grandchildren to share stories and cultural knowledge.

We also visited National Chung Cheng University’s Family Education Center, a public space where volunteers are trained to run intergenerational programs. This program was obviously well run and funded. A lively group of around 30 volunteers assisted administrators in showcasing this grass roots program. A highlight of this stop on the tour was a visit by the Mayor of Hsin Chu (a 400-year old city in Northern Taiwan with a population of over 400,000) who expressed strong support for the facility and its programs.

Activities/Demonstrations composed the heart of this study tour. They demonstrated the unique positive energy that I have learned to associate with intergenerational programs. At the Jen-I Senior Citizen’s Home in Taipei, older adults demonstrated toys and games that they played when young and now teach today’s children, such as cats cradle, rolling a hoop with a stick, picking a bottle up with a looped string, and hackey sack. After their demonstration, they taught us how to play their games. Playing hackey sack with a 78-year-old man at this home was the personal highlight of my tour. 

At the Godot Theatre, hosted by the Shin Kong Life Foundation, we talked with older adults who shared stories from their lives through the History Alive program which was developed in consultation with ESTA (Elders Share the Arts) based in the U.S. We witnessed as these older adults held a classroom of rowdy 10-year-olds spellbound with their stories.

At the Hueco Elementary School, we participated in two activities. The first was a traditional puppet show performed by students who had been mentored by a multi-generational family of puppet artists. The second was a joint activity between elementary school students and members of an adjoining senior center. During this activity, older adults and children were paired to compete in a series of high energy games that required teamwork. For example, one game required older adults to throw a pair of slippers on the ground so both landed in the same direction (an activity traditionally done at temples to call for good luck). In this game, the children bent down to pick up the slippers in between older adults’ throws. I’m not sure which team won that game, but I am positive that everyone in the room was having a fantastic time.

We also learned about intergenerational initiatives taking root in the home countries of the tour participants. I was particularly interested in the strategies being developed in Hong Kong for infusing an intergenerational component into their vocational education system.

I returned from the trip energized and ready to integrate the lessons I learned from the tour into my own work. One obvious strength of intergenerational programming is its capacity for centering diverse groups around a common goal. I also learned that the energy created by bringing people together across generations and experience can be quite useful when teaching classes in the community or looking for new ways to approach old research problems.

[Special thanks to the conference organizers:  Drs. Nike Liu, Matt Kaplan, and Mae Mendelson.]