We get a lot of questions a lot about how teaching English in Taiwan compares to other countries in Asia, like Korea, Japan and China. I thought it would be a great time to bring in a guest poster who has experience teaching in Taiwan and elsewhere. I asked my friend TJ to write about his experiences teaching English in Taiwan and Korea and how they compare and contrast.
In his post below, TJ gives some great insight into why he first moved abroad and on the differences between teaching English in Taiwan and Korea. As you can see from TJ’s story, he didn’t get very good advice before coming to Taiwan, which is one of the reasons we started this blog.
For example, we’ve covered important topics like how much money you should save before you come to Taiwan, when you should come, and much more. If you have any questions for us or for TJ, leave a comment below and we’ll be happy to respond.
Why I decided to teach abroad
When my friend asked me to write about the differences between life in Taiwan vs. Korea I instantly had writers block brought on by the difficulty of sifting through the massive stockpile of data I’ve accumulated throughout the 5 years since I left The States. I just didn’t know where to start. I decided to think back to what was most important to me when I made the decision to pack my bags for parts unknown.
I was in my late 20’s and wanted to do something crazy with my life. Something nobody I knew had ever done. You’re reading this, so I can imagine you’re about to do something equally as crazy. But is moving to another country really crazy? You be the judge.
It really didn’t take me long to narrow my search to two countries: Korea and Taiwan. The reason was simple and can be summed up in one word M-O-N-E-Y. Unless you were fortunate enough to be a genetic lottery winner by virtue of well-off parents, worked your way through college, or had a rich uncle who went bungee jumping in Mexico; you probably have a financial ankle bracelet in the form of student loans, credit card bills, and the like.
If you are like I was, you probably need money and quick in order to loosen that ankle bracelet ever so slightly or remove it all together.
Life in Korea
After doing extensive research I decided that Korea was the way to go. Recruiters were all over the internet to help me every step of the way. My flight to Korea was to be reimbursed by my school when I arrived, and I was to be given an apartment rent free for the duration of my contract. Couldn’t argue with that. It just seemed like the safer option at the time, yet still nerve-racking for a greenhorn like myself.
I had a rough time at first, but after slipping into a routine it was great. Most schools there might have you working 40 hours a week. My school, on the other hand, had me doing 50+. In a regular job 50+ is not that big of a deal, but when teaching kids it really wears on you.
However, when my paycheck arrived every month, my stress dissipated. I made about $2,500 USD a month for a salary, but most new people will bring in about $2,100 or so. Working 10 more hours per week was nice money-wise, but not at all worth the extra stress involved.
For reference, in Taiwan you can expect to make $2,000 starting out working 25 teaching hours per week. You will have to pay rent and a 2 month deposit, and you will likely have to sign a one year rental contract. In Korea you also get a bonus of one month’s pay at the end the contract. This is pretty universal. All of this said, you can stretch your buck more in Taiwan. A good deal of foreigners like to travel to Southeast Asian countries during holidays. Taiwan is much closer to Southeast Asia, and thus a more convenient home base.
Moving to Taiwan
When my year was almost up, and my countdown for returning to The States had begun I started thinking, “Hey. Korea is cool. Why not take the next step and try Taiwan?” I met a few people in Korea with knowledge of teaching in Taiwan.
After interrogating them extensively about how best to make the jump to Taiwan, my mind was made up that the best thing to do is get on a flight to Taipei without a job and find one when I get there. My advice to you as someone who has done this is as follows: DON’T DO THIS UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES!
I was thrilled to hear that a foreigner could just arrive in Taiwan and get a job. You see in Korea, you need to procure a visa prior to landing at which time your new employer sponsors your visa. This means you have to do paperwork that can be difficult depending on where you live.
You also need a criminal background check and you have to do an interview with a representative at a Korean embassy. As a guy from Northern Michigan, this meant a 7+ hour drive to Chicago. Taiwan doesn’t require you to do all of these shenanigans!
Unfortunately, I took bad advice and just got on a plane with my anemic bankroll. I arrived in Taipei and spent a day in the city before moving on to Kaohsiung on the super-awesome High Speed Train. Why Kaohsiung? The beach, of course.
I spent a week there looking for a job. Sending emails, walking around with resume in hand, inquiring with local foreigners at bars in hostels just wasn’t effective. I had had enough of this runaround and I made the decision to take my talents back north to Taipei.
Upon arrival back in Taipei, it quickly became clear to me that the job market here was not good either. I figured out quite quickly that the best time to come to Taiwan is over the summer (June-August) or in January/February (before Chinese New Year). This was November. Ouch. My job hunt was rough and ended after almost a month when I finally found something.
So, if the job market in Taiwan isn’t as simple and easy as Korea, why have I been here 4 years and only stayed in Korea for just 1 year? Let me tell you. The people.
Taiwanese are much more inviting and polite in my opinion. Also, Korean schools hire anyone with a heartbeat and a degree. Sight unseen. That leads to…well…let’s just say you’re odds of working with someone who might not be socially accepted in their home country are pretty good. Taiwanese schools interview people in person, so they know what they’re getting.
Differences between Taiwan and Korea
Korean is spoken by 80 million people. Mandarin? Roughly 1.3 billion with a “b”. Do the math. Taiwanese people also have a bit better English to guide you around. Still, it can be frustrating at times in both countries to say the least.
In Korea you have a lot of paperwork and it’s difficult to change jobs. You sign your contract the day your school has imported you. Getting teaching hours in Taiwan can be difficult. If you are new to teaching abroad, or don’t have a lot of money saved, then I recommend contacting one of the bigger schools like HESS and having things ready for you when you arrive.
Remember, the summer and January/February (before Chinese New Year) are the best times to come. If you don’t enjoy your initial school, you can always move on to another school during the two peak hiring seasons.
I have to say, the jobs themselves are about the same inside the classroom for both countries. Perhaps the Korean classroom is more serious, but business is business, so private schools just want to make money no matter what country you’re in. I was always warned that teaching private classes in Korea was policed heavily and could get you deported if caught, whereas this doesn’t seem to be an issue in Taiwan.
Korea and Taiwan both have great healthcare run by the government. Although I have to give the edge to Taiwan on this one, as it’s just plain dirt cheap while not lacking in quality.
As mentioned before, Taiwan is better situated geographically to tourist hotspots. It also has great domestic travel. The train system can get you to an array of great places in a short time and it’s cheap. Although, both countries have High Speed Rail.
Food and Drinks
Korea has great food and the people are not afraid to lift a glass to mourn the loss of fallen loved ones, celebrate a wedding, or celebrate just being alive. What I’m trying to say is alcoholism runs rampant in Korea. Many people (particularly business men in suits) binge drink like frat boys on spring break. This was never an issue for me, as I enjoy lifting 12 ounce weights myself. That’s not to say Taiwanese don’t drink, but in moderation for the most part.
The bars here are great and stay open all night in many cases. I love Korean food, and eating it with a large group of friends is great. This is all well and good, but I prefer the selection of food in Taipei: Chinese, Taiwanese, Thai, Korean, Indian, American, etc. This cosmopolitan city has it all.
I think I’ve shown that both countries have a lot to offer, but let me leave you with this, as it could be the deciding factor in your decision of which country to choose. As I mentioned earlier, if you don’t have a lot of cash saved up and want a job when you land then you probably should seriously consider Korea.
If you can save up some money before you come and can arrive at one of the peak hiring periods then Taiwan can be a great option. To wrap up, I’ll just say that I lived in Korea for one year and was ready to leave, while I’ve lived in Taiwan for four years and have no plans to relocate.