You’ve done your research, made all of your preparations, and have moved to Taiwan. Now you are here teaching English. It’s a new culture, new job, and new experience. Everything must be great, right? Not so fast.
Don’t worry. This is a not a doom and gloom post. I’ve been here for over 9 years, so none of these challenges are deal breakers, but I am a risk vs. reward type person, and half of that is the risk.
It’s important to know what you are getting yourself into before moving to Taiwan. So what are some of the possible challenges a bumps in the road during the beginning of your new adventure? Here are a few that you are sure to experience.
I’ve written about this before here. Your first few weeks will go great, but then at some point culture shock will inevitably smack you in the face. It’s temporary, and it’s easy to mitigate the shock if you are aware of the situation beforehand. One thing to remember is that you didn’t make an international move to sink into an isolated safety net, so get out there and explore your new surroundings. With the ever growing MRT in Taipei, the newer MRT in Kaohsiung, and the High Speed Rail (THSR), finding something or somewhere new to check out has never been easier.
Within your first few weeks here, you will get sick; especially if you are teaching English. Between the jet lag, stress of living in a new country, meeting new people, and the introduction to new germs, it’s unavoidable.
I got my first cold here about 6 weeks in, and it was miserable. I think it lasted close to two weeks, and while it was just a common cold, it was one of the worst I have ever had. Terrible, right?
Well, the cold was bad, but in perspective, it was nothing. When I look at it from a risk-reward viewpoint, a cold due to exposure to new germs vs. the experience of living a new and totally foreign country is heavier on the reward side. And as Nick pointed out here, the health care in Taiwan is pretty good, and cheap.
Teaching English in Taiwan usually means teaching in a buxiban, and one thing that I have come to learn is that in more cases than not, the management is far from quality. The biggest problem seems to be a lack of organization.
If you are a flexible person you will be fine. If you are used to working in an atmosphere that runs like a Swiss watch, Taiwan will be a bit of a shock. After a few months however, you’ll have a better feel of the big picture, and the management style will not be a big issue for most people.
I went from an office job where I was getting paid weekly to a buxiban job in Taiwan that paid monthly. Adjusting to a monthly pay cycle can be a bit rough at first. The worst part was waiting for the first payday, as you need to put in the time, and then wait anywhere from 5 to 10 days on top of that to get paid for that month. After that initial payday it gets better, and a after a few months I thought it was easier to budget and save money. If you want to know more about how much money you should have to make your move as smooth as possible, Nick explains it in more detail here.
The Language Barrier | Miscommunication
Unless you speak fluent Mandarin, there will be a language barrier, but even a little Chinese ability is better than none. Getting some basic Mandarin under your belt can help you with everyday necessities like ordering food and getting from point A to point B with more efficiency and less headaches.
This can also help alleviate some of the symptoms from culture shock. Nick and I have both used the self-study Rosetta Stone software and I do believe it’s enough to give you a solid foundation before you arrive. You won’t be engaging in deep political discussions, but you should be able to order green tea and some fried dumplings without much trouble. If interested, you can check it out here.
In addition to the language barrier, miscommunication is also common. It stems not only from the language barrier, but also from cultural differences.
As an American, I tend to be very direct. As an American from the northeast, I tend to be very very direct. In Taiwan that is often a big no-no. It’s never caused a gigantic problem, but it has led to some bruised egos and random bouts of frustration.
The good news is that most buxiban managers have a basic understanding of western culture, and while they are not flawless in their ability of seeing both sides of the cultural coin when disagreements arise, they are pretty good at smoothing things over.
After All of That, Why Would I Want to Teach English in Taiwan?
If it was really that bad, neither Nick or I would still be here. For everything negative that I pointed out, there is either a simple fix, such as not being afraid to go to the doctor when you get sick because the visit is only going to cost you $5USD (the average amount of money an English teacher here makes in about 15 minutes of work), or the benefit usually outweighs the initial burden, like being able to save more money on a monthly pay cycle because it forces you to pay attention to and respect your budget more.
Teaching English in Taiwan is not for everyone, but the beauty in it is that you can choose to stay, or choose to go. If you come for a year and prefer the life you had at home, there is nothing saying that you cannot return.
Many people move here for a year, meet a lot of new people, eat a lot of new and different food, and get a lot of interesting stories to share with their friends back home. They made some money and picked up some of a new language in the process. Others moved here and have never left. They got married or started businesses, or both.
There isn’t one right way to do it, so if you are serious about giving it a try, drop us a comment below, and let us know if there is anything we can help you with.