Moving to Taiwan can be fun and exciting. If you’ve read through any of our posts you’ve seen that Tim and I are constantly talking about the all the great things in Taiwan and why we really like living here. And the truth is we both genuinely enjoy our lives here.
But that isn’t to say that everything is wonderful and every day is an adventure and you’ll definitely deal with a fair share of frustrations and annoyances, many of which can be chalked up to culture shock.
Every foreigner here deals with culture shock at some point during their time in Taiwan (or any other foreign culture). I’m going to explain the stages of culture shock that I’ve faced (and have seen many others face) and then I’ll offer some tips for how to get over it as quickly as possible.
Obviously I do some generalizing and not everyone experiences things in the same way. Some people in fact experience the stages in the opposite manner below (i.e. they get here and at first think everything sucks), but for the most part I think people generally experience the stages below.
Stage 1 – Everything in Taiwan awesome!
I call this the “everything in Taiwan is awesome” stage because when you first get here everything seems new and exciting. In this stage you are trying new things, meeting new people, going to new places, etc. Usually it lasts for a couple months and every day seems like a new adventure. Your commute is interesting, your meals are interesting, and heck life in general is just damn interesting.
Here are some examples of things that happen to many people:
- You discover that 7/11 is everywhere and not only is it convenient, but it sells alcohol 24 hours a day. You tell everyone that Taiwan is awesome!
- You check out cool temples that are completely different to anything you have seen before. Taiwan is exciting!
- You try out some local dishes and discover both how cheap, unique and different it is to food back home. Taiwan is incredible!
- You start teaching and find that you only need to work 20 hours a week to have enough money to get by. You post on Facebook to brag to your friends back home about how cool it is here.
- You buy a scooter and start zipping around your city. You post some pictures of random cool places you discover and your friends at home get jealous of your adventures.
- You meet a ton of cool expats from all over the world and think how awesome it is to meet people that you would never have had the chance to in your own country.
- Taiwanese people are super friendly and helpful even though you don’t speak a word of Chinese. You think how cool the people are here compared to back home where many people are rude to foreigners.
Stage 2 – Everything in Taiwan sucks!
This stage usually happens after a couple months of living in Taiwan and I call this the “errrgggghhhh everything sucks” stage. Everyone goes through this stage to some degree and in many cases the people who find Taiwan to be the most exciting in the beginning seem to get hit the hardest during this stage. When you are going through this stage everything about living in Taiwan can be frustrating.
Here are some common examples of what you might go through:
- You try and order some food and the vendor has no idea what you’re saying. You’re convinced you’re saying it right in Chinese, but the guy just doesn’t have a clue what you’re saying. You get frustrated and storm off. Taiwan sucks!
- Using your scooter was fun until you almost got into 9 accidents in one day. You start cursing off every driver that comes anywhere near you. You hate driving now and it’s miserable, especially in the rain!
- Teaching was fun for awhile, but now the kids are starting to act like brats and really annoy you. You decide that teaching sucks!
- You felt kind of cool the first few weeks when people stared at you because you were a foreigner and now it just bugs you. You start wondering why Taiwanese people don’t have any manners and stare at you like you’re some kind of freak.
- You go grocery shopping and get caught up in the madhouse that any of the big stores become on the weekend. You keep getting pushed out of the way and several people blatantly cut you in line. You start thinking how rude and disrepectful everyone is here.
Stage 3 – Everything in Taiwan is fine
The bad news is that stage 2 does indeed suck. You will get frustrated and annoyed at many things while living in Taiwan and the ironic part is that these are often the same exact things that you thought were cool when you arrived. The good news is that for most people these negative feelings only last a short time. Generally after a few weeks you’ll go into stage 3. Stage 3 is when you realize everything in Taiwan isn’t awesome, but nor does it suck. You realize that life is, well, life and doing normal everyday things feels similar to doing those same things back home. At the same time, you also start appreciating the things that living in Taiwan affords you to do in a genuine kind of way (i.e. not in “this is so awesome” kind of way).
How to deal with culture shock when it hits
For most people the vast majority of their time in Taiwan is spent in stage 3. In order to get there it’s important to recognize when you are in stage 2. Here are some ways to deal with things when you become overly negative.
- Don’t take things personally. No one is purposely trying to make your life harder. If the fruit vendor doesn’t understand you it’s not that he’s an idiot, but rather it’s because Chinese is a tonal language and you are probably saying the words wrong and so he’s confused.
- Learn some Chinese. You don’t need to try and become fluent overnight, but learning some basic Chinese will help you out in a big way. If you don’t have time for intensive classes then get a tutor or a language exchange. Many people start off with a language exchange and then have them turn into a girlfriend/boyfriend. This is certainly not a bad way to learn the language!
- Remember your country has just as many faults. You will undoubtedly find many faults with life in Taiwan, but remember that wherever you come from there are also many problems. This helps puts things in perspective. For example, sure traffic sucks in Taiwan and I’ll be the first to admit it. However, Taiwan is also one of the safest countries you’ll ever visit in terms of violent crime and theft.
- Don’t hang out with negative foreigners. The last thing you should do when you’re in stage two is hang out with other foreigners who constantly bitch about life in Taiwan. Everyone gripes occasionally and that’s fine, but hanging out with people who are constantly complaining about life here will make you negative as well and put you deeper into stage 2.
- Remember the things you found exciting in stage 1 and start exploring again. Once routine life kicks in many people stop exploring and just go about their daily lives. That’s fine, but one of the ways to really appreciate a place is to explore it. Tim and I both are constantly exploring new places and trying to new things, despite that we’ve lived here for many years. This helps to keep us from becoming overly negative about life here because we are constantly finding new and interesting places and things to do in Taiwan.
The thing with culture shock is that it’s pretty cyclical. You’ll go through all 3 stages repeatedly, but the highs will get lower and the lows will get higher as time goes on.
Developing a good group of positive friends and involving yourself in many activities will certainly help you appreciate and enjoy life here. Check out Tim’s article on culture shock for more info on how to deal with it when you’re living in Taiwan.