Before I came to Taiwan I did a ton of research to find out what life would be like here. I thought I had a pretty good idea of what to expect when I got here and in many ways I did have a much better idea than people who had just shown up barely knowing anything about Taiwan.
However, despite all my research on Taiwan there were actually several things I didn’t really understand (either I got bad information or I just never though about them). I thought it would be a great time to discuss the 5 things I wish I knew before moving to Taiwan to teach English.
1. You can’t just walk off the plane and have a job the next day
Ok, seriously, this needs to stop. So many people email us and ask whether getting a job is really that easy. It’s not even close to being that easy and anyone who tells you that you can just walk off the plane and start working in a few days is either lying or an idiot. Yes, it can happen and I know a few people who have landed here during the middle of the week and had a job lined up starting the following Monday. But I know far (far far) more people who have come here and it’s taken them a few weeks and occasionally a couple months to find a job.
This is why I wrote a post about how much money you should save before you come to Taiwan. Finding a job quickly often depends on when you come. If you come during the peak season it’s relatively easy to get a job (although it still could take a few weeks). But if you arrive in let’s say November or April, then lining up a job will almost certainly take far longer and there will be less decent jobs available. Read my post here about the best time to come to Taiwan.
2. The notion of Taiwanese students as quiet, reserved and respectful to teachers isn’t exactly right
Did you ever watch those TV specials on students in Asia growing up? I did, and in each one they talked about how nice and respectful the students were in classes. They portrayed the kids as studious and hardworking and rarely getting out of line. When I was coming here to teach I expected students to be great in class and always willing to listen with excitement as I taught them English.
If you are expecting the same then I have news for you — it’s not like that at all. Now I should point out that I’m not saying it’s the opposite (kids are rude and disrespectful), rather that the image of reserved and diligent students isn’t really true. The kids here are very similar in many ways to kids in the West. You have some great students who will really want to learn and will be polite and respectful, you’ll have some troublemakers, and you’ll have some students who hate being there, but are being forced to come by their parents. Some classes I loved teaching because the students were great and other classes I dreaded either because the students got out of control at times or because getting answers out of kids was like pulling teeth.
Having said that, I will say that the kids here are definitely better behaved overall than most American kids.
3. Taiwan has everything you need – Don’t bring extra stuff
When I first moved to Taiwan I remember debating endlessly about what to pack. I had two suitcases and I felt like I needed to pack as much as I possibly could from clothes to random medicines. I’m here to give you great news if you are also debating what to pack for Taiwan. Don’t worry about it because Taiwan has 99% of whatever you could possibly want.
Taiwan isn’t some backwater country with nothing in it. Rather, it is an extremely developed and relatively wealthy country and you will be able to find almost everything you could possibly need.
There may not always be the selection that there is in the West (i.e. there are only a few deodorant brands here), but in general you can find something suitable for whatever you need. There are a few exceptions to this (i.e. if you are bigger you may find it difficult to get clothing or shoes here). In the worst case scenario your family or friends can ship it to you here (the mail system is extremely reliable).
So stop worrying about what to pack and just bring the essentials and buy stuff here if needed.
4. Learning the language will be hard and you can’t just pick it up as you go
I have studied a variety of languages, including Spanish, French and Czech and I figured Chinese would be the most difficult. But I had also heard from people that if you get a language exchange you can pick up the basics relatively easily.
In reality, I’ve found that the only way to learn Chinese is to either take classes or set up a regimented study schedule. It’s nearly impossible for me (and most other people I’ve talked to) to just pick up Chinese in daily interactions or while casually meeting a language exchange.
Chinese is simply too different of a language to just pick it up as you go and you really need to be dedicated to learning it or you probably won’t. Language exchanges or interactions with Taiwanese friends can still be useful, but I don’t know anyone who has learned Chinese this way. Everyone I know who has developed an intermediate level of proficiency or higher has studied in classes and then maybe used friends or language exchanges as reinforcement.
5. You will want to stay in Taiwan for more than one year
A lot of people come to Taiwan with plans to stay a year and the head back home. And probably about 50% of the people that come to teach English in Taiwan do stay only for a year. But the other 50% stay here quite a bit longer and it isn’t unusual to meet people like me and Tim who have been here 5-10 years.
There are many benefits to staying another year or two and I always recommend that people stay longer if they can. You can save a lot more money in your second or third year than you can in your first year (you won’t have start up costs and you’ll be settled into life). This can make a big difference and I know people who have stayed 2 or 3 years and have gone home with a lot of money saved. You will also be able to travel a lot more and can take time off between teaching contracts.
One of the reasons I came to Taiwan was to be able to explore Asia. If I had stayed only a year I wouldn’t have gotten to see much. It really wasn’t until my second and third year in Taiwan that I had the time and money to travel a lot more.
Moving to Taiwan was one of the best decisions I have made and I really enjoy living here. Still, I wish I had known the 5 things above as it would have made life a little easier. Let us know if you have any questions about what life here is really like.