Taiwan can be a fun, exciting and adventurous (and plenty of other positive adjectives) place to live. But it also can be frustrating, challenging and difficult (and just as many negative things you can conjure up). Whether you will like Taiwan, and succeed here, really depends on what kind of person you are.
In this post we’ll cover who probably shouldn’t come to Taiwan. There is no shame in deciding that Taiwan isn’t the right place for you, and hey, you’ll save a lot of time, money and frustration by realizing that now then when you get here.
We’ve seen plenty of people leave after a month or two because Taiwan wasn’t the place for them, or they couldn’t handle being abroad. If you feel like you fit the bill on one or more of these, then you seriously need to reconsider whether going to Taiwan is right for you. However, if these descriptions don’t match you, then we suggest you start planning your adventure to Taiwan!
Don’t want to commit to Taiwan
Ok, we aren’t talking about a life commitment here or anything, but if you come to Taiwan to teach or do other work you need to be ready to commit to staying here for at least a year.
The problem we often see is that people fantasize about the adventure and fun of being abroad, but in reality they are only looking for a vacation or break of a few months away from home. These people generally aren’t ready or willing to commit to a year or more away from family, friends and the other comforts of home.
What Tim and I always tell people is that Taiwan is not like other countries where people go to for 4-6 months to travel and do a little work on the side to make some money. For many things like jobs, apartments, pre-paid cell phone plans, etc. you usually need to sign one year contracts and breaking these to leave early can be both expensive and challenging.
So, you really need to make sure you are ready to commit to a solid year before booking that plane ticket to Taiwan. The good thing is that if you decide that Taiwan is the right place and do plan on staying for a year (or longer) you may be able to save a decent amount of money.
Don’t want an adventure
This one seems obvious, but bear with me here. If you don’t like adventure, why would you move abroad, especially to a place like Taiwan?
What Tim and I often see are people who get caught up in the excitement of moving abroad because they are bored at home, but then get to Taiwan and don’t handle the differences between Taiwan and their home countries well. Just as things can seem fun and exciting, they can also seem incredibly annoying and frustrating.
Consider driving a scooter, a common occurrence for many people here (especially those that live outside Taipei). Are you excited by the idea of whizzing through traffic while dodging people and cars, or are you terrified by the thought of it?
What about the food. Are you ready to try out some of the interesting foods that people eat here like chicken feet, stinky tofu and duck blood or are you the kind of person that is unwilling to try out new cuisines?
Of course you don’t need to love scooter driving or Taiwanese food, but the point I’m making here is you need to ask yourself whether trying new things excites you about coming to Taiwan, or if it makes you question whether Taiwan is the right place for you.
Aren’t ready for a non-English environment
Taiwan is definitely not as English friendly as many other countries (i.e. many European or Southeast Asian countries) and some people really only think about this after they arrive.
On one hand, you can often find someone to help when you need something translated. On the other hand, you can’t always assume someone will be around to help you, and even if people are around that can help, it does get frustrating to constantly be asking people for basic things you could do in 2 minutes back home.
Imagine trying to order dumplings from a street vendor after an exhausting day of work and not understanding what the vendor is asking and getting something completely different and disgusting tasting back from them. How about trying to get medicine from a pharmacy when you’re sick and not being able to explain what’s wrong? Sound fun?
Of course not, but how you handle these situations will indicate whether you’ll do well here. Can you laugh them off or easily put them behind you and chalk these experiences up to living in a country with a different language, or will you get stuck on these little annoyances and grow inward and more frustrated with doing daily activities?
Not flexible and prefer very structured environments
Working for a Taiwanese cram school or company is going to be very different experience in terms of dealing with management, working in groups, and handling less structured environments. These kinds of differences and challenges are of course frustrating to almost everyone, but again, it’s how you handle it that will determine how well you enjoy your time here. Here are some more specifics on how working in a Taiwanese cram school or company can be different than in the west.
Taiwanese bosses are generally more authoritarian and expect you to follow what they say. Now, this isn’t super strict, and you don’t need to say yes to everything your boss says, but you do need to be willing to be respectful and not openly challenge them like you often can in the west.
When I’ve disagreed with my bosses about something, I have usually spoken up, but I do so in a respectful way that focuses on how I think we can do things better (i.e. I don’t focus on criticizing their decisions and get into a heated debate about them). I also try not to openly disagree with my bosses when others are around so that they don’t lose face (face is something we will definitely cover in a post later).
Taiwanese companies often have a group think mentality and people here don’t like to openly voice independent ideas that go against the group. This is often very different than western culture where we are taught to be individuals and voice our opinions strongly in group settings.
When a group decides to do something, they generally expect everyone to go along with it and not fight it. This means that if you actively oppose the group’s decision and are vocal about it, you may face resentment from your coworkers for being outspoken and for being perceived as causing conflict.
Taiwanese cram schools and companies are definitely not as structured or organized as what I’ve experienced in the west. Basically, the best advice I tell people is be prepared for things like constant last minute changes, people forgetting to tell you important details, and just general lack of clarity.
For example, I remember walking into a new class and discovering that the level and lesson I had planned for were completely different than what I had been told by my manager and there was no time to plan for the actual level/lesson I had to teach (that was a rough two hour class to teach). Another time I showed up for an early Saturday class (I hated Saturday morning classes when I was teaching) only to be told that my school had canceled the class the day before and simply had forgotten to tell me.