When I researched moving to Taiwan, I read a lot of really great things that got me excited. I’m not about to burst that bubble; on the whole, life here is pretty good. But here are the things I wish I’d known before I moved here.
The days can be really, really long.
Depending on your job, mainly if you came through a recruiter (I highly recommend Reach to Teach) and have ended up at one of the big chains, your days will be long. In the interview, it was a little unclear to me what my hours would be. I thought I was coming for an all day kindergarten job. Looking back, I’m not really sure why I thought this. All day kindy jobs have the nicest hours of any that my school offer, so I think it was the one that was pushed more in the job description. When I got to Taiwan, I was pointed in the direction of the toddlers and told they were to be mine. I genuinely thought it was a joke. I had no experience with under-fives. None. Zilch. Nada.
I now work Monday to Friday, 10-6.40 with 20 odd minutes added on at either end for getting in/out. BUT and here’s the kicker, I’m paid by the hour and only actually teach for 5 1/2 hours of the 9 hours I spend on school premises. Add a half hour commute on at either end and it takes my day to almost double what I’m paid for. Granted some of that time is my lunch break, but I have lesson prep to do, or I just stay on school and study Chinese. For all intents and purposes, I’m at work. I do kindy in the morning, and Bushiban in the afternoons. Some other colleagues start at 9 and finish at the same time as me.
Moral of the story: ask what time you can expect to get into school, when you’ll be heading home, and how much of that you’ll be working and paid for.
You probably won’t get your first full paycheck for about 3 months.
I arrived in Taiwan at the end of June, my first full paycheck was… October. My friend who is at a different school arrived in August and her first full pay check is this month, December. This is for two different reasons: I arrived in summer, when the work they had for me was a curious assortment of subbing and summer camps. My actual proper classes didn’t start until September and the new term. For the last 2 weeks of August I was working about 12.5 hours a week. It costs money to set up a new life somewhere. I was eating out, I paid 2 months of rent upfront on my flat as a deposit, I was going out to places to try and meet people. All of this on very little pay. They told me I would need enough to see me through the first 6 weeks, and I blithely assumed that because my contract says ’16 hours minimum for the trial period and 20 hours guaranteed afterwards,’ that’s what I’d be getting. I didn’t expect to have my savings completely eaten away, and my overdraft.
My friend didn’t get a full paycheck because she had to pay for her own ARC (working visa). They took a sizeable chunk out of several paychecks until it was paid off. Luckily, my school paid for mine, or I may have had to move into a cardboard box on the street.
In February, bushiban (the cram school) will stop for 2 weeks. This means I’ll only be on 7.5 hours a week for 2 weeks. That 20 hours guaranteed that it says in the contract? Turns out holding to the contract isn’t a two way deal.
Moral of the Story: check how consistent your hours will be. Check when you really start. And be prepared for the financial commitment that is Taiwan.
They don’t mention holidays in the contract because there aren’t any.
Holidays? Sorry, you want what now? Clearly I made a basic Asia rookie mistake in assuming that I would get the occasional day off. I get national holidays, typhoon days, and that’s it. And national holidays are by no means frequent. They don’t celebrate Christmas here, so I’m working christmas day, and almost every other day between now and the end of my contract. My contract is for a year, and in that time I think the number of days I have off adds up to around 8. If I subtract the times I’m asked to work weekend days, it basically cancels out.
Moral of the story: I may have travelled a lot, but clearly I haven’t experience of getting jobs in foreign countries. Don’t be naive like I was. If you’re getting a job here, be prepared to also aquire the work ethic. Coming straight from being a student, it was a shock for me.
Your first year might be hard.
This seems like a no brainer. You’ve moved to the other side of the world to a totally different language and culture, to start a new life and a new job. Of course it’s going to be hard! There’s more to it than that though.
One thing in particular annoys me and my foreign teacher friends here: the reactions from people back home. I always feel a little petty bringing this up, because I know that if you haven’t taught abroad, you don’t really know what it’s like. Hell, I probably would have put my foot in it in the exact same way before I came out here. Common instigators of teeth grinding are: “so how is your programme going?” “Are you enjoying your travels?” “What an adventure!” I know these comments are well meaning, but the assumption that I’m on a volunteer-esque programme, travelling like crazy and lazing around in the sun before coming back to the UK for a proper job… Well, it just makes me a little irritated after I’ve worked for three months straight with only one day a week properly off. My free time is spent trying to squeeze in exercise, learn Chinese so that I can function here, and occasionally getting out of the city at the weekends. In essence, I have a job here. I have moved to a different city, and I have got a job. Just because it’s in a different country, one in a place that is semi-exotic and unknown, doesn’t mean my life is exotic and unknown. I work, I eat, I sleep, and I try my best to play in-between.
And the truth about meeting people with that work schedule is, it’s going to be hard. If you don’t work or live with people you get on well with, take up a sport or something similar. Otherwise it can get very isolating very fast.
And finally, a lot of people’s first jobs here suck. A lot of people’s first years are hard. It takes a while to settle, make things work, and find your routine. Once that happens, life becomes a lot easier and your workload lifts dramatically. I’m not there, but I know people who are and their lives are very easy indeed. Stick with it and ride the learning curve.
Moral of the story: of course teaching in Taiwan is an adventure. But it is also a job. It is one that will give you ups and downs, and you might go through patches of hating it. It’s natural. If you come with the reactions of those at home in your head: the assumption that it’s going to be a non-stop glamorous adventure, you’re going to be pretty bummed out when reality hits that you actually have to work here. When I balanced my expectations and the reality that this was really just another place to life, I became a lot happier.