I moved to Taipei, Taiwan, three weeks ago to be an English teacher, with no intention to return.

I don’t know if there are accounts out there and I just missed them, but I couldn’t really find anything detailed on the internet about coming to Taiwan as an English teacher. So here’s my experience for any future newbies who feel like coming to the country in Asia that no one, outside of Asia, really knows anything about.

Day 1:

Arrival in the airport. I slept for most of the second flight from Dubai to Taipei, so was pretty groggy by the time we landed and had a stonker of a headache setting in. Immigration took absolutely for.ever. About an hour and a half I think. I think I was standing in the slowest queue, because everyone in the other queues who’d got there after me were long gone. I’d just got to the front of mine when an official arriving and shut the gate, and then sent me to the back of a different queue. Sheeeiiittt. When I finally got through a small man in a suit was waiting with a sign saying my name. He’d didn’t speak much English but knew the word car, and mimed a steering wheel just to be sure that I understood. When we got to the car park he’d lost his car.

The airport is a little way out of the city so there’s a rather grim drive through the suburbs of Taoyan (during which I was thinking oh shit, I hope Taipei doesn’t look like this) before hitting a lot of green all over mountains, and little temples visible dotted around. You’ll know when you’re in Taipei because a rather large flashy tower (Taipei 101) will rise out of the mists.

We finally arrived at my hostel, I checked in, talked for a while, and fell asleep.

Day 2:

Depending on your school, they might arrive and collect you on this day, but my director realised I’d need a day of sleep so left me be. I slept until 4pm.

Day 3:

Things with bosses, at least for me, are far more informal than with the majority of jobs in the west. I was getting messages from the director left with the hostel that they said were from my ‘friend’ Rita. No surname, no title… all a little confusing, don’t argue. It’s important to have vaccination certificates, passport, degree certificate, and a few thousand NTD for this stage.

We went to the main hospital, where patients in face masks and robes milled around like lost souls. In the lobby, a girl was playing Chinese elevator music while a man with a wheelchair and a drip stand either nodded to the harmony, or was asleep. I was herded through, my director, Rita seeming to be in a hurry. First I needed passport photos taken (make sure your face is close to the screen, it needs to be between 3.2 and 3.6cms for the visa) and then I was rushed back downstairs, shouted at in Chinese, told to sign various forms, herded back upstairs, and sat outside an office to wait. The first part of the health check was being weighed and measured. I stood on the scales and waited to be told what to do, and wasn’t expecting a sheet of plastic to come down and hit me on the head. I was so confused I stayed standing there and it happened again. Everyone laughed at me and I was measured as being 2cms shorter than my actual height because I was flinching…

Blood pressure next, then vaccination checks, then an eye check, then back downstairs to pay for a chest x-ray and a blood test which happen in separate rooms with separate nurses/doctors. The blood test was quite violent and brusque, and the chest x-ray also brusque, but less opportunity for violence.

Done, to the school, whistle stop tour. All the kids looked very peaceful and angelic, as I’d arrived at nap time: the only time of the day that the school is quiet.

My boss then took me for lunch at the local veggie restaurant. I’ve been told this definitely isn’t a normal thing, but again, I’m not arguing.

Days 4-12:

Depending on which school you’re at, you might have proper training, or you might just have to observe. I had 7 days of observations and had difficulty staying awake for approximately 100% of the afternoon classes. Two hours a lesson, a hot classroom, no interaction… with the toddlers in the morning it’s okay, because they bumble around and sit on/poke/punch/flying-leap-hug anyone new in the classroom.

After my first 2 weeks, I now have a week off. Except it might not be off. When I tried to take my last Friday afternoon off (I felt I didn’t need more observation time) I got called up and asked if I could come back in and teach a class. This is technically illegal as I don’t yet have a work visa, but there are many illegal teaching things here, including westerners teaching kindergarten, so it’s all okay. I’ve been taken through the ‘GOVERNMENT, HIDE!!’ drill several times so I’m feeling pretty prepared for the day when that happens. So… I had half an hour to prepare for this two hour class, which was also my first class at this school, and my first time teaching kids. I was given a very rushed run through of ‘these books, these pages, don’t panic’, and my CT (Chinese teacher, you’ll have one in the classroom with you most of the time to help with admin/discipline/marking/misc. they have actual early childhood development qualifications and similar). The class was nowhere near as disastrous as it could have been, but 8 year old boys should really be in solitary confinement not near other humans. I was hoarse from trying to be heard over them by the end. ‘Controlled chaos’ is definitely the way to go as a teaching tactic.

Week three begins teaching proper, a week of summer camps and subbing, then week 4 I meet my real classes. Oh the joys.

Still to come:

Things I’ve learned in my first few weeks here.

Taipei life.

Vegan life.

Animal welfare in Taiwan.

Lots of pictures that I need to get round to taking.

Other things as I think of them, or ask me questions.

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