esl in taiwan: My Thoughts

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I get all sorts of questions about teaching English in Taiwan.  So here I will attempt to answer every single one of them.  I will start with general requirements and procedures.  Then I will share my experiences and thoughts on the good, bad, and ugly aspects of ESL in Taiwan.

General Requirements

Must-Haves

  • Bachelor's degree in any field.
  • No criminal record.
  • Passport holder from Canada, South Africa, the U.K., or the U.S.

Steps to Getting A Job

  • Get hired.
  • Apply for a resident visa.
  • Return paperwork to your school so they can file the work permit.
  • Begin working (legally) after the permit is approved.
  • Apply for an Alien Resident Certificate

Bureaucratic Hurdles and Costs

  • Criminal background check in Taiwan — $3.00 USD.
  • Multiple passport photos (6 recommended) — $10-20 USD
  • Annual (or whenever you change jobs) health check — $50-60 USD
  • Resident visa (one-time application as long as you don't leave Taiwian for more than 2 months) — $147 USD
  • Alien Resident Certificate — $30.00 USD (per year).
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My Thoughts On Teaching English Here

Even before I came to Taiwan I knew that I didn't really want to be an English teacher.  It was never something I saw myself doing long-term.  Honestly I just wanted to escape from my life back home.  I was the typical desperate white guy who tries to save himself from despair by coming to Asia.  I think this is important to say because my attitude has likely to skewed my opinion a bit on this matter, but here I try to be as honest as possible when stating the good, bad, and ugly about teaching in Taiwan.

 

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The Good

Taiwan is extremely safe, convenient, and fun. 

Most people are friendly and welcoming to foreigners and there are endless things to do here no matter your interests (except deer hunting).

Less Responsibility

Being a foreign teacher here generally entails less responsibility and more fun.

Good pay and lots of free time.

Most teachers here earn around $20 USD per hour.  However they are legally only allowed to work somewhere around 25 hours per week.  But you can tutor on the side if you are good at marketing yourself and networking.  Or you can simply use your free time to pursue other things.

Gain A Global Perspective

Living in Taiwan allows you to meet people from all over the world and learn about places and things you otherwise would have no clue about.  It also takes you out of your comfort zone and forces you to abandon some of your flawed preconceptions of the world.

Pretty Good Weather (and typhoon days)

Taiwan's weather is comparable to Florida (sub-tropical).  It does snow in the mountains sometimes during winter, and it's humid as hell.  But most of the time it's fairly comfortable.  Whenever there is a typhoon you get the day off.  Most of the big cities are still pretty safe during typhoons.

Affordable Heathcare

You can get prescription drugs for insanely cheap and have your teeth cleaned once per year for less than $5 USD.  Contact lenses are insanely cheap here.  If anything terrible like cancer happens you're probably still screwed, but other than that an illness or injury isn't going to send you into debt for years like it would in the U.S.

 

The Bad

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Old Buildings And Cockroaches

Most of the buildings in Taiwan are quite old.  And to be frank a lot of them stink inside.  God only knows how much harmful mold is living in most of the cram schools given Taiwan's very humid climate.  Plus cockroaches are everywhere.  You can expect to see them in your home even if you live in a fairly nice place.

Stingy Bosses/Lack of Resources

Most schools lack proper resources because the owners are insanely cheap.  If you find a school with good WIFI consider yourself among the top 1%.  Schools I have taught at refuse to even provide toilet paper or paper cups to drink water.

Communication/Cultural Differences

It can be extremely hard to have effective communication with coworkers and bosses both because of language barriers and cultural differences.  Taiwanese people tend to be very passive, making clear and direct communication very difficult.

Unpaid Work

It's very common for cram schools to ask teachers to do extra work such as grade papers, meet with parents, or hold events for no pay.  Sometimes they will even ask teachers to provide food or props for events without offering to compensate their costs.  Yet this is nothing compared to what locals go through.

Difficulties In Daily Life

While Taiwan is full of convenience, not being fluent in Chinese can make a number of basic things quite difficult.  Everything from ordering stuff online, opening a bank account, and searching for housing is exceptionally difficult if you don't have a native speaker to help you.  Add this to the general difficulty of being thousands of miles away from your friends and family, and the stress can really add up.  A lot of foreigner here struggle with their mental health, and even though there is affordable healthcare, very little is offered in terms of treating psychological pain.

Lack of Purpose/No Future Advancement

Even if you work at McDonald's you can advance to the position of shift manager or general manager.  But if you teach English in Taiwan the only room for advancement you can look forward to is more classes.  There are no retirement packages and foreign teachers here are highly expendable.  If you leave they'll just find another half teacher/half babysitter to take your place. 

 

The Ugly

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Racial Discrimination

It's commonly known in Taiwan that schools prefer to hire white people over anybody else.  This can cause great difficulty and frustration for obvious reasons.  Attitudes are slowly changing here, but the practice of hiring barely qualified white people over highly-qualified non-Caucasians is still practiced and I've seen it happen first-hand.

Resentment Among Coworkers

The first school I worked at in Taiwan paid foreign teachers  $600 TWD per hour and native teachers only $300 TWD per hour.  Obviously this will cause resentment among some people.  Some of these people choose to take it out on the foreign teachers in insanely passive-aggressive ways.  

Other Foreigners

I bet I could be proven right if I made the claim that 70% of foreigner in Taiwan have some sort of personality disorder.  There seems to be some sort of toxicity in the air among other foreigners in Taiwan.  It's sort of as if they are mad at you for being there too because they want to be the only foreigner present.  I've brought this issue up before in FB groups and many have confirmed the same experience.  Even a lot of Taiwanese people confirmed the existence of this among other Taiwanese people when they have traveled abroad.  As a foreigner in Taiwan it is extremely hard to make good friends not only because of this, but also because of the fact that people come and go so often.

Noise/Air Pollution

The constant hum of scooters and megaphones outside of stores is enough to make you go crazy sometimes.  Not only that, but you can expect to hear either ice cream truck music or a rendition of Beethoven for about an hour each day as the garbage trucks pass through and blare it throughout the neighborhoods.  Then on top of all of this you can add blaring megaphones from various politicians during election season and thousands of firecrackers during temple ceremonies.  I am certain that my hearing has taken significant damage by living in Taiwan. 

Taiwan's Overall Future/Economy

Grim reports have been coming out lately about both the wages and talent shortages facing Taiwan.  One recent article compared Taiwan's monthly salary to Mexico's.  Another expressed deep concern for the amount of 'brain drain' Taiwan is experiencing as China lures its top talent.  It would be naive to think that this grim outlook doesn't permeate all aspects of life here.

 

Conclusion: Should you Teach In Taiwan?

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This is a question that only you can answer for yourself.  I've seen the full range of English teachers here from those who love it and want to stay forever, from those who do it for a day and then run away.  Most people do it for 6 months to a year before returning home to lead regular lives again. 

I continue to live and teach here for a multitude of reasons, but I think the main reason I do it is because Taiwan has allowed me to live a middle-class life. 

Never underestimate what a small bump in the social hierarchy can do for you.  I look younger than my relatives and friends that are 2-5 years younger than me.  The extra time I have allows me to read more, take care of myself, and pursue meaningful activities.  I'm always meeting and bumping into people who influence and enhance my character. 

There are two things I believe saved me from a life of struggle and misery I seemed destined for in the cornfields of Wisconsin.  The first was joining the military.  The second was coming to Taiwan.  So even though the bad parts of teaching outweigh the good parts for me, overall I believe this is the right path to be on for now.