Life In Taiwan: 3 Month Update
Life in Isla Formosa…
I just passed my 3-month mark in my life abroad in Taiwan. Things have honestly been great. There isn’t too much to complain about.
Why Did I Move To Taiwan Anyways?
Moving to Taiwan was probably the YOLO-ist decision I’ve ever made in my life. Originally, I was setting myself up to live a very comfortable life the United States:I had an accounting degree, some post-graduate credits that made me CPA eligible, and some potential job leads that paid well and came with all of the bells and whistles. While this was all great, I just couldn’t see myself in that type of career track long term. After graduating college in 2015, I dedicated the next 365 days to personal development and trying and testing undiscovered talents and skills that I’ve neglected. I did all type of things within the past year and a half:
- Monetized a hobby by opening a store on Etsy, which led to an opportunity for me to sell some of products in a brick and mortar retail store.
- Did some freelance writing gigs
- Did some social media gigs
- Got my TEFL certification
- Worked as a conversational tutor in English
- Studied languages despite having zero intentions of using them anytime soon (e.g. Swedish, Hebrew and Portuguese). I also revisted Spanish, a language I studied for most of my grade school years.
- Took a lot of free classes on edX
- Traveled domestically and internationally
- Started building an international network
On top of this, one of the skills I revisted was teaching. Fun fact: if you asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up when I was in kindergarten, I chose being a teacher. I did a TON of research on ESL overseas, which led me to taking an opportunity to work in Taiwan. I chose to come here for the following reasons:
- I honestly didn’t know a whole lot about Taiwan. I knew a little bit about its history and geo-politics (mainly centered around the Chinese Civil War) from a college class on East Asian History & Politics, and I knew that a lot of things in America were made in Taiwan.
- I always said I wanted to learn Mandarin Chinese.
- I wanted to be completely outside of my comfort zone. Being a black person in homogenous East Asia will definitely do that to you. I have stories for days on funny and flattering encounters. I’ve been debating whether or not to make a funny rap video on YouTube to describe my experiences here, similiar to what YouTuber, Monkey Abroad did for his experience in Mainland China.
- I really enjoyed the travel study trip I took in college (I went to Hong Kong and Singapore), and I wanted to explore more of Asia.
- I wanted to live in a country that was very different from the US.
- Taiwan has a good mix of urban concrete jungles and nature packed on one island. Urban cities in the West, beautiful mountains, national parks, beaches and other scenic sights in the East and South. I like the city, but I also like nature; it’s a win win.
I can’t say I’ve experienced a lot of culture shock. My nonchalant attitude has surprised me more than anything I’ve witnessed in Taiwan. I’ve been to 3 other countries on the continent so I was pretty familiar with generalized Asian culture, plus I entered this trip with a very open mind and just followed the “When in Rome” mentality. I adapted so quickly, I even wrote a post about things I do in Taiwan that I wouldn’t do in America.
People have said many Taiwanese people are VERY nice and friendly. Within my three months, I can say that I agree. I have a theory behind this extreme generosity. On top of the fact that collective societies tend to be more hospitible, Taiwan isn’t a popular tourist destination like some of the nations nearby. Because of this, [I think this is why] many of the people seem to be [keyword] less opportunistic when it comes to taking advantage of foreigners compared to other countries with large amounts of western visitors. People have gone out of their way to help me find places by driving me across the city and not asking for a dime. Strangers I’ve met at the park and at restaurants have invited me to group outings such as hiking, going cycling, and dining together at restaurants. Taiwanese people seem to really value creating positive relationships, or as they say in Mandarin: guānxì (關係). Being someone who struggled to fit in most during most of my childhood, this type of attention and kindness was very new to me.
Since I’m a big city, it’s not hard to find people who can speak [enough] English, but I try to use the little [Mandarin] Chinese I know. When my dad jokingly asked me if I’m fluent in Chinese, I laughed. This language is HARD! The Latin-based languages are a piece of cake compared to tonal languages like Mandarin. By now, I understand more Chinese than I can say. Like many Taiwanese people that are too afraid to speak English, I’m too afraid to speak Chinese because I don’t wanna say something offensive when I use the wrong tone. I am going to put more effort in learning more Chinese by finding a local person that can help me with Chinese while I help them with English in return.
The Foreigner Community
Taichung is the third largest city in Taiwan. Because of this, there are a lot of job opportunities (plus universities) in the city for foreigners. I’ve met Americans, Canadians, Brits, South Africans, Australians, New Zealanders, Gambians, Russians, Mexicans, Indians, Indonesians, Turks, Chinese, Irish people and more. I even met two other people from my home state, New Jersey, and one of them being someone who went to the same high school as me. Small world! Outside of work I see at least 2 foreigners a day (and even more when I attend my capoeira classes, the new hobby I picked up while being out here). I don’t really have a set friends group, but I don’t really want one. Cliques were always a major turn off to me; I’m open to hanging out with anyone who wants to do things that I like.
I honestly didn’t know what to expect when taking this job. I’ve done some work as a conversational tutor, but I never [formally] taught in a classroom with a set curriculum. Luckily, I was provided a lot of training on how to tackle everything, though it’s still not enough to trump the learning curve you will face on the job. Despite this, I can say that each day is getting better. Management styles in the East definitely differ from the western world, but guess my international businesses courses in college prepared me for this (would ya look at that, I learned something in college), plus Terri Morrison’s book Kiss, Bow, Or Shake Hands . I highly recommend this to people looking to do business/work internationally.
Despite the learning curves, work overall is going well. I work 25 hours a week. I have enough time to pursue other avenues and interests and through teaching, I earn enough money to live and save for future investments.
When I’m not working (at school or online), many of my days are spent practicing capoeira, a Brazilian martial art. I always wanted to try martial arts and moving to a new place is a great way to reinvent yourself and start something new. I’m surprised with how quickly I picked it up. I have to give a shout out to my background in dance and gymnastics for my rhythmic and acrobatic ability. After all, capoeira is the martial art that is disguised as a dance.
When I’m not practicing capoeira or doing general exercising, I’m exploring Taichung. On the weekends, I always try to walk to bike somewhere new. So far, I’ve gone on a pretty epic cycling trip, where I biked a relatively large amount of the Taichung province as well as a little bit of Changhua (the province below Taichung). It was really cool seeing the change of settings as I biked from one district to the next. In the future, I would like to bike around all of Taichung and make work my way up to the ultimate trip of biking around all of Taiwan because it sounds a lot more realistic than biking across a massive country like the United States.
Starting in the spring of 2018, I plan on doing some traveling around South/East Asia, but for now, I just want to explore Isla Formosa (what the Portuguese settlers called Taiwan upon arriving), which means “beautiful island.”
I’ve met a lot of westerners who complained about the food. To be honest, I can’t relate. I was never a steak and potatoes kind of gal anyways. Maybe it’s because I had a Caribbean influence in my upbringing. Like Asians, Caribbean people also eat a rice-heavy diet. I love Asian food. I love it even more now that I’m not eating the crappy version in America. As a vegetarian/occasional vegan, finding food has not been a problem at all. I’ve tried so many different types of vegetables and fruits that I’ve never seen in America. I’m in a plant-based paradise over here. Taiwan is also known for tea, specifically bubble tea, which is basically a sugary milk tea with tapioca pearls in it (it’s basically like a chai tea latte from Starbucks). Outside of this specialty, there’s sooooo many tea shops with soooo many interesting flavors.
Thoughts On Living Alone
People have asked if I would be scared living across the world by myself. Honestly, I’m not. I’ve always been pretty independent and didn’t mind doing things by myself, so there wasn’t a huge adjustment. Solo travel is an introvert’s paradise. Plus, I’m a firm believer in not waiting for other people to do things that you want to do. Time waits for nobody. Taiwan is also very safe …so safe to the point where people can be a bit careless at times. There are no major concerns over here.
Life in the Far East has been interesting yet a positive journey so far. I see why Taiwan has been ranked high by many sources as a great country for expats. Living abroad has been a very rewarding experience, and I’m glad I didn’t pass up this opportunity [again]. Looking forward to learning more about Taiwan during my time here.
Be on the lookout another update in 3 months!