The Positives and Negatives About Teaching English in Taiwan
Once you’ve decided to move abroad for work, I’m sure you’d like to know the pros and cons of the place? Sure, a quick browse online can give you some idea, but it probably won’t go into anything specific or any real depth. Well, look no further as I’m going to give you five positives and five negatives about teaching English in Taiwan. Let’s start with the positives, in no particular order.
The Positives of Teaching English in Taiwan
1. It's quite safe and clean.
If you're wondering if Taiwan is safe to loiter or take a stroll on the streets at night, you don't need to worry. Taiwan is one of the safest places in the world, you can go to a restaurant or a coffee shop and leave your belongings, such as your wallet or mobile phone, and no one will touch them. I have even left scooter keys in the motorcycle's ignition several times by accident, and they were always there when I returned.
Pickpockets are also very uncommon. People don't attempt to steal items from your bag or pocket on public transport or elsewhere. Additionally, Taiwan's public sector is very proactive, so the streets are relatively clean and tidy. Thus, letting you enjoy city window shopping and restaurant browsing with ease.
2. Everything is super convenient.
Did I mention how convenient this place is yet? Seriously though, if you're a night owl and tend to eat meals in the late evening, Taiwan is perfect for you! Convenience stores are situated on almost every street corner, and they are all open 24/7! Therefore, if you like to snack on midnight foods, that's not a problem.
They offer a lot more than just fixing your midnight appetite, too — that's just the tip of the iceberg. The convenience stores offer a lot more than just snacks. You can order stuff online and have the items shipped directly to the store's address - no post office necessary. If you need to print documents off or purchase train/bus tickets, you can also do this at a convenience store! Additionally, public transport is very frequent, reliable and inexpensive as well.
3. Taiwan is very foreigner-friendly.
Taiwan is one of the friendliest places and most welcoming of foreigners. If you find yourself lost somewhere, or if you’re just in need of some translation help, the Taiwanese local will go out of their way to offer help and support. The locals are also very curious about foreigners. They will often ask questions like: “Where you are from”? and “How long have you been here”? In addition, the locals have a well-established reputation in the hospitality and retail sector for politeness and good customer service. When you enter a shop or any kind of hospitality/retail establishment, the staff will welcome you with a friendly smile and do the same when you leave the place. Comforting right?
I can recall an occurrence in 7–eleven from a few years back, when I went to the cashier to pay for a microwavable burger, and I didn’t have the correct change to pay for the item. I then proceeded to cancel the purchase. However, as the burger had already been heated in the microwave, I couldn’t cancel the purchase. While trying to figure out how to solve the problem, a very kind Taiwanese man offered to pay for my item—the bill was around $100 NTD (around USD 3.50). I then offered to return the money to him by going to the ATM, but he said there was no need. After I thanked him sincerely, I realized from that moment how kind, thoughtful, and generous the people in Taiwan are.
4. Taiwan's nature has a lot to offer!
Are you a beach bum? A hiking enthusiast? Or a nature lover in general? Too indecisive to choose? Well, luckily for you, Taiwan has three landscape types: beach, mountainous, and woodland. So, you’ll get the chance to enjoy all of them at your leisure.
Some of the beaches in the southern part of the island are some of the most beautiful ones, and they are also international tourist hotspots—many people flock there to soak up the hot sun and enjoy the water sports, such as banana boating, snorkeling, and scuba-diving.
Taiwan is a popular place for hikers, as there are hundreds of hiking trails and mountains to hike in Taiwan — your heart will feel like skipping a few beats when you take in the sheer beauty around you — just like something out of a fairytale: so refreshing and pure. Last but certainly not least, there are many national parks in Taiwan, massive woodland areas for you to inhale some clean oxygen and get more in touch with mother nature.
5. Taiwan has a vibrant indigenous culture.
Taiwan is home to multiple indigenous tribes, who are all scatted around the island. These people are the descendants of Indonesia, the Philippines, and other south-eastern countries that left their parent homelands thousands of years ago. All of these tribes have their languages and dialects and have their distinct customs and traditions.
All the tribes also have their own traditional attire and color scheme. There are annual ceremonies where they perform their famous dance routines and sing in their languages, all in their traditional attire and face paint. Some are open to the public, while others are private.
Many tribes live in the mountains or on some of the smaller islands (yes, they’re several smaller islands that belong to Taiwan), so they’re very nature savvy and have great survival skills. They have been tour guides on some of the mountain trails, etc., that I have hiked in my experience.
The Negatives of Teaching English in Taiwan
1. The air quality is not the best.
I imagine you prefer clean air over pollution? Unfortunately, every place has its cons, and Taiwan is no different. Although the pollution isn't quite at a "danger level," it is, however, a cause for concern, especially in the southern parts. In the northern and middle cities, it is usually at a moderate level (yellow on the air quality meter). Still, in the south, it is often orange and even red (unhealthy air quality).
There are a lot of cities in the world where the pollution far exceeds Taiwan's level. Nonetheless, it isn't great and could definitely be better.
You can keep up-to-date with the air quality in the region you intend to visit/stay in by downloading one of the air quality apps. You simply put your location in the search bar, and it will show the air quality where you are. Don't feel too pessimistic just yet; it's not as bad as it seems — I'm just mentioning it for informative purposes.
2. You will likely face a language barrier.
Taiwan isn’t like Thailand or Hong Kong I’m afraid, where you can just freely walk up to people and casually start speaking English; the English level is considerably lower in Taiwan compared to the level in south-east Asia. Granted, a minority of people are able to speak it fluently but it’s just not as common as in other places. In addition, lots of restaurants don’t have English menus, so you’ll have to eat with a local friend or use a translation app and scan the menu in order to be able to read it.
Simple things like asking for directions or wanting a bag at the check-out in the supermarket can be a hurdle as well. At the same time, it will motivate you to pick up the survival/practical basics in Chinese in order to make life easier. It’s tricky in the beginning. However, it gets easier eventually, especially when you are constantly immersed in the language on a daily basis.
3. There are insufficient rubbish bins and public toilets.
If you’re out and about and you buy a snack or a drink somewhere you will likely find yourself needing to dispose of your rubbish. Well, you may have a hard time finding a suitable bin to do so (at least in the middle and southern part of the island anyway).
When I first arrived in Taiwan, I did what everyone does when they first arrive at a new place: explore and survey the area. I ate breakfast at a local eatery, and I bought a drink on my way out. As I was walking down the street, I couldn’t help but notice that there were no rubbish bins insight — how could that be possible in a city?
It was a little mindboggling; notwithstanding, I thought, “no problem,” I can just go into one of the shops and ask the owner to put it in their bin? The owner accepted, but in a disheartening sort of way; as it turns out, that is actually a big “no-no”. Locals don’t take kindly to taking other people’s rubbish and putting it into their bins. They see it as burdensome and expect you to dispose of it at suitable waste disposal locations.
The other thing is public toilets; they’re not as available as you might think. When I go walking around the city back home in my country, I can locate a toilet nearby easily, but here — it has proven to be hard at times.
There are always toilets in the public parks, and a lot of 7–Eleven stores have them too, but not all of them; thus, if you’re neither in the proximity of the two places mentioned above, then be prepared to keep your mobile handy in case you need to search for one close by.
4. There are ‘spontaneous’ religious celebrations.
If you aren't privy to the language, nor the local bulletin boards, then there's no way you'll know when these "spontaneous" events will occur—they really can seem like they get planned on the spot if you aren't familiar with the area, but they definitely aren't (mostly).
Moreover, these celebrations include lighting bangers (firecrackers), setting off fireworks, traditional instruments being played and the temple bands singing/announcing through a megaphone. Oh, and by the way—this happens at 7:00/7:30 am sometimes. Many times, I've been woken up by loud firecrackers, festival-volume music playing, or by thunderous singing/announcing over a megaphone—not pleasant if this happens before 8:00 am, of course.
These events tend to happen more often if you live near temple areas. So if you live in areas outside of where temples are situated, you'll have a better chance of not being woken unexpectedly.
On the other hand, if you live in areas where annual/traditional marches take place, then expect a possible early wake-up call a couple of times a year. If you're an early bird, it probably won't bother you; contrastingly, if you're a night owl: it will.
5. Beware the unconventional rubbish bin collection.
Most Western countries are accustomed to having their dustmen pick-up the bins themselves and empty the rubbish into the back of the truck.
In Taiwan, however, you have to wait outside on the road for them to approach so you can toss the rubbish into the truck yourself. How do you know when the dustmen are coming? I promise I am not joking: the trucks play Beethoven symphonies (very loudly) to indicate they are approaching. Yes, one of the best composers of all time, and his famous pieces are used to signal the residents to come out and dispose of their garbage.
This isn't actually a huge problem, but if you work late (and let's be honest, most English teachers do), you're going to have a stockpile of garbage outside your place by the end of the week - unless you have someone who can help you with the garbage disposal.
Lucky enough, I have lived in apartments where the landlord's cleaners/housekeepers take care of the rubbish for the tenants; therefore, I never needed to worry about this. These arrangements aren't all that common, though, so you may have to do it at some point.
Are you ready to teach English in Taiwan?
As with any country, there are certain pros and cons about teaching English in Taiwan. If you consider the points mentioned above and do your own research, Taiwan might just be the perfect teaching destination for you.
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