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Teaching English in Taichung City, Taiwan - Alumni Q&A with Heather
Written by: Heather Nehl
Last Updated: April 6, 2021
What is your citizenship?
What city and state are you from?
How old are you?
What is your education level and background?
Have you traveled abroad in the past?
Some international travel with friends, family, business, etc.
If you have traveled abroad in the past, where have you been?
Aruba, Spain, Italy, Belgium, France, the Netherlands
What sparked your interest in going to teach English abroad?
I was finishing up my Bachelors degree and I knew I needed a break before committing to a PhD program. I wanted to take a gap year (or two) to travel, but I also wanted to stay on top of my finances and student loan payments. When I found out I could travel and earn money teaching, I signed up right away!
What were some of your concerns before teaching abroad?
I think I had all the normal worries that a person gets moving anywhere: What if I don't like the place? What if it's hard to make friends? What if literally no one speaks English? What if, what if, what if. I was also a little afraid that it was something I'd lose myself and my plans in. Everyone raved about teaching abroad and the freedom it grants. Wedging it between the stress of an undergrad degree and the restraint of a doctorate program/the rest of my life, could get risky. While I do love living abroad, I still haven't lost sight of all my other plans and goals.
Another worry I left with was the uncertainty of starting this journey with a long distance relationship. My boyfriend was very supportive of my decision to move abroad, but there was a lot of worrying before I left and while I first settled in. We're still doing absolutely great, but that put a lot of weight on us before I left.
What did your friends and family think about you moving and teaching abroad?
Everyone I knew was crazy supportive. I've always been a traveler, be it international or around the States, so it really wasn't a surprise to anyone when I announced I'd be running off into the world to teach abroad. My mom, of course, took a lot of convincing (I conveniently moved to a country with globally recognized safety and friendliness standards). She has since visited my in Taiwan and loved it. But yeah, overall I really had the best support. I found a lot of people were supportive of me but apprehensive about the situation. I took the flashes of apprehension, confusion, or simply not understanding, to educate people on how teaching abroad works and encourage them to look into it for themselves.
TEFL CLASS INFORMATION
Why did you decide to get TEFL certified and choose International TEFL Academy?
Because my decision to teach abroad was, in large part, a financial one, I wanted to make sure I could get a decent job abroad. More and more countries are deciding on English as a second language, which means more English schools are popping up, and the job market can be competitive. I wanted a TEFL to secure my position as a serious applicant. I chose ITA because moving abroad and starting a life abroad is something totally new to me, and I wanted the support of the staff and alumni network. I actually wound up getting my job through the ITA Taiwan Facebook Group, so it was a good decision.
Which TEFL certification course did you take?
Online TEFL Course
How did you like the course?
I thought the ITA online course was just what I needed. At the time I took it, I was working three other jobs. I needed a course I could do mostly on my own time. Whenever I had a free night, I would read through the course material, bang out a few lessons, and submit whatever quizzes were available. It felt very much like I was able to fit it into my life. I didn't use the discussion page much, just because I've never really been one to even go to office hours, but I know it was helpful for a lot people to talk to the instructor (who's name I forget but she was so sweet). It definitely was not a challenging course, which made the whole thing more approachable.
How has your TEFL training helped you in your current teaching position?
I honestly knew nothing about managing kids before I left the States. I teach kids anywhere between 4 and 15 years old, five days a week. ITA gave a lot of instruction on classroom management and how to create and engaging classroom. Also all the help with lesson plans really had me feeling prepared when it came time to actually lesson plan out here. The biggest thing was just the feeling of familiarity. I wasn't suddenly in a new country talking about lesson plans and classroom rules and having no background in any of it. ITA helped me feel familiar with the new life I started in Taiwan.
Which city and country did you decide to teach English in and why?
I decided to teach English in Taiwan in the city of Taichung City. So I knew I wanted to spend time in Asia. I had always wanted to visit Asia, but it always felt like such a big expense in terms of flight prices and duration so I could never justify a quick trip. Teaching abroad meant more long term stay, so I went for Asia. From there I knew I needed an Asian country that I could save money in (those student loans AHHH!) so I found the top paying countries were mostly China, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. China was out because I need a reliable way to video chat with my boyfriend, and I knew they have particular internet restrictions. Japan and Korea were interesting to me, but mostly for visiting not really living (this one I don't have a logical reason for I just felt that way). When I looked into Taiwan, it just clicked. They speak Chinese, which I always wanted to learn; the people are friendly; the country is safe; the hikes are renowned and beautiful, the country is actually a main hub for travel around all of Asia, and most importantly the expats loved it. Every blog, facebook, article, etc. raved about living in Taiwan. Not a single complaint. So it was a kind of easy pick.
How long have you been in this country and how long do you plan to stay?
I have been in Taiwan six months now. I signed up for a 12 month contract, which I plan on finishing. I love Taiwan a lot but, I don't plan on staying past my contract.
What school, company, or program are you working for?
Neurolink English Academy
During which months does your school typically hire?
Did you secure this position in advance of arriving?
How did you interview for this position?
What kind of Visa did you enter on?
Please explain the visa process that you went through.
I entered Taiwan in what seems to be the normal way that most teachers do. The standard method is to enter Taiwan as a tourist. I was told people sometimes book cheap flights out to Hong Kong, that they can cancel or just forget about. I just told the airport that I was visiting a friend for a few weeks (Taiwan's tourist visa allows 90 days in country so that helped). When I got to work, I gave my boss my US passport and something like $40 USD and signed a few papers, she took care of the rest. About two months later, I was given my passport back along with my Taiwanese Alien Residence Card (ARC for short) and my National Health Insurance Card (yay socialized healthcare!). And that was that. I know that in order to get an ARC, expats here need a job to sponsor them and at least an Associates degree.
What are the qualifications that your school requires for teachers? Please check all that apply
- TEFL Certification
- Some college experience
What is the best way to apply?
Tell us about your English teaching job!
School & students: I work for a cram school, which is basically like an after school school. I have students who come in twice a week and students who come in three times a week, and some who even come in four times a week. I have a few private students, but mostly I have classes that range from 4 to 14 kids. My school caps classes at 16, but I haven't ever had that many at once. My students are anywhere between 4 to 15 years old, with most around 7-10. The kids are really well behaved in most cases, but there will always be students who act out or refuse to do some things.
Hours: My experience with hours isn't really a normal one for our school. When I got hired, the branch school I was hired for didn't have many hours and two other schools were struggling so I wound up working at three of our schools at once. So when I first got here I was working anywhere from 25 - 30 hours a week. The normal situation for my school is 20 hours a week. Our school is a cram school (like an after school tutoring center) so the hours change a lot in the summer time. I've been working 17 hour weeks for about the last month.
Vacation time: As far as vacations go, I kind of drew the short straw. Our school allows 14 days of unpaid vacation in the year, which is one of the reasons I've decided to end my contract and teach English online instead. I have friends here who get a whole summer of paid vacation, so be mindful of that if you're looking at Taiwan.
Salary: I make $600 NT an hour, which is about $20 US an hour.
Ability to save: When I first got here, saving was hard because I didn't really understand the money yet, and I was also traveling every weekend. Now that my hours have gone down, I'm still not saving much. The good thing is that my rent and utilities are so cheap here (like $300 US a month) that when my hours increase with the school year I'll definitely be able to save up about $300-400 a month.
How did you find somewhere to live and what is it like? Do you have roommates?
When I got to Taiwan, my manager picked me up and immediately brought me to a bunch of apartments she had found before I got there. None of the landlords spoke Chinese, so her help was so important. I looked at four apartments before deciding on mine. All of the apartments were one-bedroom studios. One had water damage; one was like a hotel; and another had only one window that was maybe two feet wide. The important things I looked out for with the apartment hunt was:
1) where are the laundry machines, if there are any in the building
2) if there was any water damage (Taiwan is a damp country)
3) if it was an old building (Taiwan is prone to earthquakes, new is better)
4) if I could walk to work (most expats don't get scooters until a few months into their stay).
I originally wanted a kitchen, but as it turns out, most single-person apartments in Taiwan do not actually have a kitchen. My "kitchen" is a hot plate on top of a toaster oven on top of a mini fridge. So there were some quirks.
COUNTRY INFORMATION - FUN!
Please explain the cultural aspects, public transportation, nightlife, social activities, food, expat community, dating scene, travel opportunities, etc...
Cultural aspects: Taiwan is so great. To start off, Taiwanese people are so incredibly helpful. I can't tell you how many times I've been lost or confused and people go out of their way to help me. I've had strangers who don't speak a lick of English personally walk me to the place I'm trying to find, or take a subway past their stop to show me how to catch the next one. People here are almost too nice. I literally have never felt unsafe in this country (which is wild because I come from the New York tri-state area; I lock my doors in the States and I lived in suburbia).
Expat community: The expat community out here is also really nice. Taiwan is still an emerging country in terms of expat popularity, so you often see the same faces at big events. There's a particular region in Taichung that's filled with Western style food places and bars. A lot of expats hang out there. A lot of expats are really into exploring on the weekends. I find it's really easy to get a friend or two to take a train and explore a new town for the weekend. Because Taiwan is like 80% mountains, people are also really into getting outdoors and hiking too!
Nightlife: The one thing I will say is that the night life can be hit or miss out here. In college I was honestly at a party anywhere from one to four nights a week, so coming here to a situation where people maybe might get casual drinks every or every other weekend was kind of a change in energy.
Social activities: On the flip side of that, there are also some pretty cool events that get everyone out and partying together. There are music festivals here and there and motel parties - in which big groups of people rent out a love motel (really cool fancy motels with like waterfalls) for the night and party it up. If you want a highly active night life, outside of Taipei you just might have to work a little at it.
Food: The food here is so good. I know some expats who don't prefer Taiwanese food, but honestly there are so many different kinds of food out here it's really easy to find something you like. The main style of food is Chinese (since a lot of the population is of Chinese descent); there's also a lot of Japanese food and Korean food too. You can get a decent meal in those styles for anywhere between $1-5 USD.
There are a lot of really cool and funky Western style restaurants, but they'll cost you anywhere from $8-20 USD usually (which is comparatively low for American food, but you do have to think in the money you're paid in). NOTE: Taiwan is a tricky country for anyone with a highly restrictive diet. I tend to follow a more veggie diet and when I moved here I wanted to try at veganism, but it's really hard to tell what is and isn't served with animal products out here. You'll be spending a lot of money to keep up with a strict vegan or gluten free diet out here.
Travel opportunities: Travel around and from Taiwan is also really good. I haven't lived in a city before, but I think Taichung has a pretty good public transport system. Everyone has Easy Cards from 711/Family Mart. It's basically a card you load money onto and can use to take the bus, the train, the subway in Taipei, and the public bikes (which are free for the first 30 minutes!). Taiwan is a country that's actively working on their carbon footprint, so they're working at making transportation easy. In general, if you're good at eating cheap or less worried about saving you could probably go somewhere new in Taiwan every weekend.
COUNTRY INFORMATION - MONEY
What are your monthly expenses?
So I usually make about $1,100 USD a month.
Rent/utilities: My rent and utilities usually total about $300 a month, but that waivers because my utilities are billed every other month and electricity changes with the seasons (AC and all).
Phone/internet: I got a phone contract out here, so for 9 GB of data I usually pay about $20 USD a month.
Food can be tricky, but I try to keep to local, cheap food in the week so I can be a bit more frivolous on the weekends, so during the week I usually spend about $30 US a week so maybe round up to $150 US a month for food in the week. Weekends are where the money usually goes. If I stay in the city, just eating nicer food and getting drinks with friends can add up to maybe spending about $40 US (which doesn't sound like much but you do always have to consider what money you're getting paid in).
Travel: A weekend away in Taiwan can be about $100-300 US depending on how you do it. I've recently discovered the couch surfing app, which I feel safe using in Taiwan and saves me the expense of a hostel.
How would you describe your standard of living?
I live pretty well for an income that couldn't survive in the States. There are times that I have to pinch pennies and other times where it's not so much of an issue. Taiwan is a really modern country though, and I live in the second largest city therein. I think most foreigners in most countries live pretty well; here in Taiwan we get paid a lot more than most of our Taiwanese coworkers do, which is pretty sad, but it works out for us. I travel most weekends, eat well, and generally live a pretty relaxed and easy life out here.
In your opinion, how much does someone need to earn in order to live comfortably?
It all depends on the type of spender you are. I don't mind eating local cheap food and saving my money for bigger and better things. I have a friend who only eats Western food out here, so her and her husband spend a lot on that. I'd say $1,000 US a month ($30,000 TWD) is about a comfortable position if you're smart with your money.
ADVICE FOR PROSPECTIVE ENGLISH TEACHERS
What advice would you give someone planning or considering teaching abroad? Would you recommend teaching in your country?
DO IT! Teaching abroad is such a cool way to meet amazing people and see the world. I recommend going somewhere that's new and unfamiliar to you. Stepping out of your comfort zone. If you've been to Prague 10 times already, I'd say go somewhere else at least for your first country. Also definitely consider short term contracts. I love Taiwan, but I think signing on to a whole year on their contract was a restrictive move for what I wanted. After this year ends, I plan on switching to teaching online and traveling freely doing that. But I know many expats that stay in their country of choice for quite a few years. It's all about following whatever plan works for you.
A graduate of International TEFL Academy, Heather is an aspiring neuropsychologist currently taking time off before pursuing her PhD. Her and her boyfriend are living and teaching English in Taiwan. They plan on teaching online and traveling the world over the next year before returning to America and continuing with their career and educational goals.
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