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Teaching English in Taipei, Taiwan: Alumni Q&A with Jassira
Written by: Jassira Vardak
Last Updated: July 19, 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.
What sparked your interest in going to teach English abroad?
I’ve always loved traveling, but I prefer to spend more than a few days or a week in one place. When I realized I was stuck in a job I didn’t want and that I no longer knew what I wanted to do career-wise, I decided to pursue a different type of life instead. I always dreamed of traveling full time; I just didn’t know how to attain it. Teaching English abroad was a means to an end, but it is truly the best and easiest way of making this dream come true.
What were some of your concerns before teaching abroad?
Not knowing the language and having enough start up money.
What did your friends and family think about you moving and teaching abroad?
Everyone was really supportive.
Why did you decide to get TEFL certified and choose International TEFL Academy?
I wanted the security of knowing I could get a job nearly anywhere in the world. Having a TEFL certificate from ITA was the best way of ensuring that, plus everything I saw and read about ITA made me certain this was the best option for preparing me for the new life I was choosing.
Which TEFL certification course did you take?
USA - Chicago TEFL Course
How did you like the course?
The course was amazing. I’m so glad I chose the in-person course; the class was informative, and the discussions with teachers and fellow students were illuminating. Both instructors did such a good job of preparing me to teach English overseas. I felt so confident by the end of the course that most of the pre-moving anxiety I had was totally unrelated to teaching. Everything we did was geared towards real world situations and the practicum was vital for giving me both the much needed experience teaching as well as invaluable and immediate feedback from my instructor.
How has your TEFL training helped you in your current teaching position?
I teach children and although we did a unit on teaching kids and were given plenty of advice on how to deal with them, nothing really prepares you for teaching kids other than prior experience having done so. There isn’t anything in this area that ITA could have done better; both myself and everyone I’ve spoken to here learned how to teach children from observing their coworkers and through trial and error in their own classes.
However, my training has helped me hugely in teaching privately to adults. Thanks to what I learned during that intense four weeks, I am able to communicate about the English language effectively, build comprehensive lesson plans, and quickly identify my students’ issues. I love teaching adults and am on my way to building a lucrative side business.
Which city and country did you decide to teach English in and why?
I chose to teach English in Taiwan in the city of Taipei. Taiwan has a lot of job opportunities and an easy way of life. I picked Taipei for the excellent public transportation, the larger expat community, and the presence of an LGBTQ community.
How long have you been in this country and how long do you plan to stay?
I have been here 8 months and plan to stay an additional year.
What school, company, or program are you working for?
Sesame Street English
During which months does your school typically hire?
My location hires as needed (we only employ two foreign teachers), but in general schools here hire year round. For the busiest hiring season, plan to come in summer; you should be able to find a job no matter when you arrive.
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 purchased a refundable plane ticket to Hong Kong in advance of arriving so that I could prove I was leaving the country. I was asked to show the ticket before receiving my boarding pass in the States, but not upon arrival in Taiwan. If and when you are asked to show proof of departure can vary, but it’s smart to purchase cheap and/or refundable airfare to somewhere (most people choose Hong Kong) just in case. You can either use the airfare for a weekend trip or get a refund once the ARC process begins.
Your school should help you obtain first a work permit, then work visa, then an ARC. I had to incur all the costs of mine, which ended up being more expensive than I had planned due to a recent increase in the fee for a work visa for U.S. citizens. I definitely would have traveled on my British passport had I known.
What are the qualifications that your school requires for teachers? Please check all that apply
- Bachelor's degree
- Native English speaker
What is the best way to apply?
Please include any application resources (website, email, etc.) or other information here:
My school's website: www.sesamevillage.tw
Tell us about your English teaching job!
HOURS: I teach two mornings a week for the kindergarten and four afternoons plus two Saturdays a month for the elementary school.
I am salaried for the elementary school so although I only teach 12-15 hours a week, I am required to be there from 1pm-6pm (which means I’m at work an additional 12 hours a week). Theoretically these are considered office hours, however we have to do very little lesson planning so it’s primarily wasted time.
Add the 5 hours a week I teach kindergarten and I work a total of 17-20 hours a week.
PAY: $42,000 NTD/month (before taxes and national health insurance) on salary for the elementary school. Kindergarten varies dependent on how many Tuesdays/Thursdays are in a given month, but typically I can count on at least $12,000 NTD/month (before taxes and national health insurance). We are also given bonuses for teaching demos to prospective students, graduations, etc.
After taxes and health insurance I take home about $52,000 per pay check. I also make additional money from private teaching. This amount varies.
SAVINGS: I save at least $10,000 NTD/month to send home. That’s around $300 USD and I’m often able to send more.
TYPE OF SCHOOL: Sesame Street, like most schools at which you’re likely to get hired, is a cram school. That means the focus is on making money more so than it is on education. Every school is different in how much this is balanced, and how much is probably going to have an effect on your classes and how you’ll need to teach.
STUDENTS: In Taiwan you will be teaching children. There are a few opportunities to teach adults, but it is rare you will be able to find a position teaching anyone over the age of 18. At my school I teach ages 2 to 12, although typically most of my students are 10 and under. Teaching kids takes a lot of energy and my first couple of months were rough in this regard. Once I adjusted, it was fine.
VACATION: Vacation and sick time is unpaid, but allowed. My school has been understanding whenever I’ve been sick and always given me any requested time off as long as I give them enough notice. Plus Taiwan has a lot of national holidays and you’ll end up with a long weekend (3 or 4 days) about once every two months.
OVERALL: My job is pretty easy in that I don’t have to do a lot of lesson planning; my teaching hours are good; and the pay is decent. There are some things I would change, primarily that I would prefer a job where I do not have to stay at school outside of teaching and prep time. I am planning to change jobs within the next few months and hoping to take more private students as I really love teaching adults.
Most teaching jobs you find here will have these kinds of pros and cons. It’s important to think about what matters most to you when you’re considering a position:
- Do you want to have summers off (but can you budget for 2 months without pay)?
- Would you mind a salaried position or do you value having more time for yourself?
- Do you want to work mornings and be done by mid-afternoon or would you rather sleep in and work late?
- How much do class sizes matter?
- How do you feel about teaching babies (surprisingly I’ve found I prefer the 2-6 year olds to the older kids)?
How did you find somewhere to live and what is it like? Do you have roommates?
I stayed with a friend in Taichung when I first arrived, which was great as it gave me time to acclimate a little. From there I found a one month sublet in Taipei through a Facebook housing group. Once I secured a job and had a better idea of where I wanted to live, I found an apartment with three other roommates (also on FB). I now live in a one-bedroom apartment with my girlfriend.
It is really easy to find somewhere to live, especially if you’re in a city. Many other cities in Taiwan have Facebook housing groups and Taipei has at least three. You can live with other expats and/or Taiwanese. I didn’t love all of my roommates, but that can happen anywhere, and luckily it’s easy to find somewhere else to live. Taipei has a pretty transient expat community due to the number of universities, so it’s likely you’ll meet lots of different people if you end up living here more than a year. Most apartments are either studios or 2+ bedrooms; one-bedrooms are actually pretty rare in Taipei. We found ours on 591.com; however you will need to speak Chinese or know someone who does as most landlords won’t speak English. The vast majority of apartments and rooms will be furnished.
Keep in mind most places require a 2-month deposit plus the first month’s rent.
On a scale of 1 - 10 please rate your experience with this school
Please explain the cultural aspects, public transportation, nightlife, social activities, food, expat community, dating scene, travel opportunities, etc...
There’s always plenty to do here, whether it’s going to museums, local cultural events, or exploring all the natural wonders Taiwan has to offer. Hiking, hot springs, and the beach are all an easy distance from the city center; most are within an hour's bus ride. Taipei has a lot of good nightlife from low key bars to fancy clubs. Much of the local social life here revolves around food and you can easily spend an evening eating your way through a night market.
Public transportation is phenomenal in Taipei. The MRT is convenient and easy to use, with all trains and the majority of buses boasting English as well as Chinese. There is a large expat community, thanks in part to the number of universities in Taipei. In terms of dating, Tinder, Okcupid, and all the other dating mediums are active and definitely in use here. In regards to my own experiences, dating here was more difficult than it was in the U.S. The good news, however, is that Taiwan is touted as the most LGBTQ friendly place in Asia and I’ve never felt uncomfortable or judged here for being physically affectionate in public.
Taiwan is really well located for travel throughout Asia and it’s generally pretty cheap. I have plans for a number of countries, but there is so much to see within Taiwan as well that you could spend most of your time here just exploring the island.
What are your monthly expenses?
Rent/Utilities: I paid $9,000 NTD/month plus utilities (less than $1000/month) for a room in a four-bedroom apartment and I pay the same for the one bedroom we live in now. That’s about average for Taipei if you have roommates. If you want to live alone, you should expect to pay anywhere from $12,000 to $24,000 NTD/month in rent, although that can go down the further out you go.
Food: We cook more than probably most expats here, so approximately $10,000 NTD/month.
Social Activities: This can vary hugely. I spend maybe $5,000 NTD/month.
Transportation: I don’t keep track of this, but I would guess at least $3000 NTD/month. That includes the occasional cab ($100-$200 NTD per).
Phone/Communication: I am not on a phone plan, so I spend $800 NTD/month on unlimited data and add minutes as needed (which isn’t often).
Travel: This varies hugely based on what you do each month. I try to save $12,000 NTD/month for travel, but half of that is set aside for visiting home or making bigger international trips (ie outside of Asia).
How would you describe your standard of living?
In your opinion, how much does someone need to earn in order to live comfortably?
If you don't have any expenses back home, you could probably live comfortably off $35,000 NTD/month.
What advice would you give someone planning or considering teaching abroad? Would you recommend teaching in your country?
Do it. The scariest part happens before you go,; after that, it’s all an adventure.
And I absolutely recommend Taiwan, but only if it feels right for what you need in a place. It was definitely right for me (at least for now).
Born in the UK to multicultural parents, but having grown up in Southern California, Jassira has been traveling the world from a young age. She taught English to both children and adults in Taiwan and Spain, before returning to the US and eventually her adopted home of Chicago. An ITA alum herself, Jassira is now part of the ITA Student Affairs team.
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