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Teaching English in Taipei, Taiwan: Alumni Q&A with Niko Dinh-Phan

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What is your citizenship?

United States

What city and state are you from?

Kansas City, MO

How old are you?


What is your education level and background?

Associate's degree

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 had the love for travel, but I became interested in teaching English while I was in university abroad for a year. I made many international friends and eventually started to help them with studying by tutoring English. It was the most fun I've ever had with my own native language, and really fell in love with the idea of teaching, and teaching English language learners.

What were some of your concerns before teaching abroad?

My biggest concern was traveling with my husband. Thankfully, he also finished his TEFL certification with ITA and was planning to teach with me. However, I was unsure of how our being a couple would work for whatever country (and company/organization) we wanted to teach and live in. I was most concerned with the legality of it all (visas, contracts..) and our living situation. Otherwise, smaller concerns like currency and money handling, language barriers, and transportation were things I was really looking forward to exploring!

What did your friends and family think about you moving and teaching abroad?
There didn't seem to be anyone who had any negative feelings towards our decision to move! I was very fortunate for that

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Why did you decide to get TEFL certified and choose International TEFL Academy?

I wanted to get my TEFL certification to give myself an advantage of being recognized as a teacher. I knew that the training I would get through the TEFL course would not only prepare me for teaching abroad, but show my future employers that I take the career seriously and that I'm always up for improving my skill. I chose ITA after some research because I really liked the support I read about and love that their love for travel and teaching is as big as mine. Their alumni association was something I looked forward to being part of, and I'm happy that they are always a resource for me for life!

Which TEFL certification course did you take?

Online TEFL Course

How did you like the course?

The course was fun to do - there was no pressure and no stress, and because I was genuinely interested in the course, I invested my time to read through work from my peers as well. I had no issues with communication or tasks and assignments, but had a hard time getting started with my practicum - I just didn't know where to begin. Eventually, it worked out - I tutored and volunteered to assist with a local ESL class.

How has your TEFL training helped you in your current teaching position?

Taking the TEFL course really prepared me for being in a whole new environment unfamiliar to me. Having the ideas and the skills to teach anyone who is learning a new language is essential for making it a  smoother process. Knowing what issues I could potentially come across made me more confident in traveling abroad. I even made sure to save all of my work and even work from my peers to get inspiration for lesson planning for my first teaching position -- it went a long way.
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. I knew I wanted to teach somewhere in Asia - Taiwan is one of the few countries that allow those who don't have a Bachelor's degree to teach. At the time I moved there, I had an Associate's degree. Korea was always the dream and the TaLK program was an option, but I wanted a little more flexibility in my contract. But now, I'm finally getting my Bachelor's - maybe Korea is next? :)

How long have you been in this country and how long do you plan to stay?

I lived and worked in Taiwan for a year--I planned to stay longer but had to reevaluate when I decided to go back to school to get my Bachelor's degree.

What school, company, or program are you working for?

Hess International

During which months does your school typically hire?

Year round

Did you secure this position in advance of arriving?


How did you interview for this position?

Skype/Phone Interview

What kind of Visa did you enter on?

Tourist Visa

Please explain the visa process that you went through.

I entered Taiwan using a normal tourist/visitor's visa, and the company I worked for mostly took care of the conversion to a work visa. I had to go through the standard visa process requirements - I was issued my work visa within three months.

What are the qualifications that your school requires for teachers? Please check all that apply

- Bachelor's or Associate's degree
- TEFL Certification
- Native English speaker

What is the best way to apply?

Apply online

Tell us about your English teaching job!

I worked about 20-24 hours a week with an hourly pay. I was only paid for teaching hours. Hess has a starting pay of $580 NT and they helped us look for a place to live. They had a really great training program at headquarters as well that all teachers had to go through, which was fun as I met most of my friends there. I was assigned a school and went through all of my company-related and living things (contract signing, visa conversion, health insurance help) through my superiors there after training.

My head native speaking teacher worked with my head Taiwanese teacher to make my schedule and assign me my classes. I taught the preschoolers of the school (who I miss so so terribly), an advanced class of 7-8 year olds, a less intensive class of the same age, and the junior high/high school students. These programs, aside from my preschool class where the students were there all day/5 days a week, were supplemental to the students' normal schooling (in other words, we were an 'after school' school).

All teachers at my school usually taught 4 days a week (sometimes a Saturday if they had a class) with 15 minute breaks (or hours at a time) in between classes. As for vacation, we had 14 unpaid days to use for our first year with the company, and after re-signing for a 2nd year, we were allowed a full unpaid month + 14 unpaid days. Working as a teacher at my school was like a full-time job with part-time hours though, since we aren't paid for grading time, planning time, event preparation, etc. But, I enjoyed my work environment and didn't feel like I didn't have time during my week/weekend to explore the city or country.

How did you find somewhere to live and what is it like? Do you have roommates?

I traveled with my husband. Hess helped find us a place to live, but we only had about two days to decide. With our situation, someone from our schools already had 2+ places to show us, in different locations and with different rent ranges. I did feel a bit rushed to find a place/choose between what we were shown, but thankful that we had someone to help us communicate and navigate. It seemed that everyone's experiences were different, however, from what I heard from friends in the company.

We were a bit unhappy with our living arrangement a few weeks into moving in, only because we were so rushed to make the decision. It was a studio-type apartment on the second floor above a hot-pot restaurant. We didn't have any windows and had a big bug issue, but it was at least furnished! After five months, we found an amazing condo in a newer building that was a little more expensive, but so worth the move. Our 1 bedroom condo was on the 8th floor with secured access, a large bathroom, kitchen, a washer, and a/c system, and appliances and furniture included. It was difficult to make the move, however, with leasing agreements and all. Eventually, it worked out for the best! With my pay and how low my rent was, I was able to save a lot! The cost of living was just as I expected - cheap. It was so easy to find good food for cheap, cheap transportation (Taipei had an awesome bike, bus, and subway system), and cheap entertainment.


Please explain the cultural aspects, public transportation, nightlife, social activities, food, expat community, dating scene, travel opportunities, etc...    

Taiwan was so fun to live in. There wasn't a big nightlife culture (other than night markets), but there was definitely plenty to see and do.

Public transportation in Taipei was very convenient - the subways were always clean and timely, and there are buses that go everywhere! The ubike system was awesome - in New Taipei City, which surrounds downtown Taipei, ubikes were free to use for the first 30 minutes.

Food: Taiwanese food is probably some of the best I've ever had in my life! It fit my cravings as I really love noodle and dumpling dishes.

Social Activities: There are so many cultural things to explore, including temples, night markets, and districts, all with their own unique characteristics.  One of my favorite things I did in Taipei was visit the Zoo - which had crazy cheap admission! Beside the Zoo was the Maokong Gondola which takes you up to a wonderful view of the city with Taipei 101 and where many go to drink tea.

Travel opportunities: Visiting other cities was so easy too with the train system and high speed rail. With two major airports in the city, it was also convenient to travel to other countries as well.


What are your monthly expenses?

Rent and utilities (electric and water, internet was included in my rent) was about $12000-$14000 NT (approx. $400 - $475 USD) a month.

Food was very cheap, costing about $35-60 NT ($1.15 - $2 USD) for local cuisine and around $100-200 NT ($3.50 - $7 USD) for something more international.

Transportation was even cheaper! My local bus ride to school was only $15 NT (50 cents), or free with a ubike if I made it there within 30 minutes. Getting into the city from my condo using the subway system was about $25-35 NT ($0.75 - $1.10 USD).

Phone/internet: I paid $1000 NT ($35 USD) for 8gb for my phone which lasted me about three months.

How would you describe your standard of living?

I personally like to have a more comfortable living environment, which is why I upgraded to a better apartment within five months. I splurged for a newer building, bigger space, and a bathtub (which is rare to find!) to make my life at home more comforting! I save money pretty well, so I knew I could afford the splurge, and still took trips to other cities just as comfortably staying in good hostels or with friends.

In your opinion, how much does someone need to earn in order to live comfortably?

I think someone should earn enough to be able to feed themselves for at least two months and afford to live somewhere where they are safe. It's difficult to put a number to it, because everyone lives differently and defines 'comfortable' differently as well. For myself, knowing I would be making at least the starting pay that my school offered is what helped me to define my limits in what I could spend and be comfortable.


What advice would you give someone planning or considering teaching abroad? Would you recommend teaching in your country?

I would say 'be prepared to be unprepared'! I know it sounds funny, but there will be many times where you will find yourself in a situation or environment that you didn't expect to be in, so instead of stressing or losing your cool, remember to breathe and realize that you're in an unfamiliar place, but you got there somehow!.. meaning you can get out, too. All experiences involved with traveling abroad will come with so many 'unintentionals', but the outcome is such a reward. If you are planning or considering teaching abroad, I say go for it because you live in a world where you have that opportunity--to be able to explore is such an amazing feat all on it's own. I highly recommend Taiwan to new travelers, too. There's so much to see and experience, and there's much potential of it being a place that isn't so big of a change in lifestyle, to becoming a place for new adventures

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