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Teaching English in Zhubei City, Taiwan: Alumni Q&A with Ariam Alula Frezghi

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What is your citizenship?

United States

What city and state are you from?

Bronx, New York

How old are you?


What is your education level and background?

Bachelor's degree

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?

Eritrea, Turkey, Canada, China (in that order)

If you have studied abroad in the past, where did you study?


What sparked your interest in going to teach English abroad?

My first international trip happened in 1992, at the age of 8 months. I remember nothing from that trip. However, my parents (both immigrants from Eritrea) did their best to make sure that I knew about their culture. We eat injera, attend Orthodox church services, and speak to/understand Tigrinya--our family language. I believe knowing about the uniqueness of my heritage coupled with the diversity of New York City (where I grew up) helped me be accepting of others who are both similar and different. In African cultures, helping one another is important. I wanted to help others learn the business language of the world and see the world myself.

What were some of your concerns before teaching abroad?

I didn't know where I'd live or how I would find an important/room. Besides that, my only concerns were when I'd leave and how my family would progress in my physical absence.

What did your friends and family think about you moving and teaching abroad?

Friends were shocked, but they weren't surprised for the most part. I had went away to school, lived in another city for four months, and had written a lot about my experience visiting my family's country of Eritrea in the summer of 2014. My family, however, didn't want me to go at first. Once they knew my mind was set, they couldn't do anything but support me. I had to have their blessing which took some convincing on my end.



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

I decided to get my TEFL certificate because, while I knew a little about various cultures, I knew even less about teaching English as a foreign/second language. Luckily, I found a summer gig teaching English to students from China who were visiting the States for the first time the summer I completed my TEFL course.

Which TEFL certification course did you take?

Online TEFL Course

How did you like the course?

The course helped me learn about different learning preferences. I learned what a kinesthetic learner would gravitate toward as well as a visual learner. I also learned a key phrase that can be used across various disciplines and not just teaching. A SWBAT stands for my "student will be able to." Knowing this helped me feel easier about lesson planning.

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

TPR stands for Total Physical Response, and if you're teaching English as a second language to children, you'll need to uncover ways to incorporate it in the classroom. Total physical response involves extensive or subtly (depending on the teacher and her style) body language to aid the student when learning/re-learning language.
Which city and country did you decide to teach English in and why?

I decided to teach English in Taiwan in Zhubei City in Hsinchu County. My friend who recommended taking ITA's TEFL course decided she wanted to teach in Asia. Inspired by the five months I had completed in China, I told her that I preferred having a stable job in a secure environment. We knew we had a place in Asia's vast market, and eventually started applying for jobs in Taiwan. I'd say Taiwan was culturally similar to China, so I felt comfortable that I knew a little about Chinese holidays and spoke survival Chinese Mandarin before saying yes to Taiwan.

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

I have been teaching in Taiwan for one year.

During which months does your school typically hire?


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?

Work visa

Please explain the visa process that you went through.

The staff at my school handled all paperwork needed for a visa. All I had to bring was my passport, passport-sized photos that were one-inch, and a pen to sign off on documentation.

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

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

What is the best way to apply?


Tell us about your English teaching job!

I worked as a foreign teacher at Oak Tree Language Institute (referred to as Oak Tree Kindergarten) and taught English to more than 50+ students in the span of one year. I was paid monthly, in cold hard cash. And I was also able to save roughly half of my paycheck every month.

During the first semester, I worked with students from six classes including evening hours which was not part of our employee salary but an extra. 

I made 750 New Taiwanese Dollars (approximately $24.50 USD) for every class that I had worked. On average, during the evening during the first semester, I worked sixteen evening hours per month so that would have been 750 New Taiwanese Dollars X 16 (evening classes) =12,000 New Taiwanese Dollars and to give you a rough guess of how much 12,000 NTD equals in American currency, roughly $363 US dollars.

Rent averaged above $300, so in hindsight, the extra money that I was making from teaching afternoon classes covered my rent.

The students were aged 2 to 12, and one of my favorite lessons with my main group of students (mostly 4 and 5 year old native Mandarin speakers) promoted knowledge of various shades of brown using a coffee set of chocolate M&M's. The M&M package hosted three shades of brown--light brown (close to cream/beige), medium brown, and dark brown. On the laptop I brought in that day, I showed my students pictures of friends and family and of their teacher whose skin color fell on the brown spectrum. As a warm up, I pointed out the objects in the room that were brown (i.e. t-shirts, hair color, wooden door). Next, we reviewed the English vocabulary of every single brown picture in our semester's deck of flashcards. The students' were asked to separate the pictures by category of their shade of brown.

As a reward for the students' who showed the most enthusiasm during the lesson, they were asked to try three chocolate M&M's: one light M&M, one medium brown M&M, and one dark M&M, and name which one tasted best. Seeing my students participate in our lessons always made me proud.

A lot of the students' parents worked in an industrial science park in Hsinchu City, so the majority of students' came from families who could afford to send their children to private school.

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

I did not live with a roommate, but in the floor above was my travel friend and college peer (also from New York) who taught with me in Taiwan for that year.



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

The town I lived in is outside of Hsinchu, the city that contributes 10 percent to the island's national GDP every year. This goes without saying that people are busy and don't always have time to enjoy their money. That's why I tried going to potluck dinners, holiday markets, and weekend adventures when I could. Getting days off from work isn't easy to come by in a place like Taiwan, so I would think about that when weighing your options for traveling outside of work. I did not date anyone in Taiwan, but I ate a lot of fresh fruit. My favorite was dragon fruit and winter melon!



What are your monthly expenses?

I paid $350 American dollars for rent every month, including about $100 for food. I mostly ate out. I didn't use transportation after the first month because my college friend and travel companion bought a motor scooter right after we moved to Taiwan, so I would use her bike for transportation. Depending on where in the island you'd like to visit, I recommend setting aside 30 American dollars every month for short travel ventures. In Taiwan, I refilled cellular data to use the internet while outside of places with WiFi. I was disappointed to learn that the school's WiFi was inconsistent. I spent $10 American dollars on mobile data every other month.

How would you describe your standard of living?

I follow a modest standard of living. I don't like to have a lot of "junk" in my room, and don't prefer to cook either. Eating out in Taiwan isn't expensive if you live and work outside of the capital, Taipei.

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

About 1,500 to 2,000 dollars (USD) per month.



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

If you enjoy hiking, fresh fruit, and friendly people and want these aspects included in your travel/teach abroad experience, then I highly recommend choosing Isla Formosa (Taiwan)!

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