There’s a tiny island off the coast of China that many have heard of, and yet don’t know about. Check the tag of your shirt or the bottom of your cup and you might just see it: Made in Taiwan.
In the spring of 2016, I accepted a job at an American secondary school in Taichung, Taiwan, and promptly left on the 4th of July, with five massive suitcases in tow. The plan was to go for one to two years; maybe longer if it was a good fit. Going in, I knew there would be some snags and cultural shocks that I would have a hard time getting past, so I wasn’t completely surprised that I decided to leave after six months.
Don’t get me wrong, the experience was great! I met some amazing people, learned a lot, went new places, and ate some strange and delicious food. But I’m happy to be back.
I could go on and on about the food, the culture, the school, the people, the country, my travels, my likes and dislikes, the reasons behind my decision….but I’ll go in depth later on, for now I’ll stick with a summary of my time while I was there.
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I’ll admit: Asia is not my cup of tea. It’s great and has its wonders and everything, but it wasn’t a place for me. It all started at the airport: after 24-hours of traveling, I was pushing my overloaded luggage cart towards the exit where the school bus was waiting for me and the other five teachers I was traveling with. The doors opened and I walked into a literal wall of hot humidity. Being a Colorado gal and a fan of dry climates, this instantly woke me up and sent me retreating back into the airport. The many mosquitoes I would meet later, didn’t make me like the climate any more.
The school was outside of Taichung, a city about an hour south of the capital, Taipei. For foreigners who don’t speak the language, there’s not much to do in Taichung beyond shopping, going out to eat or to the movies, and baseball games. The night scene is limited and very different than what I was used to: small, narrow bars that were never full but eager to shush you if you got too loud and excited. With my very busy schedule, and being 30-minutes outside of the city, it was hard to do much, and I quickly found myself going stir-crazy.
Taipei was a fun city: modern with hints of western culture (sidewalks!!) and plenty to do. Had I stayed in Taipei, I think things would have been different.
I was hired as an English teacher and dorm parent for the girl’s hall. The majority of the students that attended were boarding students. There were three adults assigned to each floor to ensure the duties within the dorms were taken care of. We were in charge of locking and unlocking the main doors, making sure students went to class and to bed on time, monitoring cleaning schedules and study hall hours, and be there in the event a kid was sick or injured.
On the good side: I got free room and board, worked every third day and every third weekend, and had a 40-second commute from my bedroom to my classroom. The bad side: I lived and breathed that school, which definitely affected my spirit.
I went in with the impression that the students knew English and were at relatively the same level as students in the United States, with the school being “the most prestigious in the city”. My passion is literature, not language, so I was more than a bit upset when I discovered that, surprise!, the kids were far from fluent. It was heartbreaking to teach kids that wanted to go to college in the States because I knew they were two, three years behind the curve: I was setting them up for failure it seemed.
I found myself working around 70-hours a week on a good week, doing work that I couldn’t get behind on, for people that I did not respect or agree with. About half-way through the semester, I finally decided it was in my best interest to protect my health and values, so I put in my notice and planned to leave at the end of the semester.
I’m thankful that I went. I’m thankful to be back. Not many people get to live abroad and experience a new culture, so I like having that one-up in my life. But that time abroad also wrecked a lot of havoc on my health and happiness.
If you’re ever presented with the opportunity to travel, to live abroad, to try something new, take it! But do your research first. Seriously: read up on the culture, the town, the nightlife, the food, the healthcare, the available services, exactly what will be expected of you while you’re over there. Going in with one idea and then being slammed with a different reality can ruin a lot of things for you. But I’m not letting it ruin everything.
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