Saturday, March 12, 2005

So You Want to Teach English in Taiwan?

Then here's my generic advice to an artist who's thinking about moving to Taiwan to teach English:

Jobs teaching English in Taiwan are still easy to find, though not as easy as 5 years ago. Full-time pay is roughly US $1,400 per month and up. This is certainly enough to live on securely and perhaps comfortably --depending on what you're used to already -- but it will be difficult to actually save much money by the time you pay for air fare, rent, food, phone bills, laundry, hot water, and the astonishing number of things we moderns need to buy: a spoon, a blanket, a chair, an umbrella, a DSL connection, a DVD player, ad infinitum. Some people earn twice as much by taking on tutoring on the side and teaching at 2 or 3 schools -- but they don't have any free time, much less for artwork. If the job states it is "25 hours per week" then always plan to spend about 35 hours actually working, between preparing, grading, and even extra tasks such as phoning the students at home to practice a lesson (apparently this is simply to impress the parents who pay the bills).
Most of the jobs are in privately run night schools, "cram schools" for kids. Some schools are for working adults. You don't need experience or even a particular degree to get such jobs, since there is a high turnover. Jobs in the public school system are much harder to come by, and at least require a related degree or credential and some experience. E.g., my own university hires part-timers now and then to teach the lower level English courses -- but it requires a TESOL certificate or MA degree.

Living in Taiwan is a challenge and it takes some getting used to, some flexibility. If you are in your 20s, this is generally possible since there are enough ex-pats and backpackers and students studying Chinese of that 20-something age group around Taipei. But if you're in your 30s, it might be more difficult to get used to the change. There is much more crowding, noise, and air pollution for example, than in the US. Affordable apartments are not as nice. No one has a yard or garden in the city. Buses lurch around packed standing room only. It is impossible to read the Chinese signs that cover every available space. In the city though, you can find just enough bilingual English to get by. But it is still vital to learn a bit of Chinese language -- especially numbers and how to say "Sorry, I don't understand." The local Taiwanese are usually polite and friendly, but they will always treat you as a foreigner. This is not a multicultural society. So a big adjustment is to get used to being The Outsider on a permanent basis. Little kids occasionally point at you and say "Waiguoren!" --foreigner. Many people avoid sitting next to you on the subway. But they will, eventually, when no other seats remain. And so forth.

The arts community exists as a minority of course just like in the rest of the world. Here it is really a minority. Taiwan is all business all the time. And when it isn't business, then it's shopping. This is consumer capitalism to the nth degree. Conformity is most common. Despite the tremendous emphasis on education, their educational outcome aims at business and technology, and does not lead to independent creativity except in rare cases.

But the flip side of this is that the strong economy and increased standard of living has indeed created more gallery space, publishing, performance venues, and even grants for artists. This isn't Paris or New York, but a modest arts scene is flourishing in Taipei.

I do have a Taiwanese friend who teaches art and has exhibited his postmodernist work in local shows. His fiance is also an artist (from Austria). They would be able to connect someone to the small artistic networks here. That network is precious to the few bohemian artists here, because they recognize each other as rare.

For more on teaching EFL in Taiwan see:

For a shot at an arts residency grant see:


At 12:01 PM, Blogger Feiren said...

Great advice for a new English teacher. I do slightly disagree about always being treated as a foreigner here. It's not a multicultural society, but once you get to know people well, I think they could care less. I'm not claiming to have assimilated or to have special 'inside' knowledge. I do speak Mandarin and have lived here for more than 10 years so perhaps my caveat doesn't apply to a new arrival.


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