Advice for foreign teachers new to Taiwan
Being now in October, the thrill of arriving in Taiwan has come and gone. Foreign teachers new to Taiwan are becoming more and more attuned to living here. The first month of the school semester has also ended. Teachers and students alike may be getting into a routine in their classes. So, what can foreign teachers do to overcome culture shock and build upon their experience of living in a foreign country? Well, starting my sixth year of living and teaching English here, I am happy to be a help.
Here are some bits of advice and words of wisdom.
To begin with, learn to say “no” politely. In Western cultures, at least in the U.S., it’s acceptable to say “no” in work situations. Here, not so much. This is primarily a cultural difference and when employers or colleagues hear it from the foreign teacher, their reaction may not be so positive. So, I have learned to say “no” in a polite and indirect way.
For example, if my boss or colleague asks me to do something, I always ask about the deadline. This helps me prioritize my own tasks. Then, I may say I am overwhelmed with work or I have other responsibilities that are more important. Whenever I go about it that way, the reactions are positive and I’m understood.
Next, you have to start learning Mandarin. The language is so very different from English, yet I feel it’s important to learn it. Not that you have to. It’s easy to live in Taiwan and not know Chinese; Taiwanese are very accepting and willing to help when needed. However, learning Chinese helps English teachers identify and relate to their students. It adds to the whole experience of living in a foreign country. And, it definitely helps in becoming independent while living here.
Also, try to make new friends. When living in a foreign country, it’s pretty easy to gravitate toward people who were raised in the same culture or even speak the same language. And, it’s simply easier because you have the same cultural foundation. Yet, I encourage you to make friends who are Taiwanese and even from other countries. It helps you see from their perspective and opens the world to you.
At the same time, try to find a community you call “family.” Wherever you live, it’s important to have a strong network of people upon which to rely. The same goes for foreigners living in Taiwan. Find a community of people you can call “family.” Find a group of people with whom to celebrate holidays, share life, seek advice from or simply to call when you’re missing home.
It’s OK to do Western activities. As a foreigner living in Taiwan, of course your home culture, cuisine and lifestyle are different from the norm. There are days when you crave something familiar. That’s completely OK. Not everything needs to be new, adventurous or exciting.
Then, travel all you can. Living in Taiwan is so convenient because it’s so easy and inexpensive to travel. So, do just that. Travel around Taiwan. Travel around Asia and visit other Southeast Asian countries. This is the one piece of advice I, myself, need to follow.
Meanwhile, don’t forget to greet other foreigners. At least in Taichung, there is this weird unwritten rule that foreigners don’t greet other foreigners while out and about. It’s stupid because, obviously, we are not in our native country. That is a commonality already. So, I encourage you to break it.
Last but not least, remember that “When in Rome, do as the Romans.” Here is the famous phrase from the Bible. And, it’s good advice whatever your beliefs. Wherever you are, blend in as well as you can. It helps in daily life. It helps in building friendships. It helps add to your experience living here. So, to make it more relevant to Taiwan, “When in Taiwan, do as the Taiwanese.”
There you have it — eight tips to help you adjust to Taiwan, overcome culture shock and make your life here a pleasant one.
A recent survey conducted by the Chinese-language Economic Daily News and NanShan Life Insurance Co. named Hualien County as the happiest place to live in Taiwan, followed by Taitung County and Penghu County in the south. The so-called National Happiness Index also called Taipei City, Chiayi County and Yunlin County the happiest regions among the 20 counties and cities across the nation.
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