My experience in Taiwan started off ominously. Well intentioned friends warned me of the dangers of Taiwanese living and the possibility that I would end up being kidnapped and sold into sex slavery. What those friends did not realize, was their tragic mix up of Taiwan with Thailand. Thailand is a part of a triangle of countries known to be famous for the human sex trade and although I was not put off by my friends constant mix up, it did unnerve me.
Arriving in Taiwan was another story. I had unintentionally scheduled my flight for too early in the day and my hotel for nine hours later. This left me three hours to wander Taipei waiting for banks to open and nine hours before I had a place to go and call home. The forced wandering gave me insight into the varied nature of Taiwan and the Taiwanese people. Although somewhat reserved by nature, as country, Taiwan has some of the friendliest people and compared to most of Asia and America, it is very safe.
Settling into work, completing training, and finding a house took up the rest of the next few months. Lonely at first, I met friends and my language exchange partner. Work was the most difficult part of my life at the time. Although the cost of living in Taiwan is relatively low (I was paying $225 for a one bedroom in an expensive high rise), the amount of work you do to get your paycheck can be alarming. The Taiwanese have a very strong work ethic and the large school I worked at was particularly famous for squeezing out hundreds of unpaid hours from its workers before they ultimately quit.
Other than work though, my experience in Taiwan was exceptional and I fell in love with the country. My first month involved a hike through monkey filled jungle, a stroll through tea fields, and an all night poker game that started with drinks in a local pagoda. The rest of my months were filled with hiking trips, visits to temples around the island, regular clubbing trips to Taipei, music festivals, and beach parties.
The average person that I have met here has had a good experience in Taiwan. The people are friendly, the cost of living is lower, the food is delicious, and the shopping is some of the best in the world. However, there are downsides to most people’s experience in Taiwan as well.
The biggest issue is the amount of work you have to do and the rising cost of living. The wage has stagnated for teachers and other workers in Taiwan for the last ten years or so while the cost of living has gone up. Some teachers in my area work for as little as $10 an hour although the supposed market rate for teachers is at $20. The biggest chain school in Taiwan currently starts new teachers off at a full $2 below market rate and charges them $600 if they leave early. As the cost of living rises, some Taiwanese bosses are also intent on squeezing all of the work they can out of their workers making for a lot of unpaid overtime at the more profitable chain schools.
You can, however, still make a living on around 15 hours of teaching a week if you budget correctly and live outside of the city. Finding a job that is only 15 hours a week and has limited unpaid hours is difficult, but not impossible. The problem would be budgeting correctly. Many foreigners in Taiwan enjoy drinking on the weekends and this often comes at hefty price tag. Alcohol -at least in my experience in Taiwan- tends to be at least as expensive as in America and generally more expensive. You can counter this, however, by going to all you can drink bars and clubs to start off you night. Most charge somewhere between 10-15 dollars for girls to get in and although the cocktails are often thinner, the shots and beer are still quality.
For the would be traveler, I would recommend doing you research to make sure your experience in Taiwan is a good one. Be choosy about what jobs you take and where you live. Budget wisely. The longer you are in Taiwan, the more you will be able to learn about where to buy things for the cheapest price. A good rule of thumb is that if it looks like a western style restaurant or clothes store, it is probably going to be more expensive.
Taiwan is an amazing country and travelers can expect to have an excellent experience in Taiwan. If I could choose again, I would still have made all the work and living choices I made when I first come here. Taiwan has been an experience that I will not be forgetting anytime soon.