Taiwan is really a hidden gem as it’s not on your average tourist’s radar. In fact when I usually told people I was traveling to Taiwan to teach English, their response was either, “Taiwan? Where’s that?” or “I heard Taiwan is amazing! My friend went there and they never came back!” I was hoping my experience in Taiwan would be more like the latter even though I felt more like the first group since I didn’t not know much about Taiwan before I went there to teach English.
“You get a strange feeling when you leave a place. Like you’ll not only miss the people you love but you miss the person you are at this time and place because you’ll never be this way again.”
Traveling to Taiwan was both difficult and exciting. While part of me didn’t want to go, the other part of me didn’t want to stay either. I had just returned from an internship in Belgium and had a little over a month before I set off again this time to go to Taiwan. That meant I had to say goodbye all over again to my family and to my boyfriend, who had just told me he loved me when I came back from Belgium. Goodbyes were always difficult for me, but I was determined to go on this new adventure.
“And then I realized adventure was the best way to learn.”
The first thing that greeted me in Taipei was some pretty brutal humidity. Upon arrival, my hair had started to frizz out into a curly foosball (as it is known to do) and beads of sweat were dripping down my leg. It also didn’t help that I was lugging around two huge suitcases (after all I was going to be living in Asia for a year). My arrival was also met with some frazzled nerves because I couldn’t find the shuttle that was going to take me and some of the other new teachers to the hotel we would be staying at for the next two weeks of teacher boot camp.
The company I was going to teach English with in Taiwan was HESS – a well-known brand of English cram schools in Taiwan. HESS is like the McDonald’s equivalent of English schools. It’s a widely known brand in Taiwan, and it has an incredibly high turnover rate of teachers and students. About a week before I flew out to Taiwan, I started checking up on HESS and found less than stellar reviews. At that point it was too late for me to back out as I had already bought my plane ticket to Taiwan. Luckily, my experience with HESS didn’t turn into a nightmare. However, it also wasn’t my dream job. But I don’t expect most people go into teaching English as their dream job, except as a means to travel and grow like I did.
The group of teachers I attended training with was a diverse and quirky bunch. Of course there were the fresh-out-of-college “backpacking around Asia to find myself” group. There were also quite a few older adults in the bunch, like the quirky teacher I shared a hotel room with who had a weird habit of falling asleep in the bathtub. I was somewhere in between, not exactly fresh out of college, but still not fully feeling like a mature, stable adult.
The majority of my time in Taipei was spent undergoing intensive TEFL training. Training usually went from 9-6, and the trainers packed as much as they could in those 9 hours from teaching us how to adapt to living in Taiwan to classroom management. Training was intense but overall I was grateful for the dedication and patience of our trainers.
We were also required to do teacher demos to show our “presence” and ability to be in front of a classroom. Luckily, I performed well on my teacher demos only because I can put on a good show of being fun and lively in the classroom.
While our first couple of teacher demos were not graded, our last two teacher demos were graded by evaluators and were used to determine whether we would officially be offered a contract by HESS. Yeah, they don’t really tell you that part before you fly out. You don’t actually become a teacher until you successfully complete training and pass your graded teacher demonstrations.
They also don’t tell you where you are going to be stationed until you complete training. After completing training, I learned I was going to be teaching in Luodong, a small town located on Taiwan’s rural east coast. I was disappointed, only because I wanted to be in a big city. Luckily, I had heard that they were looking to hire a teacher for their newest branch in Shanghai. That’s when I made a momentous choice to change course from Taiwan to China.
“Traveling – it leaves you speechless and then it turns you into a storyteller.”
While most of my time in Taiwan was devoted to teacher boot camp, I did get some time to explore. In my brief time there, I discovered that Taiwan is full of beautiful and diverse scenery from rolling green hills to hot springs. One of my favorite memories of Taiwan is taking a gondola to the Maokang Tea Plantations where I roamed around and drank tea and saw spiders that were as large as my hand. While part of me wonders what would have happened if I had stayed in Taiwan, I try not to dwell on the “what if’s.” However, I still can’t help but wonder if Taiwan was the one that got away.
Stay tuned for Traveler Tidbits – Taipei, Taiwan, where I give my recommendations on what to see and do in Taipei.