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Tutoring English in Taiwan

By Ruth Kamnitzer

The way to get started in the lucrative enterprise of ESL tutoring in Taiwan is through one of the English teaching agents. Ask around at any of the low-priced hostels in Taipei (such as the popular Formosa Guest House). I went through Jenny Lao, one of the best-known agents, and found her extremely helpful. Newcomers are sometimes hesitant to sign up with an agent because of the commission they charge. I was too, but in the end I found that the benefits—interesting jobs and top wages—far outweighed the 20 percent deducted from my first month’s paycheck.

My role as a tutor was largely supervisory. The kids knew their stuff. Mostly the parents wanted someone around to make sure they did their homework, had extra help before tests, and exposure to Western culture. The pressure on them to perform was immense, though somewhat less so at the American school than for students at other Taiwanese schools.

The best time of year to arrive in Taiwan is February, when the terms are changing and many foreign teachers are packing up for a few months of catching the rays in Thailand before heading home for the North American summer. It’s worth getting to know some of the outbound teachers who may be looking for someone to whom they can give their hapless students. If you’re lucky you’ll find yourself handed a full schedule of private tutoring, which generally pays better and is more enjoyable than teaching full classes. My best job was helping a Japanese businessman (living in Taipei) with his karaoke!

Bicycling, though not for the faint hearted, makes getting to work much easier, especially if you’re doing a lot of private lessons and need to move around quickly. On my way back and forth to lessons I discovered many places I would have missed on the bus or in a taxi, and it was a chance to get some exercise. Just buy yourself a good helmet and a loud bell.

With high wages and plentiful job opportunities it’s easy to forget to enjoy Taiwan. Don’t. In a country with a rich cultural heritage and diverse landscape, it’s worth taking the time to discover the city while your piggy bank fills up. Visit the museum in Taipei, do Tepenyaki in the market, and hang out in one of the small arts cafes tucked away in the back alleys. Wake up early and join the tai chi in the park.

RUTH KAMNITZER lives in Revelstoke, British Columbia.

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