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Teaching English in Taiwan
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Teaching English in Taiwan

Things That Recruiters Won’t Tell You

Taiwan is a beautiful tropical island with a thriving economy. You can bounce from the upscale shops of Taipei to its attractive beaches in one day. No matter where you end up working there are enough expatriates, other teachers, and American/Australian bars to soothe your transition.

When you walk into your classroom every student is smiling and interested in you. On average teachers make $15 per hour (tax free) and work about 50 hours a week—not bad pay for recent graduates.

If this sounds too good to be true, it’s not. But there are a few things about working in Taiwan that recruiters won’t tell you.

Most schools offer housing, in some cases free for an entire year contract. Other schools offer housing for the first three months before deducting rent from your salary. Read your contract carefully, but don’t bring up the housing issue until you receive a contract. If a school sends you a contract they think you’re qualified and want you. Housing will be offered; if not, bring it up. Unless you’re fluent in Mandarin, finding a safe area on your own in which to rent housing can be a nightmare. Remember you’re in a different culture. Things like the toilet paper, beds, and type of housing will be part of overcoming culture shock and making your transition smooth.

Give yourself as much as three months to get through the culture shock. To help with your transition buy new clothes before leaving and have someone at home send you care packages every other week. Bring your favorite movie and music and buy a DVD player after you arrive.

Most schools will bounce teachers in and out of three to five schools per day. Teachers are not paid for the hours clocked riding from school to school. So don’t expect a nine to five day; expect a nine to nine day that will add up to about eight hours of classroom time.

Before leaving for Taiwan secure a debit card that will work abroad. Teachers are only paid once a month.

A high school teacher needs to be prepared to teach kindergarten through fifth grade. Most classes are for young students. Only the occasional class will be older than fifth or sixth grade.

Teachers are expected to ride a bike to local schools (less than three miles) and a scooter to schools further away. In larger cities high-volume traffic fills the streets 16 hours a day. Schools won’t pay for insurance for scooter accidents, but will deduct damages from your salary.

Weather conditions are not acceptable reasons for missing class, and the school will deduct lost time from your salary. You will be expected to ride through downpours, high winds, and lightening.

A 4-year degree is required for teaching with a government-approved visa. The Taiwan Government wants only qualified teachers. Schools are less concerned with a teacher’s qualifications than with the number of native English speakers they have working. Native English speakers don’t need a degree to teach. Tourist visas are easily obtained for a $100 fee, usually covered by the school.

Review the contract closely. Some contracts hold teachers responsible for renewing their visas every three months, listing a fee of about $45. They don’t always inform teachers that they need to leave the country to obtain new visas. Thailand is the most popular location for doing this. The process takes a few days, and the teacher is responsible for the cost of the flight, hotel, and other expenses.

The Taiwan Government fines schools hiring non-qualified teachers and teachers working on a tourist visas NT$10,000. Teachers who get caught are deported immediately.

Before signing the contract read it carefully. Ask specific questions when something seems vague. A simple question such as, "Can you ride a bike or scooter?" may be more important than you think.

After five weeks on a 1-year contract I left Taiwan. I had been misinformed about certain requirements. But I have learned a lot from my experience. After completing a BA in English, I plan to return to Taiwan in September 2006 with a tourist visa in hand and no contract.

Teachers working freelance can easily find positions. They make between $17 and $20 per hour and can pick and choose the numbers of hours per week they wish to work. Selecting your location once you are there is a big plus for the teachers and makes for smoother transitions abroad.