Six Months In Taiwan and Counting

Happy Easter everyone!

I hope everyone is doing something fun this holiday, even those of us who don’t get a holiday. That’s right, this is the first time I don’t get an Easter holiday. I even had to work Saturday morning! Nonetheless I’ve spent the day getting sick on sweet things and drinking just the right amount of iced caramel milk tea and hot mochas. We did, however, get a holiday here in Taiwan a couple days ago on Wednesday, right in the middle of the week. It was a combined holiday of Children’s Day and Tomb Sweeping Day. I’m not sure if the combined holiday bears any special significance but I did enjoy the day on a beach and getting chased by an angry monkey.

Thus, I have a newly discovered hatred of monkeys.

Yes, I even hate this one and her baby.

Besides all that, I’ve also recently realized that I have been in Taiwan for a little over six months now. So today I’m writing a brief post on what has happened so far this last half-year.

When I stepped out of the airport in Kaohsiung near the end of September and into the natural sauna of Taiwan, I had very few expectations. Perhaps my friends and family were right in thinking that moving to a foreign country with very little knowledge of the culture was nothing short of insanity. Maybe. But I feel it was even more exciting and rewarding than if I had informed myself as every moment was a surprise. I spoke to my friends, Luc and Breanna, who had moved to Taiwan a couple months before my arrival, once or twice on Skype about what to expect and what to bring and that was good enough for me. I remember the first things I noticed were the heat (it was after all still summer), the smells (there seemed to be food everywhere, even in the middle of the night), the dangers of driving (nobody really obeys the laws in Kaohsiung), and the beauty of the city (despite how dark the city was). When the sun came up the next day and I walked out onto the balcony of my 10th floor apartment in Lingya District, I was shocked to see a world so different than the one I just came from. I certainly wasn’t in Alberta anymore. My new view consisted of many tall buildings, the beautiful High 85, and one of the small mountains on the edge of the city near the ocean.

The view from my balcony.

I spent the first few weeks growing accustomed to my new surroundings. I slowly ventured outside of my apartment by myself while my roommates were at work and began memorizing the streets and subway lines. It didn’t seem to take long as Kaohsiung is mostly built on a grid and the subway has only two lines. So I began to make friends through the local LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans) organization called the Sunshine Queer Center. I admit I also used a couple dating sites as I didn’t know how else to meet people quickly. (Hey! Don’t judge me! It worked!) Within a couple weeks I had met quite a few cool people who spoke fluent English and made some good friends who I could relate to. My roommates and my new friends helped me to quickly fall in love with Taiwan as they showed me some of the most beautiful parts of Kaohsiung, such as Love River and “Monkey Mountain” (aptly named by foreigners because of the wild monkeys), and incredible places outside of Kaohsiung, like the hot springs in Guanziling.

After allowing myself a few weeks of relaxation and unwinding from five years of university, I was ready to look for a job. Of course it was all because my friend Skyler forced me off the couch and onto the back of his scooter. (A note about teaching English in Taiwan: While I’m not qualified to teach English at a public school, I am qualified to teach English at a cram school, or buxiban. These are like privately owned after-school schools that focus on specific subjects to help students perform better at public school or increase their chances of being accepted into post-secondary education. In Taiwan, it seems most English teachers from foreign countries find jobs in cram schools as the only real requirements are the completion of a four-year BA in any field and possessing valid passports and visas. However, most cram schools also hire based on your accent and if you are a native speaker of English.) I printed off a handful of resumes at 7-11 and Skyler drove me around to the cram schools that he knew about in my area. After about an hour, I had visited three cram schools that I thought looked good and patted myself on the back for a job well done. I was ready for a break. Within an hour I received a call on the pay-as-you-go cell phone I picked up and was asked to come in for an interview. I also discovered an email from a cram school responding to an email I had sent earlier. After a few hours of starting my search I already had two interviews lined up!

The next day I was interviewed by the two owners of Jr. Jet English School. Following the interview, they requested I return later that day to do a mildly stressful teaching demo in front of one of them for about 15 minutes. (I was fortunate as I have heard some schools request a full hour or two.) I returned that night to a contract with their signatures on it and blank space for mine. I told them I would sleep on it, which I did, and decided the next day to sign the contract. In the two weeks following that day I completed my orientation and was teaching three classes full-time. Class sizes are constantly changing as students are pulled by their parents or new students arrive. I am now teaching: 16 students, aged 5 – 7, on Monday – Friday from 1:30 – 4:30 pm; 8 students, aged 9 – 12, on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 5 – 7 pm; 12 students, aged 8 – 12, on Tuesday and Thursday from 5 – 7 pm and every other Saturday from 10 am – 12 pm; and a fourth class with 7 students, aged 11 – 12, on Wednesday and Friday from 7:15 – 9:15 pm. I am teaching about 31 hours every week and take close to 10 hours every week to prepare and mark tests and writing books.

Despite the many hours spent in the classroom or preparing for classes I have found time to experience many amazing things here in Taiwan. In the last six months I have accomplished so much, such as: visiting numerous temples and shrines, being chased by wild monkeys, sending a giant paper lantern into the sky, eating many strange yet satisfying foods, crashing my scooter in the rain, seeing the world from the top of the very tall Taipei 101, bathing in a very rare form of a mud hot spring, and the list goes on.

At Foguangshan on Christmas Eve with Luc (on the left) and Breanna (behind the camera).

I hope you continue to follow me and my blog. There is so much I want to share with you about my experiences in Taiwan, both the good (like the beauty this island offers) and the bad (like the racism so many people experience on a daily basis). If you’re tired of reading and want to watch a couple videos head over to my YouTube account by clicking on this link: Tyson In Taiwan YouTube. You can also find me on Twitter and Flickr.  If you have any questions for me, please don’t hesitate to email me at tysonintaiwan@gmail.com or leave a comment below.

Love and, once again, happy Easter!

-Tyson-

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