6 months ago, if you would have said that I would be teaching ESL in Taiwan, I would have said you are crazy. We aren’t really backpackers. My wife is an accomplished teacher with a masters degree from McGill. She has always had a passion for this. Our sister-in-law has taught in Asia for 2 years. In Hong-Kong and Korea. We also have friends that are teaching in Taiwan since January. Carrie and John have been teaching abroad for the last 5 years.
All this to say what?
Just to say that I like being in my comfort zone. I was a financial advisor in Quebec. I had just been contemplating a change of profession, because my background was in Computer Science and Mathematics. I also used to be a graphic designer, doing some webdesign. I was thinking of going back to school. My wife came back with this idea to teach in Asia. So we both prepared our CVs and within minutes of sending them off, we got job offers.
We mainly had offers from bushibans and public schools. Since I am not a certified teacher, I can’t teach in a public school. Also, we needed to teach at the same school. Some agents told us this wasn’t possible. We finally found our agent/school through craigslist Taiwan. We both got hired and booked our flights. This was in the last week of August 2006.
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What salaries can you expect working in Taiwan? I think this is one of the main points for teachers coming here. I would stay away from the bushibans. Try the private schools and public schools. Go to a public school if you are a certified teacher. You will be making between 65000 to 75000 NTD (2166 to 2500 USD per month). You will also get the summers off. That isn’t guaranteed for private school teachers. Though make sure you work for either an elementary school or a junior high school. Teachers working there will be paying no income tax.
Smart teachers will come here without having been in contact with an agent. The arrival will be harder but finding a teaching position isn’t that hard in Taiwan. You will be making a lot more money without having gone through an agency. For example, our agents get 8000NTD per month per person from the school plus a setup fee initially (275 USD per month). This is money that you would be receiving one way or the other. If you have a contract with an agency, they will receive it.
You shouldn’t accept anything under 75000NTD. Those jobs are harder to find and won’t be pushed by the agencies. But you should try resources like tealit and others to find the right school for you. Having been in Taiwan for a few months, we have found teaching positions with salaries up to 130000NTD per month (4333 USD per month), though these are either for American, International or certain elite private schools. And remember if you have on of these positions at an elementary or junior high school level, you won’t be paying any income tax!
I recommend that you try working for either an American school or an International school. You get a lot of benefits that teachers take for granted in the US and Canada, like summers off (2 months paid vacation during the summer) and a month of paid vacation during the school year + state holidays. Your salaries will generally be higher as well. Most teachers will also tutor to make more money. We have been here two months and have been tutoring for a month. Getting to the jobs can be a hassle in the beginning, but making an extra 10000 to 20000 NTD (300USD to 700USD per month) per month is quite good.
Cost of living? Cheap!
Count on at least 5000 to 15000 on rent, this depends where you are renting. In Taipei, rent is very expensive and you will probably live in the outskirts of the city. In Hsinchu and other towns outside of Taipei, rent is a lot cheaper. The smaller the towns, the cheaper the rent. Though there isn’t a lot to do in the smaller towns. We live about an hour’s train ride away from Taipei. Hsinchu is special because the income per person is the highest in the country because of the Science Park were all the high tech companies are. There are a lot of schools here. A few American school and International schools. But my advice is to go were the best jobs are. Taipei is fun. The MRT or subway system makes reaching most parts of the city a cinch.
One you have found a position, make sure you ask the following questions:
Do I have paid vacations? Do I get the summers off? Is there overtime? How many teaching hours per week? If I’m finished with my day, can I go home or do I have to stay until a certain time at the office?
If there are any answers you don’t like, make sure that they are addressed and if they agree to new terms, make sure they are stipulated in your contract. Don’t accept things like
Everybody has the same contract. (untrue)
Everybody does different, but it has to be like that in the contract (untrue)
There are teachers in my school who have different contracts and stipulations that I have. Once things are like you want them to be, sign it and teach.
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Again, why all this and to say what? Well just to say that I am not a teacher by background and that we had never really traveled together before. My wife studied in Edinburgh and since her mother worked for Air Canada, she has been all over the world. I was born in Germany and lived in France before coming to live in Canada. I speak 3 languages. We had always wanted to travel, but with a condo, mortgage, a car and more, we weren’t even able to save anything, let alone pay off all of our debts.
Unlike some people, we actually decided to stay in Asia for a long time. Not 2 years or 3. A lot longer. Most probably in Taiwan since the cost of living is so cheap. It’s supposed to be even cheaper in Thailand.
One of my best friends made a similar decision this year. He had been finishing his doctorate degree in Classical Studies in Paris. He decided to stop it and to travel. He traveled in Asia, from Cambodia to India to Sri Lanka before settling into Thailand. He came back, arranged his affairs and settled down there for the foreseeable future. He is more of a backpacker than me, though he has rented a small house with his girlfriend and does odd jobs to get by. Meaning that he has been a real estate agent and was trying to do some translating.
I have to say that I am an atypical westerner. Both my parents are Asian, from India, though I was born and grew up in Europe before settling in Quebec Canada at the age of 10. My wife is from Vancouver from British parents. She is a redhead. She studied in Ottawa and taught there as well.
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