Korea vs Taiwan (from a foreigner's perspective)

by Colin Oswald
(Taipei, Taiwan)

View of my apartment block - Taipei

View of my apartment block - Taipei

I loved my time in Korea while I was there. I worked at a private school in the afternoons (2 - 9pm) and had a supportive boss and decent colleagues. After my year-long contract was up, I went home and immediately applied to work in Korea's public school system the following semester.

Because it takes around three months to get a visa to teach in Korea, I had a few months to kill. So I packed my bags and went to Taiwan, where I figured I'd spend a few months. And when the time came for my contract to start in Seoul, I'd head back to Korea.

...or, at least that was the plan...

That was four years ago. Taipei showed me its magic when I first arrived.

And I haven't looked back since.

Only now do i realize that I was counting down - month by month - for my contract to be up in Korea. I just wanted to get home to see my family. It lacked permanence. Most 'teachers' are fresh out of college and are there for the partying and paying off student loans. They all leave within a year or two. There is no expat community, just drunken nights out with other foreigners.

I am working in a school in Taipei with wonderful, eager students. I'm with my class of 18 kids for the entire day, and I don't teach them 'English'. Instead, I teach them IN English. They are not allowed a word of Chinese during the school day. Art, Math, PE, Science and all the other subject are taught in English. They started this schooling at the age of two, so by the time they get to my class, they are truly fluent speakers of English.
Whereas in Korea, I felt like nothing more than a marketing tool for the school - I was not really there for education, but rather to show the parents their 'novelty foreigner'. Totally different to the treatment I get from parents here.

Parents trust and respect me in this country, and treat me like a professional educator. And the kids are really pleasant. I think what makes it nice is that they are able to think in English, and so communication is no barrier between them and me. In Korea, I found that I was shuffled from class to class every 20 minutes, and the kids there only really communicated via phrases they had learnt. Conversations were simply impossible.

My primary job pays $3 000 US after tax per month. But that is only a portion of what I earn. It took about 18 months to develop and establish friendships with parents, locals, and small private school owners - all requesting private lessons. The pay is by the hour, so it's never the exact same amount every month. But on average I clear another $2 000 US thanks to these after-hours gigs.

That's a total of $5000 US per month.

I bet you are wondering about my living expenses. Well, I live alone in a modern, luxurious apartment building with its own gym, swimming pool and sauna facilities, in the heart of the city. So my rent is triple what most of my friends pay. Nevertheless, it only takes 10% of what I earn to pay for rent, electricity and water. Total living expenses are around $700 US, and that includes cable tv and unlimited WiFi. This might sound like a lot, but most of my friends all live in apartments with other people and they only pay around $200 a month. I guess it's up to you how much you're willing to spend on your home.

There is a LARGE expat community here - people from the west that now call Taipei home, and they treat each other like family.
And personally, I like the subtropical heat during Summer. Everyone becomes tanned, and t-shirts and shorts are the standard attire at work (and the shirt comes off as soon as I get home).

The one thing I do miss about Korea is the food. I really loved their options. Taiwan's food is a little oily, and bland. But that's a small price to pay for living in this country.

I so clearly remember waiting outside the airport in Korea when I first arrived there, no clue where I was to live, or what my school looked like (everything was arranged via two telephone calls). Waiting outside the airport in a foreign land without any idea of what you have signed up for for a year... I remember feeling so helpless and alone. I'm glad that's not standard procedure in Taiwan.

And I can say that I live independently from my work now, unlike the feeling I had in Korea - that my social life was being monitored by my boss.

As I said, I loved Korea while I was there, but honestly, it is nice paying my own bills (like a normal adult should), and having the option of moving and changing jobs if I want to.

By the way, the best thing about Taiwan is how family oriented the locals all are - I have never seen an elderly gentleman drunk on the streets (no soju soaked old men, that is).

My point is this - I have met lots of teachers in Taiwan that once taught in Korea. But when I was in Korea, I never once met a teacher that had relocated there from Taiwan. Surely that speaks volumes for itself?

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Mar 15, 2014
TEFL in Taiwan
by: Mark Chapman

Thanks for your story. It's good to hear about teachers doing well in Taiwan - and elsewhere. It's always been possible to earn money here, if you are prepared to work hard. And it sounds like you do.

Almost every teacher I've met who's worked in both Taiwan and Korea has a similar view of the two countries. I looked for work in Korea once, but changed my mind when I was there. I'd already been working in Taiwan for a while by then.

In my experience, few teachers will spend so much on a comfortable apartment, but it definitely improves the quality of life. I live in the countryside, and cheaper apartments with views are one of the benefits.

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