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Teaching ESL in Taiwan

Taiwan, located off the coast of southeastern China, has become one of the most popular locations for ESL teachers who are flexible in their expectations, adaptable to a new and different culture, and want to add to their teaching experience. Many consider it the best location in Asia in terms of pay and standard of living. Whether you have only a year or two or several years of ESL teaching, Taiwan may be next on your list of teaching opportunities. Salaries are good, lower than Korea and Japan, but the cost of living is also lower in comparison. Your salary won't go nearly as far in Taipei the capital with a higher cost of living than it would in smaller rural towns.

Credentials/Qualifications/Documentation

You have to be a citizen of the U.S., New Zealand, Canada, Australia, Ireland, the UK, or South Africa. The only requirements to teach ESL in schools other than universities are a degree in any major, a background check, and good physical condition. Some schools will accept an Associates with TEFL or TESOL certification. You have to be at least 20 years old and free to sign a one year contract. These requirements may change, however, as competition for these jobs increases. The best and simplest way to enter Taiwan is with a Visitor's Visa and then apply for a Residency Permit or Visa later with the school's assistance.

Work Schedules & Salaries

Since learning English is not compulsory in Taiwan until grade three, new teachers will probably begin at one of the small, private schools known as buxibans (or bushibans), similar to Korea's hagwons. These schools have small classes, usually for ages 4-15, and a standard curriculum, which is easy to follow and develop lesson plans. On the other hand, it can become boring and repetitious, unless you are creative and entertaining enough to keep your students interested. Whether the students actually learn English or just memorize is questionable, since the buxibans are established primarily to make money. This shouldn't concern you, however, since the children are friendly and fun to teach.

University students are required to study English for at least two years, but by this time are more likely to be interested in extra curricular activities. If you're hired to teach at a university, you will find the adult students may be less likely to participate in class.

Salaries for new ESL teachers average $2,000 a month, which doesn't sound like much, but with a lower cost of living than other Asian countries, it is certainly adequate. Most schools allow you to teach at different levels from morning to afternoon, averaging five or six hours a day. Experienced teachers with TEFL or CELTA certification and a Master's degree can expect a higher salary, as high as $5,000 a month. You may be paid by the hour for a set number of hours or with a fixed salary, which should be included in your contract. A fixed salary contract includes four weeks to four months of paid vacation time and time off for Chinese national holidays. If you're from the U.S., your salary is tax free since $91,000 income earned overseas is exempt. Although airfare is not usually paid, most schools give a bonus at the end of your contract, which is equal to or more than the airfare.

Advantages/Benefits

A furnished studio costs around $300/month including utilities, and food for the month about the same. You won't pay much more for a 2-bedroom apartment. Your salary should be more than enough with some left over to spend or put aside. Western food and products are readily available, but you can save a great deal on your food budget by visiting the markets or buying from vendors.

In addition, the school will usually pay 75% of your monthly deduction for the universal health care card which covers the majority of most clinic, hospital, and dental expenses.

Check out foumosa.org for up-to-date information and discussion and tealit.com for classified ads, job listings, and other resources for teachers in Taiwan. You will have opportunities to socialize and share experiences at expatriate groups and clubs, as well as excellent wireless and Internet connections. InterNations website provides a guide to Taiwan, which includes everything from housing to health care and relocation information.

Disadvantages (or things to remember)

Housing is not always provided, except on arrival when you can stay in a school dormitory. Although the school will help you look for a rental, they don't usually pay for or subsidize your rent.

You may encounter problems in dealing with management at the buxibans, since they are offering English classes at a price and are interested primarily in making money.

Monday through Friday class schedules are not always set in stone, as you may be required to work extra hours on Saturdays and even holidays, hold parent/teacher conferences, and attend or participate in extra curricular events. It is important to read your contract carefully before signing; some schools will not pay you for additional hours. In some countries, you can earn extra money by teaching at other schools in your spare time, or by private tutoring. This, however, is illegal in Taiwan if you're on a contract with a specific school that sponsors your work permit.

Communication in smaller towns may be difficult unless you know Mandarin Chinese, the official language. If you work in Taipei or one of the other large cities, you will have the opportunity to learn the language, which is not a requirement, but is definitely beneficial in teaching ESL.

The semitropical climate is mild most of the year, but the weather can be a problem when typhoons sweep the island causing damage and floods.

Job Outlook

ESL teachers with some experience will find job openings in public and private schools from elementary to junior college and university. Although It is illegal to teach English in kindergarten or preschools, some private schools still do. Taipei is probably the preferred location, but there are other teaching jobs available in Taichung, Tainan, Kaohsiung, Taoyuan, and Hualien, as well as in towns outside the cities.

Conclusion

Taiwan is a beautiful island (Ihia Formosa) where ESL teachers can live and work safely in a diverse and interesting culture. Although many customs follow Confucian ethics, Western modernization encourages individual achievement and creativity with new ideas and values. A former teacher in Taiwan emphasizes the importance of maintaining a good reputation and making local friends and connections. Respect the traditions in relationships among family members, friends, and business acquaintances. If you are interested in a teaching position in Taiwan, do some research and check out the comments and reviews on forums, blogs, and ESL teaching websites such as Dave's ESL Cafe, GoOverseas, expatarrivals, and Kwintessential before deciding if Taiwan is right for you.

Sharon L Slayton

May 2013

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