Starting a New Life in Taiwan
A Life Changing Experience
By Bertus van Aswegen
My training ended on Christmas Eve, and after having Christmas Day off (which is rare in Taiwan) I had to teach for the first time on December 26th. It was bit overwhelming at first as there was a lot of material and not much time to get everything done, but like most things in life, there’s a learning curve and I quickly got the hang of it.
I adored my students, especially my one class that consisted of 14 “babies” who were aged from 2-5. After days of tears, they finally warmed up to me and then instead of being a giant scary man, I became a tree—one which they often tried to climb. I even found myself regularly teaching with a toddler on my hip while rubbing away tears and writing phonics on the whiteboard.
The first few weeks flew by, and I quickly got into a routine: wake up late, get a lunch box from around the corner and head to school around 1pm. I had three classes a day from 2pm to 9pm. At night my friend and I would either eat snacks from 7-eleven or McDonalds, because “Chinese” food back home is definitely not “Chinese” food in Taiwan. That lasted for about a month, until we realized that we couldn’t live on junk food alone. We got a Costco membership and started cooking for ourselves. It wasn’t until months later that we started exploring more local food, and with a few hits and misses we eventually found some local alternatives to a Big Mac.
My friend and I moved out of the school’s apartment after a couple of months and got a place of our own. It was ridiculously cheap and really close to my branch. My friend had to take a shuttle bus to her branch every day, but it was all worth it as we had a place to call home. The only downside was that it was right by the airport, and we had to pause movies or conversations whenever a plane took off or landed.
We stayed there for a year before getting a smaller, more expensive (but still cheap) apartment downtown. We now had a view of the Love River in Kaohsiung, and it was a less noisy, more vibrant part of the city. This eventually became our home for a few years, and although I have moved quite a lot, I have never moved too far from the Love River—I guess this part of the city grew on me and I grew with it.
Now that I have been here for more than eighteen years—almost half of my life—I can honestly say that I am a different person. I have come to love the food, the people and their hospitality, and my makeshift family here in Taiwan. As expats, all far from our real families and friends, it can be quite easy to form bonds with others as we mostly share the same experiences. Even though I miss my family back home and at times can get quite homesick, my Taiwan family is always there for me and in a country as open-minded and accepting as Taiwan I can be myself and live my life as authentically and freely as I want. Sadly, not everyone stays here forever, so in meeting new people the thought of having to say goodbye to them in the future is inevitable and something I struggle with to this day.