Relocating to Taiwan for a year was my first experience as an expat. I’d only ever lived in the UK before, and it had been super easy to make friends, something which you really take for granted. Everyone speaks the same language, you stay in one town for a long time, and at university, friends are the main priority for everyone. When you move to a new country, it’s different. Finding friends is much harder when there is a language barrier, you don’t know the place, and you don’t know anyone at all.
After a year in Taiwan, we made a heap of great friends, both foreigners and Taiwanese locals. But, we did it the hard way. Getting settled can take a long time, and being in a couple means that you are (dangerously) able to rely on each other for company most of the time. In fact, we really only got into a social circle after 9 months.
Now we’ve left Taiwan, we know exactly what we should’ve done when we first arrived! Here are my top tips for how to make friends in Taiwan.
It’s obvious, I know, but just being work friends isn’t a way to meet new people. Try to hang out with colleagues outside of work and meet their other friends. We definitely made friends with people at work easily, but didn’t see them much outside of work because of heavy teaching timetables and different lifestyles – many of our colleagues were married or spending weekends travelling to Taipei where their other half lived.
In LuoDong, our first moment of striking friendship gold was frequenting Love (Mi) Café. This is how we made our local Taiwanese friends and met both of our language exchanges. By the time we’d met a few more Westerners, we also realised that Hackzoo Art Cafe in Yilan was a hot-spot for foreigners in the county to meet for drinks and board games. There are board game cafes all over Taiwan, so try looking these up for rainy days, as no doubt there’ll be other groups of Westerners there too.
In Taiwan, making friends with just one Taiwanese person automatically makes you friends with another dozen it seems! Language barriers can be difficult, so try and find a friend with good English who doesn’t mind helping you out with your language learning. Janice and Audrey, our language exchanges, were the most loving friends we had, they cared about our well-being more than anyone else, and always worked hard to make us feel welcome in their home country. Learning a bit of coffee shop (conversational) Mandarin will really help you out in Taiwan too, trust me.
There are Facebook groups for just about everything these days, including foreigners and teachers in Yilan, and Buy, Sell, Trade groups. These can be useful both for when you need something and just to meet other people. The Wandering Wildman blog is a really good resource for finding groups in Taiwan that suit your interests. We bought our scooter on Tealit from a guy a few stops up on the train line. We turned up and he cruised round the corner with a surfboard strapped to the back of the scooter and a little dog who wouldn’t get off between his flip-flops. He told us Taiwan was too cold and he was moving to Costa Rica, here’s the scooter, did we want a dog as well? Who knows who you’ll meet.
There are plenty of groups in Taiwan that organise meet-ups and events on weekends and evenings. We’re pretty keen on hiking, so we signed up to the Taipei Hikers, a totally free group. We went on a few hikes and river traces, and Luke even went camping with them. A friend of ours joined a local yoga class when she first arrived and the ladies there helped her settle in, and even set her up with a bicycle and scooter.
Organised by an American expat, Really Free Markets happen in Taipei on the last Sunday of every month. As well as trading your things, this is a hub for Westerners and English-speaking Taiwanese people to network.
Get into Couchsurfing
Joining the CouchSurfing community was the best decision we made. Utilize your spare bedroom and let others stay because they will definitely return the favour when you want to do a bit of travelling. Local meet-ups organised through the site can also be a good way to meet both locals and foreigners. The website is a good way to find locals who want to make you feel welcome in their home town, find language exchanges, and even find people just to meet for a coffee one afternoon.
Kind of sounds like strange advice, but we met two of our closest friends in Taiwan through our Taiwan travel blog. They commented on our posts a few times offering their own recommendations of things to do and places to eat in LuoDong, we arranged to meet, and they later became our housemates.