Teaching in Taiwan: An Interview with Teacher Katie and Teacher Ryan

Teaching in Taiwan is something I often get asked about by people who are thinking about making the move and starting a new career on the island. What I always emphasise is that everyone’s experience of teaching in Taiwan is different – variables such as school and branch, workload, location, personality and whether you’re going solo or as a couple can be make or break. I’m interviewing different teachers in Taiwan to find out their thoughts on island life, ESL teaching and travelling. This interview is part of the Teaching in Taiwan series.

Have I ever met such a gorgeous couple in my life? Definitely not. Katie and Ryan were the first couple that Luke and I met during our teacher training in Taipei when we arrived in Taiwan. Confident, stylish, totally lovely, and rocking in sunglasses, these two are hard to miss. Though they don’t blog (but totally should), you can follow Ryan on the Matador Network where he recently published some sweet photo essays on Myanmar.

Hey Katie and Ryan, can you guys introduce yourselves?

We’re Katie and Ryan from Atlanta, GA in the USA. We didn’t always travel, but it was always something we wanted to do. Our passions now lie in traveling and teaching. And lucky for us, we get to do both. Our dream job would be teaching at an international school anywhere in Spain. Other than that, we love photography, shopping, beaches, and food.

Where in Taiwan do you live?

We are currently living in Xindian District, New Taipei City, Taiwan. It’s slightly outside the city, but still close enough to the city to visit frequently and quickly.

Why did you decide to teach English in Taiwan?

Honestly? It was the first place that offered us a job.

Was it easy to find a teaching job? Have you changed teaching jobs since being in Taiwan? If so, why?

Yes, it was very easy to get a job in Taiwan. We just sent our resumes, had an interview over Skype, went to teacher training, and TA-DA! We were employed. We’re now in our third year of teaching in Taiwan. We changed jobs last year from a cram school to a slightly less cram school. We now have our own classrooms and classes, but still teach English. We left because the pay was better and we were offered paid vacation too. It also looks significantly better on our resumes than a cram school.

What were your expectations about teaching in Taiwan? What’s teaching in Taiwan really like?

We had low expectations for Taiwan. I (Katie) had taught in the States before, but I assumed it was going to be totally different, and it was. Teaching in Taiwan is easy, fun, exhausting, and rewarding. It’s also quite a challenge at the same time. It’s difficult to teach things you just know: things that have rules that you don’t remember, things that just come naturally to you. But once you get the hang of entertaining as well as educating, it becomes fun. It’s a lot of repetition and games and patience, but after some practise and learning on your end, it becomes less of a job and more of a hobby.

What are your students like?

Now, our students are in 5th and 6th grade. They are annoying, smart, clever, witty, spoiled, and motivated. They work hard, and play every extra second they get. Most of them work hard mostly because their parents are forcing them to. Others don’t care so much: they know their parents will spoil them no matter what, and they assume because they’re sending them to an expensive school that even if they don’t do their homework they can pay for them to move forward.

What challenges have you faced, as a foreigner or otherwise, inside and outside of the workplace?

We face most of our challenges at work. Our school claims to be Westernized, but refuses to adhere to rules they have put in place due to cultural differences. The management at our school is absolutely terrible, and they aren’t keen on people who voice their opinions, like me (Katie). Their way of life is to save face and keep out of confrontation. I do the opposite. So I like to confront my bosses when they decide to implement outrageous rules or policies, or if they don’t want to abide by the contracts we sign, and they don’t like that too much. Outside of work, we don’t face many challenges. With technology the way it is today, we don’t require much help translating, or finding the location of somewhere.

What do you love about living in Taiwan?

We love a lot of things about Taiwan. We love it’s convenience, we love it’s charm, we love it’s friendliness and eagerness to please, we love it’s beauty and it’s endless places to explore, we love it’s culture (most of the time) and it’s history. I love that as a person who doesn’t speak the main language in this country, I still have almost every advantage of a local.

What drives you crazy about living in Taiwan?

THE DRIVING. We own a scooter, and I (Katie) don’t drive, only ride. But I can’t tell you how horrible the drivers are here, and amazingly, no one honks. It absolutely baffles me. People swerve, and cut others off, and almost run each other off the road, and not one honk.

I know you guys have travelled a lot in Taiwan and the rest of Asia, how do you fit all the travels and holidays in?

Well, before we would wait until we had enough money, and made sure we had enough money to live off of when we got back, and we’d go! Now, we have set vacation days, so we know how long we’ll have and we can pre-plan a little more. Living in Taiwan gives us such an advantage to travel wherever we want, and we take full advantage.

What are your favourite things to do in Taiwan?

There aren’t many things to do in the winter here since it rains all winter, but usually we drink :) On days when we’ve had enough, we’ll go to the hot springs or catch up on box office hits and board games. Summer is our favorite, obviously. The beach gets our number one vote all summer long. We love taking scooter trips to the beach, camping, hiking, biking around the city, and eating out!

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about teaching English in Taiwan?

Just do it. Seriously, we don’t think many people regret coming to Taiwan. The people here are insanely nice and welcoming, the food is weird at first, but you get used to it. Taiwan has so many wonders. We tell people, Taiwan doesn’t have a number one attraction, like the Eiffel Tower or anything, but it has hundreds of number two things to do and see. We’ve been here 3 years now and still haven’t seen everything. We doubt anyone ever said they regret traveling, no matter where they went. Get out and see the world.

If you have any questions about teaching in Taiwan and living out there as a couple, just ask in the comments below.

Did you enjoy this interview? Look out for more interviews with ESL teachers in Taiwan as part of the Teaching in Taiwan series.

Charlie Marchant

Charlie is a long-term traveller from the UK who writes about simple ways to travel sustainably, including how to become a house sitter and slow traveller, eating local and vegetarian, and making responsible travel choices.

6 thoughts to “Teaching in Taiwan: An Interview with Teacher Katie and Teacher Ryan”

  1. What a lovey piece and you were right a great couple, embracing all that Taiwan has to offer. I think that a persons mind set has a lot to do with being able to make the most of any given situation. They sound like they are striking the balance that we are all striving for. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Great article!! It definitely does a great job of capturing how amazing two of my favorite people really are!! Love you Kate and Buddy!

    1. Thanks, Katie! Oh yes, Katie and Ryan are a super pair. Teaching spoilt children is definitely difficult, especially when you start out or the child is new to the class. I think that all teachers find that often there’s much more going on in the child’s life (being spoilt, in Taiwan at least, is usually how parents try to compensate for not being around much, working away etc.) and when you make a connection with them it’s easier to understand how and why the behave badly during class time.

      Do I miss Taiwan? Hmm, in many ways I do but in many ways I don’t. I think back fondly on Taiwan – often about the incredible people, the beautiful surroundings of the town I lived in, scooter rides on weekends, the excitement of typhoon days and I sure miss seeing friends like Ryan and Katie.. but I wouldn’t trade what I have now to be back. I found teaching very stressful often and sometimes even felt sick at work because there was so much pressure in my school from the other staff, and I worked much longer hours than I do now. I hope to return to Taiwan sometime but not to teach, just to travel and catch up with old friends :)

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