It was around this time last year that I came back from one of the most life changing trips of my life: without much planning, I lived and worked in Taipei, Taiwan – and I’m just a regular Canadian dude. Now before we dive in, let me iron out a few things. AND as a disclaimer, this is a slightly longer post than usual.
Many people have been asking me for advice about working abroad and even just traveling, so I thought it would be appropriate to write a straight forward post that highlights my experience of working and living in Asia. I am by no means a travel expert, but through a bit of adventurous curiosity and spontaneous decision-making, I went from from a being-scared-to-travel-on-my-own-Canadian-boy, to a wanting-to-travel-the-world-dude (yes, I may have caught the clichéd travel bug). It’s also worth mentioning that I have traveled before with family and friends, but being on your own is something of it’s own and it really allows you learn more about yourself in so many ways. I have to also add that my trip would not have been the same without the support and encouragement from Julie Yeh (you the real MVP!).
As with most travel and work experiences, there are sometimes more cons than pros, but your perspective slowly changes as you begin to appreciate the lessons that you learn from every single thing that you go through. You will get upset, frustrated and feel like none of it is worth the effort at times, but in retrospect, now I thank my past self for everything the way that I did – with no regrets. Finally, in case any of you were thinking about doing something similar, I hope this post helps you make up your mind or simply gives you a bit of insight on what it’s like to do what I did. And do not hesitate to reach out if you any follow up questions or comments!
Where it all Started: Hong Kong
I had always been curious about visiting Asia specifically. Having been fascinated by the numerous diverse cultures while growing up, it was super exciting to finally give it a shot. After graduating university in the summer of 2015, I was working full-time at a construction company. It was rather mundane, but it was a means to an end, as it paid well and kept me busy – but I quickly realized that I wanted more out of life. I quit the job in the fall and booked my one-way flight to Hong Kong with the intention of staying for a few weeks and then visiting a few other countries nearby (I found super cheap flights via www.skyscanner.ca). If you don’t know already, it’s super cheap to travel between cities in that region. I had booked a few cheap Airbnbs and done a bit of planning for Hong Kong and my following destination, Taipei, but I had no intention of staying there long term.
Hong Kong was an amazing experience, and it was actually the perfect place to go to ease my way into the Asia experience, since it’s actually fairly westernized and there are a lot of expats there. So in short, you can get by with just English. Another thing I have to add: I had a flight booked to Shanghai from Taipei later in the year, but I did not have a Chinese visa (due to my potato level planning), so I had to get that in my short time in Hong Kong (since that’s also one of the few places in Asia where there is a Chinese embassy. I recommend that you get that before you leave for Asia if you plan on going to China, here’s the link for my Toronto peeps). I managed to get it in time, just a day before my flight to Taiwan. Phew!
The Ins and Outs of my Work Adventure
I wanted to outline my overall experience in China, but I thought I’d save that for another time since my main focus of this post is Taiwan – and honestly this post will go on forever if I delve into even more detail.
So I arrived in Taipei at around 3 in the morning. Using the little bit of broken Mandarin I knew, I managed to hail a cab from Taoyuan airport all the way to the apartment I was staying in, located in Neihu, which is a suburb within Taipei. I was amazed at how late everything opened. I walked into a family mart and a 7/11 immediately and began grabbing things off of shelves left and right. There were more snack and food options than I had imagined – and I couldn’t contain my excitement. The convenience stores there are literally convenience stores – there’s just about everything. You can use wifi, get a meal, photocopy or print, and even buy movie tickets. My trip was off to a great start!
The following days were nothing short of amazing. People’s interactions were so heartwarming and hospitable that I wasn’t culturally shocked at all. Sure, I got the odd stares in the subway or even while walking, but it’s genuine curiosity as some people simply don’t see ‘foreigners’ very often. However, I immediately felt at home, despite the language barrier and the cultural differences. The scenery is also beyond beautiful. Having grown up in Mississauga, seeing mountains in the distance was a sight for sore eyes. Also, the fact that I was escaping the winter felt great, as the weather was fantastic all the time. I didn’t mind the rain either! I thought about the idea of staying longer than I had anticipated, and although it was scary and beyond what I had imagined, I kept becoming more interested. As Canadians, we’re able to stay a full 90 days in Taiwan before having to leave. I also discovered through my colleagues later on that many expats would do visa trips: for example, when approaching the end of the 90 days, one would fly out to Hong Kong or Malaysia for a few days and come back afterwards to reset their visa-exempt – if they were having difficulty attaining a visa to stay.
I began by looking up job postings on Craigslist in Taiwan and a Taiwanese Job Board called 104 (similar to Monster.ca and Indeed here). Again, I had no idea what I was getting into as I was unsure of that decision and obviously unable to speak Mandarin. So I began by converting everything to English on 104 (shout-out to Google translate), and eventually creating a profile. I would use keywords such as ‘English’ or ‘Foreigner’ in the search bar in an attempt to find a job that didn’t require me to speak Chinese. It’s also worth mentioning that it’s not very difficult finding a teaching gig or even tutoring jobs, as there is a high demand there (and most pay well), but I was looking for something else. So I kept trying my luck and decided if I actually got any responses, I would seriously consider the possibility of staying.
One day, I woke up to an email from a magazine/textbook company that was looking for an English speaking fella that could edit translated content and fix the grammar and such (The company was called AMC Group, for anyone curious) I immediately jumped at the opportunity and decided I was going to move forward after the interview if I was hired. I had no papers or any sort of documentation other than my passport. So I informed them and they assured me that they would work on sponsoring me if I was to be hired. This was all happening too fast and I was afraid of what my parents would say, but at some point it occurred to me that hey, “what’s the worst that can happen?” and “if I don’t try this now, when will I do so?”
I stuck with my decision and ended taking up the offer. It felt scary yet exciting because here I was deciding to work abroad for the first time, out of nowhere. My parents weren’t thrilled to hear the news – especially my dad, who thought I was wasting my time and money. I urged them to give me a chance (and I mean they really had no control over my decision) but I really respect both my parents and wanted their blessings. They accepted reluctantly but made me promise to keep in touch, which wasn’t difficult since I missed them lots already. Besides all that, working abroad was interesting and full of challenges – ones that made me grow in ways that I never thought I would. I won’t bore you with the details of attaining my work permit, work visa and eventually my Alien Residency Card, but all those things were guided by my company at the time, which made things a whole lot easier. This will be the case most of the time if the company is sponsoring you to work.
I ended up working there for about 5-6 months and at one point I realized I needed to go back to Toronto. And not because I was bored, but because of responsibilities. Had I planned better, I wouldn’t have been as stressed out. This was due to the fact that I wasn’t intending on staying as long as I did, while having some things to attend to back home, such as a car parked in my parents drive way and my tax returns. So if you could learn a thing or two from me: plan, plan, PLAN!
But overall it was a trip that I would do all over again. It has opened my mind to so many more possibilities and I will forever be thankful to the people that took me in and made me feel at home. Hence Taiwan holds a special place in my heart. It’s really quite amazing how good people are there, just out of the kindness of their hearts. The reason why I chose to even write this is because it was worth every moment, and I would love it if others could experience even half of what I did. I understand that I didn’t cover every single detail there is, so if there’s anything in particular that you’re curious about, don’t hesitate to ask, and I will be more than happy to answer that to the best of my ability. But I hope that this serves as some sort of outline that can help those who have no idea where to start.
Also, if you’re interested in any programs, such as the youth mobility visa or more information in regards to travelling to Taiwan, you can check out http://www.roc-taiwan.org/cayyz_en/index.html