Foreigners stand out in Taiwan. You may find everyone around you watching what you do with great interest, especially outside large metropolitan centres. Despite rapid social change in the last decade, in many ways Taiwanese society is more conservative than North American society. Canadians should be sensitive to cultural norms and expectations.
Generally speaking, Taiwanese are very friendly toward Canadians. For the most part, Taiwanese knowledge of Canada is limited to well-known places and symbols such as Niagara Falls, the Mounties and the maple leaf. Taiwanese are delighted by Canadians who make an effort to speak Mandarin, and will offer smiles and words of encouragement.
Most schools are privately owned, with parents paying tuition and exerting substantial influence on curriculum and school policies. A great deal of focus is on academic performance, even at a very young age. Sometimes a student’s poor performance is seen as the result of shortcomings of the teacher. The main goal of much of ESL programming is for the child to quickly demonstrate the ability to say something in English; little emphasis is placed on genuine learning. For example, young students sometimes memorize a book instead of actually learning how to read.
Taiwanese students are usually respectful in class, but may not always be so with a teacher who is a foreigner. Problems can arise because Taiwanese children are unfamiliar with the more relaxed and open style of foreign teachers. To ensure class discipline, it is important at the outset to explain your expectations and the rules that students must follow. Support staff should be in place to help, and they should be used when a Chinese-language speaker is required. Trying to regain control in a confrontational or challenging manner is not effective. Adult classes will offer different kinds of challenges: students are older and often come to class tired from a long day of work.
Recently, there have been cases of sexual assault against Canadians and other foreigners. In some of these cases, the assailant was disguised as a repair or delivery person in order to gain entry to the apartment. Victims have reported being robbed and sexually assaulted. Canadian teachers should remain cautious and never open the door to strangers. Some teachers have posted signs in Mandarin on the front door, informing visitors that the door will not be opened without prior notification of an appointment. Wherever possible you should try and share accommodation with another teacher.
Living in Taiwan can be exciting and stimulating, but it can also be confusing, frustrating, even overwhelming. Culture shock is a condition that affects even the experienced overseas resident. It’s a form of psychological stress experienced when familiar cues or patterns are no longer present. These cues include the many ways in which we orient ourselves to the requirements of daily life. The lack of familiar cues may cause discomfort, often accompanied by irritability, resentment, homesickness and depression. Culture shock may be mild or severe. It may be fleeting or last several months. Most foreigners experience culture shock to some degree at some stage of living overseas.
It is important to be familiar with the symptoms of culture shock. When the strain of adjusting to change is marked, a number of physical and emotional reactions are common. These include sleepiness, apathy, depression, compulsive eating and drinking, homesickness, exaggerated yearning for all things and friends back at home, negative stereotyping of Taiwanese people, a decline in efficiency, recurrent minor illnesses, and obsession with cleanliness or health.
Symptoms may be aggravated by a lack of proper exercise, rest and/or poor diet. The symptoms tend to surface within the first three to six months after arrival, when the novelty of a new place begins to fade and settling in becomes imperative.