From ETA to ETA: Advice from Former Yilan ETAs
I would say that no two ETA experiences are the same. We come from different places, and live in different places, and teach in different places, and have different expectations for ourselves. However, these differences provide us with a continuous learning opportunity, the opportunity to better understand the country in which we live and to better understand ourselves. Come in well-informed, but do not be surprised if what you once thought turns out to be wrong. In fact, it might just be better that way. Be open and ever-expecting of change. You will find your niche.
This is not about teaching, but about making friends in Taiwan. This may seem obvious, but your social life will affect your experience just as much as your teaching experience will. Make an effort to make Taiwanese friends outside of your school! In my experience, young Taiwanese are generally pretty shy when first meeting someone who looks obviously foreign as they do not expect you to speak any Chinese. They also (generally) believe that they will be expected to speak English. I would suggest getting to know people through continuing your hobbies. If you like basketball or baseball (or any other sport), try to get involved in a local league. I know one ETA this year joined a local baseball team and had a great time and managed to meet a lot of local Taiwanese. If you practice martial arts, get involved in a local dojo or gym. If you like playing music, join a band! This can also be a great way to learn some Chinese vocab associated with your hobby. When midterms and finals come around, it can feel a little isolating if you just hang out with other Fulbrighters or teachers at your school since everyone will be busy.
Learn to appreciate the little things. Yilan isn’t the most exciting of places - there’s pretty much no nightlife, rainy weather means outdoor activities are hard to plan, and many of the young people have moved to Taipei. Coming straight from my senior year (where I spent most weekends doing what college seniors do), I thought I would be bored out of my mind. But really, I’ve never felt like I didn’t have enough to do. When I first got here, my roommates and I spent each weekend traveling near and far to tick off all the boxes on our “must-see” list. But over time, my nights and weekends started filling up with host family dinners or movies with friends. Having a less exciting life also meant feeling less like a tourist. Now, Zumba classes and board game nights are the highlights of my week. While my life isn’t as glamorous as my friends living in big cities, I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed something as much as going to a romantic movie with my 12-year-old host brother and his angsty middle school friends. The best times you’ll have in Taiwan aren’t the cool trips, they’re the small experiences you’ll share with the amazing Taiwanese people you meet here.