Interview with Dan and Casey: American Teachers Teaching in Taiwan
Meet Dan and Casey, two high school sweethearts who got hitched and decided on a blissful married life of travel and teaching. These two little lovebirds hail from North Carolina and really have the travel bug! Read on to hear how much they love teaching, how they live up every weekend exploring the island and its surroundings, and how they can give you some handy tips and advice for living abroad.
Let’s start with an introduction, please.
We’re Dan and Casey, high school sweethearts from North Carolina who tied the knot two years ago. We love all things travel (of course!) and document our travel musings at acruisingcouple.com. We started our blog as a way to keep our loved ones updated on our two-month honeymoon road trip across the US; after receiving great feedback from friends and family, we decided to keep it going in Taiwan. Two years later we’re still writing about life in Taiwan, hoping to inspire more travelers to make their way here!
The honest answer? A Google search.
Casey: I can actually vividly remember the moment. I was working in Ecuador as an intern at a law firm, and I had a bit of downtime one day. Being in another country, I was a bit sad about the thought of going back to America in the coming weeks. I set to Google to find different options on making money abroad. Somehow I stumbled upon a website all about teaching English in Taiwan-a country I had never thought about traveling to! Well, I forgot about Taiwan for a little bit, but soon the idea came back again. Dan and I knew we wanted to start our married lives abroad, and teaching English seemed like the easiest way to travel and make money—a necessity for us!
Dan: When we did a bit more research, we decided Taiwan would be the perfect fit. We wouldn’t need TEFL certificates and the high pay to low cost-of-living ratio was a huge plus. We were also really interested in learning about Taiwan because, frankly, we knew nothing about it! I’m not sure if we could have even pointed it out on a map two years ago!
What advice can you give to new teachers interested in teaching abroad?
We meet a lot of teachers who aren’t happy, and we think the primary cause is unmet expectations. Before deciding to teach English, we think it’s extremely important to know what you want out of it. Do you actually like teaching? Even a little? What are your goals? Do you want to make money, learn the local language, travel? All of these are important questions that we advise having the answers to before you start teaching. For example, the work ethic in Taiwan is extremely strong. It’s not uncommon for people to work 10-hour days, six days a week. Sometimes the schools will also want you to work a lot, and they might not understand why you don’t want to spend your time grading homework and not get paid for it. After all, your Taiwanese co-workers are working all day for a much smaller paycheck. If you know in advance exactly how much you want to work, you can better communicate your needs to future employers. And then everyone’s happier.
Our other big piece of advice is to have hobbies. It can be hard moving to a new country, especially if you don’t know the language. We’ve found it crucial to our overall well-being to invest in our personal hobbies outside of teaching and traveling. Casey practices yoga and Dan rock climbs. We both train for marathons, and of course we have our blog. These are constant outlets we have when times get stressful, and provide a bit of normalcy when we’re feeling homesick.
Can you tell us about a particularly powerful moment in your classroom?
Casey: It’s hard to pinpoint just one particular moment. I would have to say all the small interactions between my kindergarten students and myself. They’re adorable, and their laughs and hugs and innocent outlooks on life are amazing to experience. It’s also incredible to me that they can think and express themselves in English. It’s even more incredible that before I started teaching them they knew no English whatsoever. It’s extremely rewarding and powerful to know you are making a tangible difference.
Dan: At the end of every six months, my classes give a performance for their parents. It can be a bit nerve-racking for six and seven year olds who have only just begun to learn English. I currently have a class that just doesn’t really do well with standing in front of other people. Which is fair enough, but makes reciting speeches a bit agonizing. Needless to say we were all a little worried when the actual performance day was upon us; however, my students blew everyone out of the water! As though they had transformed into different people, every student spoke loudly and clearly, delivering their English speeches with near perfection. It was powerful to see their glowing faces when they realized they could in fact stand in front of a room and speak in a second language. Knowing I might have had a little bit to do with that confidence is pretty cool.
What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Taiwan?
Positive: First and foremost, the people. Taiwanese people are sincerely some of the most generous people we have ever met. Even after two years, we are constantly blown away by their willingness to help us. For example, recently we had a flat tire on a three-day cycling trip. We literally had 20 people make it their personal mission to help us solve our problem. Additionally, if you’re lost, Taiwanese won’t just give you directions; they will actually bring you to where you need to be. The hospitality is amazing, and definitely inspires us to be better hosts to foreigners when we’re back home. Another great reason to live in Taiwan is that the cost of living is extremely low for the quality of life you get in return. Teachers make quite a good amount of money, but there really aren’t too many expenses. Plus you have all the western amenities you might need while also experiencing a very different culture from your own.
Negative: The weather in Taiwan. Taiwan is a beautiful country, and with the High Speed Rail travel can be quick and convenient. But while Taiwan has some of the best hiking, cycling, and rock climbing around, it’s always raining. Okay, not always. But it rains a heck of a lot. It can get frustrating when you want to explore all the amazing things Taiwan has to offer, but you’re stuck inside your small apartment instead. We’ve found it best just to don our ponchos and continue with our plans anyway—a lot of time it ends up being even more of an adventure!
Have you had the opportunity to travel much in Taiwan or in Asia?
We are very satisfied with the amount we have traveled while in Taiwan. We’ve made a point to get out and explore as many weekends as possible. Sometimes we just hop on our scooters and ride into the mountains, other times we’re riding trains to the other side of the island. This is our personality though. We like to always be busy-after all, we have to find content for our blog! We would advise others thinking about teaching abroad to be careful about the time at bars to time spent traveling ratio. Most expats tend to spend time together, and before you know it you can find yourself out until 5am on Friday and Saturday nights. More than likely you won’t be making that early morning train if you’re still sweating booze. Not to say we don’t go out as well. We most certainly do, but we try to balance it to ensure partying isn’t getting in the way of what we came here to experience: Taiwan.
We’ve also been sure to use our vacation days and get out of Taiwan a bit. We’ve been to the Philippines three times (our favorite piece of paradise is El Nido), Indonesia, Hong Kong, and Macau. In August we will be location independent, traveling long term for (hopefully) at least two years. Because of this, we have made it a point to spend more time experiencing Taiwan while we can.
Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about?
We’re really excited to be working on a free E-book, 101 Tips to Living in Taiwan. It will primarily be focused on expat life, but will be useful for travelers to Taiwan as well. It will be full of information we wish we would have known before we came to Taiwan, as well as answers to the questions we consistently get from readers. The release date is scheduled for early August. If you’re interested you can stay updated on our facebook page. You can also find us on twitter (@acruisingcouple) and pinterest!
Do you have any favorite blogs or websites about Taiwan that you’d like to share with our readers?
We highly recommend Taiwanease. There are a lot of great forums with topics that range from employment to buy/sell/trade to legal advice. It’s one of the best places we know of to network with other expats living in Taiwan.