Interview with Katy Lucid: an American Teacher in Taipei, Taiwan
From the big city of New York to the big city of Taipei, Katy made the move to Taipei following a year abroad in China. She has been teaching English in Taipei for almost a year, and in that time she has managed to see and do a lot of things all over Taiwan. Read on to learn about some of Katy’s adventures in Taiwan, and her insights into the positives and negatives of teaching English as a Second Language. And don’t forget to check out Katy’s blog!
Hi Katy. Thank you so much for interviewing with us today. We really appreciate your time, and we’ve been very eager to hear about your experiences in Taiwan. Please begin by telling us a little about yourself.
My name’s Katy Lucid. I’m originally from New York in the USA. Back in the US, I worked as a social worker with kids with a variety of Autism Spectrum disorders. But I’ve been teaching ESL in Asia for almost two years now. I worked in the southern part of China last year, in Foshan, a small city outside of Guangzhou in Guangdong Province.
This year I’m living and teaching in Taipei, Taiwan. I love coffee, spicy hot pot, sleeping late, and “Mink”- my playful black cat that I adopted from the “Animals Taiwan” shelter here in Taipei. I also REALLY love Hip Hop Dance and Musical Improv comedy. I’ve taken dance lessons at Broadway Dance Center with Eric Jenkins and Bev Brown, and I studied musical improv at The Magnet Theater in New York City with Tara Copeland and Michael Martin.
How have you enjoyed teaching in Taiwan to date?
After almost 10 months in Taipei City I feel like I’ve learned a lot. I’ve definitely grown in terms of my lesson planning skills, I’ve added a variety of new ESL teaching games to my mental arsenal, and I’ve met some really good kids who work SO hard and are a real pleasure to teach! But it was a struggle at first. My school here this year was a big chain buxiban that has branches across Asia – China, Taiwan, Vietnam, etc. Despite being so big and being the most expensive in Taiwan, I don’t feel like that always equates to necessarily being “the best” at least for the teaching staff in terms of benefits.
Sometimes it felt more like a part-time job given the limited amount of hours that were available. There were times when I wished there was more of a sense of community within the school. There were no staff meetings, there almost wasn’t a staff holiday party this year … but it was a good first year learning experience in Taipei, one that I hope to continue to build on and grow from.
You taught in China for a year before moving to Taiwan. Can you tell us a little about that experience?
Last year in China was my first year living and teaching abroad. I had traveled to Europe in the past but this was my first real BIG move outside of New York. I had never even lived off of the East Coast in the USA. It’s hard to sum up China in a paragraph because it is SO big and every city and town is so different. I can’t even make generalizations like that about the USA. As an American I know that Brooklyn, New York is very different from Boise, Idaho. But for my personal experience in China – the people were kind, the food was delicious, the kids were cute, and the internet/”great firewall”/CCP government censorship was frustrating…..but not impossible to get around with a good VPN code.
In China I was the only teacher at my school for the first six months that I was there. It was a brand new school and the emphasis was really more on marketing and attracting students to the school- I had lots of demo ‘promotional’ classes to start. After about two months I really got into teaching.
By the end of the year I had developed good friendships with my teaching assistants who I still chat with on QQ (instant messaging service), built relationships with some of my kids and their families – who invited me to birthday dinners and new year events, I learned how to sing my first song in Mandarin, and I traveled to Hong Kong and Macau several times, so it was a very full year.
How would you compare living in Taiwan to living in China?
Ultimately, I’m glad to have had both experiences, but Taiwan feels much easier. The difference in living in a big city now- Taipei- plays a part in that, but in general I’d say Taiwan is easier to navigate than China. Taiwan is a small island country of 23 million people. That’s the size of the city of Shanghai in China. For traveling around Taiwan, the high speed rail is great for getting to different cities and towns around the island – from Keelung to Kenting. The MRT is clean and reliable and efficient in terms of getting around Taipei.
There are plenty of options to learn Mandarin in Taipei, but I also have many more Taiwanese friends who speak English- so living in Taipei specifically has been easier both in terms of communication and learning. I also find that community demonstrations are more common here- whether it is protesting against a proposed media monopoly or proposed nuclear plants, you can tell that ROC Taiwan takes pride in free speech and embraces the fact that it is a democratic country. I also feel like there is always some sort of interesting festival going on in Taiwan. I smell incense burning here everyday!
What are the positive and negative aspects of living in China?
Amazing and interesting food. Plus so many varieties depending on where you travel in China. I had some Chinese friends in Foshan who told me that they could never live in certain cities or areas of China because they could not get used to the food there.
So much history and culture. From Beijing to Xi’an to Guangdong every city and province has its own stories and local languages/food/dialects and pride.
Internet censorship. If you are someone who uses Facebook, Twitter, likes to read the New York Times online etc, you will have to get a VPN – virtual private network – to access these sites because they are blocked by the government over in China. A VPN that I used last year that was very reliable was ExpressVPN.biz. Every month about $11 would be charged to my US checking account for the service. But I think it’s worth it to stay connected to friends and family. I also found that the internet was generally much slower when trying to access websites in English in China.
Indirect communication. Sometimes Chinese managers are not so direct in their communication with staff regarding their expectations. Plans for the day might be changed at the last minute. As someone who used to take improv classes in New York City, I often compared it to playing the improv game “New Choice”. It can be frustrating when, as a Westerner, you expect a black and white “yes” or “no” answer. It’s important to remain flexible and go with the flow. Last year, in these situations, I found that everything usually worked out for the best. But definitely speak up if you feel overburdened or feel like you are being taken advantage of.
What advice can you give to new teachers interested in teaching abroad?
Research where you want to teach. I knew that I wanted to teach “in Asia”. But it was a process of researching and looking at my options to narrow down exactly where I wanted to go.
Ask questions. Once you are offered a job and given a school contract by a school read the contract thoroughly and communicate directly with your new manager so both know what the other expects/what you’re getting into.
Language. Try to learn some of the language of the country that you are going to! Whether through classes or podcasts/online tutorials- it’s really helpful and you’ll find that it can be fun too! Especially in little everyday ways – like buying vegetables at a local market or singing songs at KTV.
How would you describe moving to Taiwan from China? Was the process fairly simple in terms of things like getting a visa and obtaining the proper paperwork?
Very simple…. and fast too! I was home in New York for about a month visiting family after I left China last April 2O12. While in NY, I kept in touch with Reach To Teach regarding new teaching options, obtained my Taiwan ROC visitor visa from the TECO office in NYC and and came to Taiwan in mid May 2012. I obtained my full Taiwan Resident Card once I was in Taiwan.
Do you have any favorite blogs or websites about China and Taiwan that you’d like to share with our readers?
For China: my go-to’s are usually Shanghaiist– at times both funny and informative. Also, Greg Autry’s blog, he’s a US economist who visits the region often, has co-authored a book on China, and recently testified before the US Congress regarding the CCP/increased cyber espionage coming from the PRC.