Learn About Taiwan Quarantine with Ben – Teaching in Taiwan in 2021

Teacher Interview: Taiwan Quarantine & Teaching in Taiwan in 2021 with Reach To Teach

Our first teacher interview of 2021 is off to a great start. Learn about Taiwan Quarantine with Ben who is a week into his mandatory quarantine experience in Tainan.

RTT: Hi Ben! I started working with you earlier this year and it took some time for us to find a position for you. I was not expecting the snafu we ran into with paperwork, but I was impressed with how quickly you started moving once we realized what was going on. You really hustled to finish your paperwork to arrive in Taiwan. It must feel surreal being here, especially since you haven’t been allowed outside yet!

Could you please tell our readers a little about yourself? Feel free to talk about your other amazing experiences abroad. That was one of the things we really liked about your application!

BE: My name is Ben Espinola and I’m a 30 year old educator, writer, musician and traveler from Greensboro, North Carolina. I lived there all through my childhood and most of college, when at 22, I dropped everything to go teach in China for six months. I completed a TEFL course in central Beijing and then moved to the sprawling outskirts of the city to teach in a public school nestled in a thoroughly unremarkable and smog-filled suburban district.

Simply put, I loved it. The entire experience was incredibly humbling and I learned a lifetime of lessons.

Afterwards, I returned to Greensboro, finished college and for several years worked a patchwork of different part-time, temp jobs and freelance gigs at a variety of schools, camps, and community organizations, while playing in a few local bands. It was initially a period of growth as I tried to find find a footing in the professional world, but eventually growth turned to stagnation and I felt I was reaching a dead end. Despite piecing together a decent living and making some valuable connections, I packed my bags again to leave, this time to Europe.

What began as a two year plan to get a masters degree bled into a three and half year long rambling, zig-zagging journey around 10 countries filled with adventures and misadventures, countless jobs, new faces, lost connections, pages written and books read, and eventually, a diploma.

My home base during this time was a town in the North of Finland, Rovaniemi, the tourism capital of Northern Europe and the official home of Santa Claus as well as the Northernmost University in the European Union, the University of Lapland which I had the honor of attending. I studied Media Education with classmates from all over the world. It was very up and down: full of successes and failures, trial and error, but I emerged a better and more educated person for sure. While living there I did seasonal work as bus tour guide for a local safari company providing Christmas themed holiday packages to British tourists, and wrote local news articles and fluff pieces for a news startup run by Bangladeshi immigrants and funded by the Chinese government.

When not in Rovaniemi, I traveled across the continent working odd jobs and sightseeing when I could. I bartended at a hostel bar in Albania and wrote descriptions of luxury yachts in Turkey. I was a teacher’s assistant at community language schools in Lithuania, Italy and Morocco, and I was a camp counselor and eventually assistant director of summer camps in France and Spain.

I returned home in January of 2020 ready to reconnect with old friends and spend time with family and after two months I decided to embark on a similar journey of then undetermined length, this time to Mexico. I never got farther than Mexico City. While initially I intended to wait out quarantine there, I soon returned home to wait out COVID with my parents at home in North Carolina. After some months hunkering down in my childhood bedroom, and much reflection and daydreaming, I began the process of looking into moving to Taiwan.

RTT: One of the things I really enjoyed with our chats was learning about your experiences abroad. How was your experience leading up to processing all your paperwork for moving to Taiwan? When did you start the application process? Did you find it hard to do all of the paperwork requirements in the US? Did anyone say anything about your decision to teach in Taiwan during COVID19?

BE: The process was a lengthy one for sure. I applied to Reach to Teach in October 2020 (I’m writing this in March) with the intention of coming to Taiwan in December. Obviously that didn’t happen. The process for me began with getting my fingerprints done which proved difficult because the Sheriff’s department in my county didn’t have appointments for weeks because of reduced hours of operation due to COVID.

But once that was done I had no problems getting the background check and no problems getting the health check done other than having to repeatedly explain and decipher the confusing mess of a health form to the overworked and baffled PA at my local low cost urgent care. Despite the complicated process, this part was not overly stressful to me. I’ve had to navigate bureaucracy before and it’s not overly difficult; it’s just tedious.

My advice for incoming to teachers to Taiwan is to be diligent and thorough. Make sure you understand the process and follow the instructions exactly. Otherwise just be patient, you'll get there. Click To Tweet

Also ask questions. To Carrie, to whomever you can get on the phone or through email at TECO, receptionists, whoever. Make sure that you’re being clear about what you need. Be annoying if you have to, but be courteous.

The challenge for me was actually getting schools to even offer me an interview. I had an interview with a school probably in October, but they didn’t want me and after that it was just radio silence. Carrie had been submitting me to schools but they weren’t interested in even offering me interviews. After talking it through with her, we came to the conclusion I wasn’t presenting myself in a way that made myself seem hire-able.

I’ve never had a ‘real job’ and my resume was a complete, convoluted and seemingly random mess of unrelated, short term jobs. What I thought made me look well-traveled, experienced and worldly, actually made me look flaky and unreliable. So I completely retooled my resume, taking it from an anthology to a greatest hits, so to speak, and rewrote my cover letter.

Lo and behold, mere days later I had offers coming in and now I’m here.

RTT: We didn’t think you looked flaky or unreliable, Ben. Had we thought that, we wouldn’t have offered you an interview. But I admit, I’m also surprised by the time it took for you to land a position, especially with your experience and background. I’m glad we were able to work it out and that you were open to revamping your CV. Sometimes it can be tough asking a teacher to do that, but you were very professional and your new CV obviously did the trick!

Taiwan Quarantine – What To Expect

You’re close to a week through quarantine in Taiwan. What was the quarantine process like for you? How did things go at the airport when you arrived? Can you tell us a bit about how you’ve spent your time in quarantine?

One of the more stressful parts of the trip was actually leaving from the airport in Charlotte for my connecting flight. It was packed and there were a lot of people completely ignoring safety rules and wearing masks in all sorts of creatively ineffective ways. But the airport in San Francisco was empty and once I boarded the plane to Taipei it became fully evident why Taiwan has been so successful in their COVID response.

Actually, I was worried they wouldn’t even let me on the plane. While I was checking in, the airline worker took my passport, COVID test and all my documents and made me wait for about an hour while he verified that I was, in fact, allowed to come to Taiwan. After that it really was smooth sailing. The flight was as good as a flight can be and in the airport helpful people directed me through getting a SIM card, filling out a health form on my phone, going through customs and to the quarantine vehicles area. Since I’m teaching in the South, I had to take special quarantine bus (If you’re placed in the Taipei area you take quarantine taxi straight to your hotel).

I ended up having the entire double decker quarantine bus to myself which was a fantastic way to take in the passing scenery. After about a 4-hour ride I got off at the ‘station’ in Tainan which turned out to just be just a random city block, found my pre-ordered quarantine taxi and finally arrived at the hotel.

Quarantine itself has been fine for me. I’m about seven days in. My hotel is sort of ratty, but in a charming way. They give me three meals a day of generally edible food. It’s not fine cuisine, but it’ll do. I can order from Uber Eats anytime I want. They provided me with amenities: bottled water, a truly absurd amount of toothbrushes and exactly one condom for some reason.

I keep having to ask for more coffee. There’s a big TV with a couple English channels, but the bathroom smells weird.

The view is interesting, though not conventionally beautiful, metal and concrete as far as the eye can see, a smattering of skyscrapers, neon lights, McDonald’s, KFC. The bed is hard, but I don’t notice anymore.

I’m normally a night owl, but the time change and jet lag have me waking up around 7 am. I take a leisurely breakfast (the most unpredictable meal of the day (what will it be today? meatball soup, dumplings, stuffed buns, steamed cabbage, who knows?)) with coffee while watching YouTube, aimlessly scrolling, or reading the news.

Then from 9 to 5 I basically do Duolingo like it’s my job, taking periodic breaks for some light exercise and for lunch (predictable, a bento box, most likely microwaved, a piece of meat, rice, some veggies) then I take a shower and eat dinner which is predictable. Another bento box, a different piece of meat, rice, some veggies, some the same, some different. I think there’s about 10 boxes that they repeat but I haven’t quite figured out the pattern yet.

In the evening I read or watch movies for a few hours and by 10 I’m usually in bed. The only obligations are that I take my temperature twice a day with a provided thermometer and submit it to Taiwan’s CDC via LINE.

I get an automated text message from the government at exactly 10:01 AM every day asking if I have symptoms. Reply 1 if you feel normal.

RTT: Has your new school been supportive since you arrived here? 

The manager at my school has been very good to me so far. He booked the hotel and taxi for me and set up the LINE group with the CDC. He’s been quick to respond to my messages and was helpful in getting me here safe, taking care of logistics and making sure I have everything I need.

I am looking forward to getting to work with them soon.

RTT: How did you enjoy working with Reach To Teach? For two months, things were really stressful while waiting for your documents to come in and we know it was hard on you. Was
there anything we could’ve improved on?

It’s been good. Reach to Teach has earned their position as a respected and reputable company and I can verify that they do good work.

I know I was somewhat of unique case, with the problems with my resume, and it would have been nice to have had the discussion about what was going wrong a little earlier, but that’s all water under the bridge now. I think it was it was learning experience for both parties.

RTT: I agree! I wish I had said something sooner, but most schools don’t give reasons. I actually had to call a school and ask outright. They wouldn’t put it in an email! Now I know. What advice would you give to new teachers that are thinking of teaching abroad during a pandemic? Should they go for it?

Honestly, I don’t feel like I’m in a position to tell anyone what they should and shouldn’t do.

I think if you're considering teaching abroad, it's important to do your due diligence, research your potential destinations, weigh the pros and cons, and particularly in times of COVID, the risks. Click To Tweet

I can say from experience that this lifestyle is not easy, it’s not glamorous, it’s consistently humbling and bears challenges and frustrations you can’t yet imagine. It’s definitely not for everyone.

That being said, I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else. My only advice would be that if you decide that this is something you want to do and think you can do, don’t let anything stand in your way. I can’t speak on the situation in other countries right now, but Taiwan is safe, the quarantine is totally manageable and there are jobs.

Living and working abroad is a visceral, eye-opening experience that tourism simply can never provide, not to mention you’ll be contributing to instead of only consuming another country and culture.

Living and working abroad is a visceral, eye-opening experience that tourism simply can never provide, not to mention you'll be contributing to instead of only consuming another country and culture. Click To Tweet

RTT: Do you think having a recruiter was a plus for you?

Yes, in this situation it helped a lot. It’s definitely hard to navigate the job market in foreign countries, particularly, if you are not already in that country.

They’re useful for weeding out the crap jobs and doing the dirty work of actually submitting you to reputable places they know are hiring.

Obviously, not all recruiters are created equal, but I did my research and found Reach to Teach’s good reputation to precede it and would happily recommend them to anyone looking to use a recruiter.

Thanks so much for your time, Ben. We know other teachers that are considering moving to Taiwan will be interested in learning about Taiwan quarantine and what to expect, and they’ll also appreciate your invaluable tips. We look forward to meeting you at one of our upcoming Reach To Teach events, and we hope the rest of your time in quarantine goes smoothly. I look forward to hearing your thoughts about life in Taiwan! 

Interested in other teacher interviews about COVID19? Reach To Teach has you covered. Learn about Taiwan quarantine and life in Taiwan here:

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