Teaching in Taiwan VS Teaching in Bali
Different countries bring very different experiences when teaching abroad, and it is important to know what it is you are wanting out of the country you move to before you go there. Your surroundings will make a big impact on your overall experience, so choose as wisely as you can.
My name is Dean Barnes, and I’m originally from the UK. Back in England I had a multitude of jobs trying to find what I really wanted to make a career from, until finally I landed upon teaching English. I began working as an ESL teacher in Denpassar, Bali. I then took up my second position in Taipei, Taiwan where I now live.
I began my ESL teaching career on the Island of Bali, Indonesia. I wanted to experience living on a tropical
island in my free time coupled with a strong ESL teaching position and, for the most part, I wasn’t disappointed. I went with three friends and we decided to take a risk and land ourselves on the island and hope that we would find a job during our three-month landing visa.
The Job Hunt
In the beginning, we completely threw ourselves into job hunting and networking to try to find ESL positions, but temptations of the island’s beauty and surf time got the better of us on occasion and our focus became somewhat confused between job hunting and beach living.
Bali is a small island, so naturally there are only so many job openings that the island can offer you. Lady luck was smiling down on us one day when our networking finally paid off and four positions had just opened up at English First School (EF) in Denpasar, one of the better schools on the island, teaching ages 6-16.
We couldn’t believe how lucky we were so we threw our all into the recruiting process. We were all successful in getting the jobs and they provided us with an excellent training program.
Teaching in Bali
My position at English First offered classroom-based teaching and online teaching. I found the classroom based teaching very stimulating and more suited towards what I expected out of a teaching position. With online teaching, it’s hard to show any flare or initiative as its mainly guided slide shows for an online classroom. It’s extremely easy work but not overly exciting for a teacher.
The pay in Bali for a teacher is OK. In relation to the cost of living on the island you can live quite comfortably, but in relation to what you usually earn back home, you are working for peanuts. This means that there isn’t much room to save money for further travel, and if you have bills you still need to pay for back in your home country, as I did, then this takes a significant chunk of what you earn in Bali. You can expect to earn around USD $600-700, which seems fair but then you have to equate travel and rent and food into this, so actually you aren’t left with very much.
Teaching in Taiwan
After I felt my time in Bali was up I moved home for a few months to save up enough to come to Taipei. I decided to employ the same risk tactic in finding a job by relying on my three-month landing visa time to find employment.
It really didn’t take too long to find a job here, but I don’t know if I’d recommend coming to Taiwan without something lined up in advance. These days, it’s becoming harder and harder to find a teaching job in Taiwan, especially if you have your heart set on Taipei.
I was lucky because I found a position on my own through a well-known chain school shortly after I arrived, but I ended up leaving that school because I didn’t like the hours or the low rate of pay.
Even at the low rate of pay that I was offered, it’s still an attractive salary compared to what I was making in Bali, and it’s easy to save money in Taiwan because of the low cost of living here.
Struggles of Teaching in Taipei
Overall I found that the process of teaching, and even living in Taiwan, quite smooth. The visa process is handled by the school so you barely have to even think about it and the training that was provided to me was of an excellent standard lasting for a week.
After I left that position I spent months looking for work in Taipei without luck. I found plenty of sub hours, but no one was willing to offer me enough hours for an ARC. I found that there are dozens of qualified teachers on the ground and looking for work in Taipei at any given time.
Some of them have been here looking for work for 6-8 weeks already! I’m thinking those teachers are going to have to expand their search area or take what they can find. I know a lot of Taipei teachers that are working two jobs to make ends meet.
They find a school to sponsor their ARC, work the requisite 14 hours, and then add additional hours to their roster through private tutoring, sub hours or by adding a second job to their ARC. If you’re willing to consider locations outside of Taipei, you’ll find that the rate of pay is often higher, the cost of living is much lower, and you’ll get more hours. That means you can save more money overall!
Expats in Taiwan Vs Bali
There also seems to be more of an expat teaching community in Taiwan. More often than not the westerners you meet in Taiwan are either teachers or students. In Bali you meet backpackers trying to ‘find themselves’ or Australians who are there on an 18-30’s alcohol-fueled-club-focused party-of-a-life time vacation.
In Bali it was hard to lay down roots. Sometimes you would meet these amazing people and really connect, but they were only there for a one-month stint during their backpacking journey, so you find yourself either having to get used to saying goodbye or not even bothering to make the effort.
The only other friends I had there were some of the locals and the other western teachers I worked with. But because of the large expat teaching community in Taiwan it’s easy to make friends that are going to last at least a year.
Working in Taiwan Vs Bali
I’ve also noticed a difference in the work ethic between countries. The work ethic in Taiwan is really strong and it’s evident in all ages, which is of great use as a teacher. Students here tend to really want to do well and excel. The students in Bali tend to be a little more unruly; I found my classroom management skills were greatly strengthened by my time in Bali, which is good as I now have a whole mental library of techniques for controlling a class.
There are also non-teaching differences to consider which greatly affect your time in the country. For example the infrastructure in Bali is very limited; there are no train services and there tends to only be two buses a day to get anywhere, one in the morning and one at night.
Assuming you don’t want to risk your life every day on a scooter journey to and from work, the only other option is a taxi, which you can set up a contract with. It’s expensive to do this, though. Taipei has a very convenient, clean and cheap MRT system, which allows you to cast your net further when looking for a job.
Although Bali was tough going at times I wouldn’t call it a bad experience. It helped me grow as both a teacher and a person. It was always nice to know that any challenges throughout the day are erased as soon as you hit that beach to do some surfing and watch the sun go down. Taipei on the other hand, has been very smooth sailing for me, and I feel integrated. This feeling came very quickly and has only continued to grow.
I feel blessed that I have had the chance to have these two insightful experiences, which have shaped me as a teacher and an individual.
- Pay – Taiwan offers a very attractive pay that allows you to enjoy the island whilst saving.
- Transport – The transport system here is so cheap and so clean. With the high-speed rail you can get from Taipei to Kaohsiung (North to South) in just under 2 hours.
- The locals – I was very surprised by how friendly and happy the locals are here, particularly towards foreigners. Most people have a good level of English and want to practice that with you, so conversations can be struck up pretty much anywhere.
- Visa – Most schools will handle the visa process for you so you don’t even need to worry about it.
- Saving Face – It has an effect on so many aspects of life here. From people not apologizing when they accidentally stab you in the face with their umbrella to having a parent deny that their child may be slower than the rest of the class or even that he/she actually may have some mild learning difficulties. This is just something you have to accept, or at least, buy some protective eye-gear when it rains.
- Stinky Tofu – It’s everywhere! And certainly lives up to its name. A friend and I unknowingly tried this in our first week here in a soup form, we named it farmyard soup. Word to the wise, never leave the house if you have a hangover and you know there is going to be a stinky tofu place billowing its fumes at you.
- Surroundings – I can’t even put into words the sheer beauty of Bali, the pictures I have provided don’t even do it justice. No matter where you go it’s apparent that you are in one of the most beautiful spots on Earth.
- Food – The food in Bali is amazing, always presented to you in such an artistic manner and the taste is sensational. If you’re like me and my best friend who I traveled with and you like spice, then you will love the Balinese cuisine.
- The locals – The locals have a very laid back approach to things, sometimes it’s a little too horizontal but this you learn to love. Lots of people take things in their stride and this relaxed feel is a nice change from London, you find it rubs off on you a little. There were days when we would do things like go harpoon fishing with some locals, and then build a fire on the beach to barbecue our fish whilst one of our local friends climbed a nearby coconut tree and fetched us nature’s thirst quenching drink. Its experiences like this that will stick with you forever.
- Tourism – This being Bali’s biggest economical trade it is apparent in most places. The 2002 and 2005 Bali bombings, combined with the 2004 Tsunami had hit Bali’s tourism hard and you can see the locals desperation in clawing back their number one trade. It has ruined certain areas of the islands beauty, and tainted some of the locals’ perception on westerners. It’s hard to escape being viewed as a filthy rich white guy, be prepared to be dragged into every shop you pass, and I mean physically, to have knick-knacks thrown in your face at high prices, or having every scooter driver that passes you try to get you to use them as a taxi. Tip: bargaining is expected, practice your skills.
- Pay – The pay is fairly low in western terms. You can live comfortably but don’t expect to be able to pay off any debts or travel much after Bali. There is room for increasing your teaching to earn more but then you just feel you are putting in a lot of effort for not much return.
- Transport – Unless you get a scooter you can be quite limited. Getting a scooter can be dangerous, and it’s usually the foreigners you need to watch. You see so many drunk drivers and so many foreigners with huge grazes down the sides of their bodies from where they have come off a scooter, most likely drunk.