Hi everyone! My name is Monica and I’m an Aussie expat who now lives in Taipei, Taiwan. I moved here early last year, so now I’ve been here around one and a half years. I run a website called TypingToTaipei.com, a one-stop Taipei guide for events, travel, art, design and lifestyle.
1. Why did you move abroad?
My first stint as an expat was in 2012, when I moved to Oita, in Kyushu, Japan to be an English language teacher on the JET program. I stayed there for two years and it was one of the most enriching experiences of my life. However, it was during this time that I started to question whether I really wanted to become a full-time primary school teacher when I returned back to Australia.
As I am sure a lot of expats will empathize with, being abroad made me reassess a lot of things in my life, and essentially, what I wanted from it. In the middle of trying to work out what I wanted to do next, I took a quick trip to Taiwan. It sounds almost too whimsical, but I honestly felt something so special about this country that I couldn’t shake even weeks later. I didn’t have any other concrete plans, so I thought I could try to find an opportunity to deepen my understanding of Taiwan. After some research, I found out that I could study here as a Mandarin language student, and even get a scholarship to support me financially. It all seemed to fit together because not only did I already love studying languages, I wanted more than anything to keep exploring the world. I guess I’m quite an erratic person because I moved half a year later, and here I still am!
2. How do you make a living?
I now have a full-time job in Taipei in content marketing, which is something I still pinch myself everyday about! At the beginning of this year, I decided that I would study one last term in Taiwan, and then return to Australia. Right before I started the term again I was contacted by the HR at my company. She said that I could be a good fit for a role in content marketing given that through my blog she could see how much I loved writing.
Although I’d just switched schools and was planning to head back home soon, I thought it was too incredible of an opportunity to not try for. I’m glad I did, because I got the job and I’m still there. I can genuinely say I love my job: I get to write every day, further my marketing knowledge, and be in a stimulating environment with great people. Last year I realized that writing was something I wanted to pursue professionally, so to be given the opportunity to do so is something I am really grateful for.
3. How often do you communicate with home and how?
I’m sure my friends and family back home would probably say “not enough”. Well, I’d have to agree, because I know I could be better at staying in touch. I really do try, but it’s difficult to stay in contact with so many people on a regular basis. I’ll try to touch base every so often on the usual mediums like Facebook, Whatsapp or Line. My mum and I text on Line nearly everyday, and I’ll skype my Dad and step mum every other week.
Not being able to be so freely in contact with home is definitely one of the biggest downsides of expat life. You miss out on so many things, people change, and you’re usually a step behind with what’s going on in even your closest friends’ lives. I’ve learned that your true friends will always be there for you and you for them, even if there’s a bit of a delay in doing so.
4. What's your favorite thing about being an expat in Taiwan?
Oh, that’s a very difficult question to answer succinctly as there’s so many things I love about being an expat here. If I have to choose just one, I’d have to go with the people. It’s said time and time again, but Taiwanese people are incredibly friendly and compassionate. Every expat I know can recall at least one story which reflects how generous Taiwanese people are. From stories of strangers going completely out of their way to offer help, to people taking you under their wing simply because, it’s very heartwarming to be in a country where people, on the whole, are so welcoming to foreigners.
5. What’s the worst thing about being an expat in Taiwan?
I’ll have to say the weather. In Taipei, the summer heat is so strong, and the winters can be quite unbearable, especially if you’re an Aussie who considers 18 degrees Celsius cold! Meanwhile, there’s random showers all year round, and the occasional typhoon. It definitely makes me miss the less temperamental weather in Sydney. Other than that, I really don’t have a lot to complain about. Well, maybe the smell of stinky tofu…
6. What do you miss most?
I don’t often feel homesick, however there are a couple of things I do miss. I miss the rich multiculturalism in Australia, and all the wonderful things which come from living in such a culturally diverse country. On rainy days, I miss Sydney’s sweeping blue, cloudless skies. I won’t lie, I yearn to eat all the delicious foods from around the world that you find so freely in Sydney (although, I don’t miss the prices!). And needless to say, I miss my friends and family back home like crazy.
7. What did you do to meet people and integrate in your new home?
When I first arrived, I made a concerted effort to put myself out there and meet a bunch of people. I attended a range of activities and events where I knew I’d have the opportunity to make friends. I joined Meetup groups, expat nights, and even went to networking events. You name it, I did it.
What I found at these events is that you’ll meet many people who are nice enough, but who you won’t really form a strong connection with. On the flip side, you’ll likely meet a few people that you’ll click straight away with and wonder how you ever lived without. In terms of integrating, I think diving straight into learning Mandarin helped me to start forming a connection to the people, and in effect, my new home. While you can certainly get by with minimal Mandarin ability (or none at all) in Taipei, I found that being able to at least communicate my basic needs and form simple conversations was a key aspect of feeling integrated here.
8. What custom/ habits do you find most strange about your adopted culture?
Perhaps “strange” isn’t the right word, but something that was quite surprising to me at first was seeing dishes washed on the ground outside some small local restaurants. While it’s not something that surprises me now, I think it brings up the interesting point of how easy to judge another culture. There are times when you’re traveling and you’ll inevitably come across something you’re not used to. Perhaps you’ll even think, “that would never happen in my country”.
However, I think it’s important to keep in mind how many practices or customs in your own country would be considered a bit usual in others. I try to keep an open mind and not be judgmental of other cultures, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being curious as long as you educate yourself and remain respectful.
9. What is a myth about your adopted country?
A myth about Taiwan is that it’s only worth visiting for a short layover. Many travelers first visit Taiwan briefly for a couple of days, maybe even just between their main destinations of travel. Once they arrive, they soon discover that this country has so much more to offer than they first envisioned.
I’m sure I’m not the only one living here who knows friends and family who regret that they only scheduled their trip to Taiwan for a couple of days. In fact, many people I know who have moved here (myself included!) originally came for a quick trip, and just in that short time we were so taken with Taiwan that we later decided to move here. If that doesn’t speak volumes about how captivating this country is, I don’t know what does!
10. Is the cost of living higher or lower than the last country you lived in and how has that made a difference in your life?
Compared to Australia, the cost of living is definitely much, much lower in Taiwan. Rent, transport, food, clothes and even education are significantly lower here, which makes it a very appealing country to move to as an Aussie expat. Especially last year when I was a student, the low cost of living allowed me live comfortably on my savings. If you were to attempt the same in Australia, you would soon burn through your money! Sydney is one of the most expensive cities to live in the world, so I definitely noticed a stark difference. For example, in Sydney, I lived in a shared apartment, in a tiny bedroom a little bigger than my single bed. I still live in a shared apartment now, but it is about three times the size and half the price of my previous Sydney shoebox.
Another example I love to tease my friends back at home with is that you can get a plate of ten handmade dumplings her for the equivalent only AU$2.50. In Australia, that’s the cost of a bottle of water. However, of course it’s all relative. In Australia, we’re able to earn substantially higher wages, and with that comes a higher cost of living. In the same vein, people here on average earn substantially lower wages, hence the lower cost of living (at least in the eyes of most expats).
11. What advice would you give other expats?
Put Taiwan high on your “must visit” list, and when you do come make your trip longer than a couple of days. As you can probably tell, I’m absolutely enamored with Taiwan, and you would be too if you spent some time exploring the country. Taiwan is so much more than just Taipei, and is so much more multifaceted than a short trip will reveal.
12. When and why did you start your blog?
I started my blog TypingToTaipei as a means of journaling all my adventures and thoughts that floated through my head as I tried to settle into my new life here. I wrote my first entry in Sydney just before I came here so I would have a record of how I was feeling before I overhauled my life once again. Although I shared it with my family and friends, I never really intended to make it anything but a time capsule of sorts. However, pretty soon after I started, my blog began receiving hits from people all over the world. It was very unexpected and humbling, and it was quite nice to know it wasn’t just my mum reading!
I think once you see there are people actually reading your blog, you start to feel a certain level of responsibility with your writing. I increasingly realized that I could use my blog as a platform for showing people both in Taipei and abroad how mesmerizing, exciting, and sadly, underrated this city and the rest of Taiwan is. Every week in Taipei there are so many captivating events that people may have missed. There’s also an innumerable number of places that perhaps people either don’t know about, or don’t have enough information about. While I don’t claim to be an authority on Taipei by any means, I do what I can through my blog to share my insights and experiences here as an expat.
I never thought that my little blog could shape my time here so significantly, so it’s really bizarre when I stop and think about it! It’s my dream to become a full time travel/lifestyle writer, so my blog is one means by which I can keep moving slowly towards achieving it.
Monica's Blog, Typing to Taipei
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