Jim’s Travel Stories: Teaching English in Taiwan

I am waiting on a few more submissions for “A Fish Out of Water” and thought this would be a good time for Jim to tell one of his travel stories. He has been all over the world and has many stories to tell. This may become a regular series! Without further introduction, here is my husband Jim, contributing his story about being a fish out of water.

Jim’s travel collage #1

The train ride from Taipei to Taiwan was only a few hours, but I was a little tired as I arrived. As I exited the station I saw a sign that said, “Glory English School” under Chinese characters. I thought, “Maybe I should go work there.”

The owner of the school met me at the door, “You have English degree?” he said. I showed him my B.A. from California State-Chico, but he wasn’t impressed. “No, degree from Harvard or Yale?”


“That okay – I pay you $20 an hour.”

I glanced over to a classroom to see a middle-aged American, with a scruffy beard, wearing jeans come out. He looked sort of homeless.

“He has a degree from Harvard?” I asked.

“No. Yale.”

I found out after working there for a few weeks that no one had real degrees at all. You can go to Bangkok, Hong Kong, or Manilla and get any degree you want on the street for five or six U.S. dollars. Bangkok is especially popular for this.

My students absolutely hated the “Yale” teacher.

They asked me, “Sha way yi (My Chinese name “Hawaii”) can you teach us tonight? That guy is crazy. He talks about the KGB chasing him and always hears explosions.”

Jim’s travel collage #2

It turns out the “Yale Guy” was actually a deserter from the Vietnam War who had been in Bangkok for years before he came to Taiwan. He told me that he had done so much LSD that he had flashbacks a lot when he was teaching. He hated Taiwan – he said if Bangkok paid teachers better he never would have left.

I had an awesome time in Taiwan; I never worked more than 20 to 25 hours per week, but managed to save $1500 before I left. I was there about seven months. My schedule was great; 6 or 6:30 pm to 12 or 1 am four days a week. I worked for five or six different schools while I was there; but there always seemed to be a delicious noodle shop near by to have a late night, post-work meal for a dollar or two.

Did I ever get culture shock while I was there? Of course, but I never screamed, “I hate this place!” with my fist in the air, in the middle of the street, like an American teacher/friend of mine did. That was a little embarrassing. Trying to learn Chinese helped, because if people at your school were talking badly about you, you could at least defend yourself.


Jim is a Speech and Language Pathologist living in a dome in New Mexico with his wife, daughter, three dogs, two cats, and two chickens. He can speak in English, Spanish, German and a little Chinese. He’s been on every continent except Antarctica. He makes pottery in his spare time.


10 thoughts on “Jim’s Travel Stories: Teaching English in Taiwan”

  1. i love hearing about other teachers out there! i taught english on mainland china without a degree. i earned $400/ a month, which was considered a lot where i was. but, i was there for the experience and not the money (clearly) and i had followed a boy there! we travelled through-out china, which was stressful and amazing! the culture shock was immense and people were often quite unkind to us. would i do it again, and yes, in a heart beat!

    1. I had friends who taught in mainland China and they had a lot of problems with getting around and living. I hope it has changed. I agree with you, the experience is more important than the money. The experience is what you go away with. – Jim

  2. Naja, das klingt interessant! I guess Chinese is a nightmare to learn…So you spoke only English with the students? I try to do it with mine but they are reluctant 😛

    1. Chinese is most definitely a nightmare to learn. I only stuck with it because I had a really good teacher. She was patient and understanding. Are you teaching your students in German? -Jim

      1. Oh, patience is a huge value when it comes to all the tones and signs and issues of Chinese, I believe! Nope, I teach my students English with a little bit of Polish (which is my native language).

    1. I just read your comment to Jim. He laughed out loud for real. Then he said, “That’s Mega-Mom, right? I love her. She is so smart and funny.”

  3. Jim sounds like you adapted well to the inscrutable East. I remember a trip I took many years ago that was based in London and half the youth tour was Chinese from Hong Kong. I tried to learn some Mandarin with little success despite some coaching from some Chinese girls. So on the trip (7 countries in 12 days) I switched to German which was a good thing because I lost the tour in Munich thanks to being distracted by a young fraulein.

  4. Munich is one of my favorite cities. I got in a drinking contest with one of the Chinese guys in one of the beerhalls there and we both got blitzed! I blame it on my 1/2 Irish heritage 😉 Ein, zwei, drei schlucken. . . or something like that.

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