How a semester in Taiwan turned into 7 years and counting!
Written by Sarah Cummings
Travelling to a new country, if not moving to live in a foreign country for a period of time is always exciting but can also be nerve racking, especially if you don’t know anyone from that country. I came to Taiwan in August 2014 to learn Chinese for a semester and the only people I knew when I arrived were my parent’s friend’s family whom I only met once in Australia, and my dad’s cousin’s family whom I’d never met before. My parent’s friend’s family arranged for me to live with his sister which was very kind of them, but she was a much older lady so I was eager to meet more people in my age range and season in life. This was the start of my adventure here in Taiwan and the reason why I came back to get a job here with ‘English Wonderland.’
There are so many ways to make friends over here in Taiwan. My first friends were definite my classmates who came from all over the world. I had classmates from Japan, Korea, Germany, Switzerland and Honduras and we enjoyed many meals together. The longer I stayed here, the more I ventured out and joined different groups and communities, and thus, the more friends I made. Through these different streams of meeting new people, I discovered there were so many activities that you could do here. Sports that became my hobbies such as hiking, river tracing, bouldering, wild camping, cycling and ultimate frisbee.
There are so many mountains here in Taiwan that range from day hikes to multi-day hikes and the tallest reaching 3,952m called ‘Yushan’ in Chinese or ‘Jade Mountain’ in English. Many of the mountains close by are so accessible that you can catch a bus or train and be at a hiking trail within an hour. If you love nature and photography, you would absolutely love the panoramic views. I met a local Taiwanese man once that told me he had been hiking for 40+ years and he had never hiked the same mountain twice. That really inspired me and has kept me hiking till this day. The hiking community are also super friendly and has become some of my greatest friends. They often organize and lead hikes privately but also for anyone that’s free during the week or weekends. I’ve seen and experienced the most amazing mountain top views, hot springs, waterfalls, rope and bouldering trails and camping spots with these groups. Depending on the season, there are always different trips and activities you can do like river tracing during the summer, hiking during the other seasons, and even bouldering when it’s raining.
One of the best things about Taiwanese cities is how flat they are. This started my love for cycling and has become my daily commute around town and a weekend hobby. There is a beautiful riverside that is catered for cyclists and any recreational activity that you can think of like basketball, croquet, lawn bowls, mini golf, baseball, rollerblading or roller skating, skateboarding parks etc. I’m not a fan of mountain cycling but there are many people that I know that love to do it and do it regularly, and many groups you can find that do it on a regular basis. One of the challenges and goals you can aspire for is to cycle around Taiwan. I discovered this challenge through a Lonely Planet guide and attempted one leg of the island (Hualien to Taitung) as a student. It was absolutely beautiful and worth the experience. There are a few mountains you have to conquer but to finish the whole loop is absolutely life changing. It is such a fantastic way to explore the country and meet different people, and also push yourself to achieve something you never thought you could ever do. I finally finished the last leg (Taitung to Kenting) last year and it was one of the most challenging but prettiest rides I’ve ever done! I definitely recommend it.
One of the biggest communities I connected with from the beginning was the international Christian community. It’s funny that even though there are so many people on this island, the foreign and international communities are so small. I found that once I met a few people at one church, they would know people from other churches that I had met. I’ve met people from every liveable continent in the world: Europe, Africa, Asia, North and South America and even my fellow mates from “Down Under” (New Zealand and Australia), I joined in on a lot of charity and community events through these churches, volunteered my educational skills to teach conversational English to local Taiwanese and found the ultimate frisbee community too. The people I met through the church continue to be my greatest support here in Taiwan and I would call many of them family.
When I came back to Taiwan in 2015 to work after studying for a semester, I got a job with ‘English Wonderland’ and I met some of the loveliest people through this program. Teachers from South Africa, England and America and educators that came from so many different teaching backgrounds. There were math teachers, science teachers, P.E. teachers, psychology teachers, and teachers from both elementary and high schools. Teachers that had taught in other parts of the world and teachers that continue to inspire me to teach in a different way. My lessons have definitely improved over time and the way I use technology has definitely expanded throughout my time here, especially during Covid. One thing that surprised me when I started working here was how long these teachers had stayed at this program. Some of them were up to their 5th-8th year and now that I’ve taught here for 6+ years, I definitely understand why. These colleagues have become some of my closest friends and even though some of them have moved on to other jobs or back to their home country, every time we catchup, we can always chat throughout the night.
I also stayed and rented a share house when I came back to Taiwan. It was a great way to save money and also meet new people. Initially I stayed with a Taiwanese family which helped me practice my Chinese conversation, but later when they moved out, I rented the extra rooms to other foreigners. It was a great way to meet new people, create a family environment and host lots of events and celebrations for my friends.
Another way you can meet people is through apps. I actually met my husband through an app and I am grateful that I got him a job with ‘English Wonderland,’ so we could work together. I’ve hiked with friends that met their friends through dating apps and it’s been really fun meeting new people who are living here to people who are just coming through for a quick visit. Some of my friend’s greatest friends have been through apps.
There are also many Facebook & Meetup groups that gather foreigners and locals here together. If you have any hobbies or interests and you type it in the search box, I’m 100% sure you could find a group to your liking. Any sport or hobbies like photography, baking, cooking, dancing, playing board games, badminton, volleyball etc., or even groups for a particularly nationality or just all women to share information and get advice. There are a lot of language exchange groups and events if you wanted to practice your Chinese or even another language like French or Spanish. There are so many groups to meet new people, try out a new hobby or to just hang out with people during the week.
Throughout the year, there are also local festivals and events that go on. One of them is the Dragonboat festival. Many of my friends have joined different teams and have become really good friends with their teammates. Some train weekly and even three times a week. They compete during the festival and also attend competitions throughout the year. It’s a great way to get fit and also meet new people. Fitfam is another active group that keeps you fit and allows you to meet new people. Quite a few of my friends are part of this community and they workout throughout the week and also spend many holiday celebrations together.
In conclusion, you never have to be worried about being alone in Taiwan as there are many groups you could join to meet new people and make new friends. Groups to exchange languages, explore the outdoors, play sports regularly during the week or just fellowshipping and enjoying your time together. It’s such a great opportunity to meet new people, find connections, practice your Chinese, and also have a break from the local language and communicate freely using your mother tongue. It’s amazing to meet people from all over the world here and visit them when they return to their home country. You can always feel at home here in Taiwan, find a community of friends and fall in love with this country. I have been here now for nearly 7 years and it has definitely become my second home. I have seen people come and go but everyone that I have met have always planned to stay here short-term but have ended up staying here for many more years than they expected. This country changes you and I hope everyone gets a chance to visit or live in this country once in their lifetime!