After serving as an English Teaching Assistant (ETA) with the Fulbright Taiwan program in Yilan County (宜蘭縣) for one year, I’ve decided to reflect and come up with a few things that would have been useful to know, or consider before departure. I hope this list will be useful for anyone moving to Taiwan, especially those considering Yilan County.
Get an International Driving Permit. If you have a valid US driver’s license, you can go to any AAA office and apply in person, and walk out with it the same day. (I have had only one friend who had to pick it up the following day.) You can find the application and all necessary documents at: http://www.aaa.com/vacation/idpf.html. You will need two passport size photos (many AAA offices will provide this service for free), and there is a $15USD processing fee. This will be useful for if you ever need to rent a car in Taiwan, or while traveling in other countries. It will also simplify the process of applying for an Taiwanese (car) Driver’s License if you choose to get one.
In my opinion, it’s not worth it to go out and buy a top of the line rain gear before coming to Taiwan. It’s useful to have a lightweight raincoat on hand in case of emergency, but from my experience they get saturated fast when the heavy seasonal rains kick in. What qualifies as ‘waterproof’ in the states doesn’t stand a chance against the monsoon rains and heavy winds of Taiwan.They might seem silly at first, but you will come to appreciate the protection of the famous thick plastic ponchos’ (especially when worn backwards).
Wait and buy your rain boots in Taiwan (if you need them). They’re big, bulky, and heavy, and not worth the space in your luggage. The night markets here are booming with stands selling rain gear in a wide variety of sizes. With a little bit of searching I was able to find cute women’s boots for my size 9.5 feet, and they had larger sizes available for both sexes.
If you aren’t planning to live in Southern Taiwan, make sure to bring a decent winter jacket and some warm sweaters/sweatshirts. Temperature wise, it does not go below freezing (with the exception of a few mountaintops), but most buildings do not have central heating, and with the high humidity it can feel real cold. I also say ‘decent’ because if you are in one of the rainy areas, then your clothes will take a beating, will take forever to dry, and may get moldy – just keep that in mind when considering whether or not to bring your favorite winter coat.
Bring clothes that fit well and dry easily. Most apartments are furnished with washers but not dryers, and after a few months of hang-drying most clothes will be a little stretched out. Most cities have a coin laundry with dryers available for when you really need it.
Bring a copy of all of your prescription slips. The healthcare system in Taiwan is great, and you will likely be able to find any of your regular medicines there (under a different name). Just make sure that you have the official and scientific names with you so they can look it up at the pharmacy.
Knowing just a few Chinese phrases can get you a long way. Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone both have pretty good introductory audio Mandarin lessons available that will familiarize you with the language.
Practice using chopsticks. Try using them to eat every day things that you wouldn’t normally associate them with, such as scrambled eggs. If you slowly acclimate to using them it will save you some hand cramps and frustration in the early days.
This is the strangest of the recommendations, but practice squatting. If you are comfortable holding, and can balance in a squat position for at least a minute before you get here, it will make your first encounter with a squat toilet (which is inevitable) much less alarming. You want to place your feet about shoulder width apart and squat down keeping your bum a few inches from the floor.
Bring a few easy to make comfort food recipes. When I got sick in the winter it was nice to have my mom’s chicken soup recipe – it really is good for the soul. I found that it was easy to find ingredients for things like soups and casseroles (and they’re really simple to make).
If you are going to have a host family (or even if you won’t) it’s good to have a few trinkets with you to share American life with them. American candy (saltwater taffy, fireballs, Reese’s, etc), local knick-knacks, a coffee table book about where you are from, and American alcohol are nice to have on hand. Things like candy can also be fun to share a taste of America with your students or co-workers. My students also loved to look through my old magazines.