Way back in the day, okay maybe it was only two years ago, when Cameron and I were poor students, okay maybe we're still poor and still students, we were living in Southern California.
Now, we both love Southern California; the beach, the city life, the mountains, pretty much everything about it, except for the traffic of course.
So why would you ever leave, you might ask?
That answer lies in our $1000/month rent, our $10 000+/year tuition, gas, insurance, food.... Okay you get the picture. Basically, there was no way we could afford it while living as newlywed students, especially when it would take me at least eight months to a year to get a green card, and then try to get a job afterwards...
So, after some deliberation we decided we needed to move somewhere
cheaper better. Cameron had spent two years living in Taiwan serving a mission for our church. He learned Chinese and his way around and also learned to really love the Taiwanese people. He would always go on and on about how great Taiwan is, so one day I said, "Fine, why don't we just move there."
And move there we did.
Over the next eight months we got married and sold all of our possessions, minus our four suitcases stuffed with what we thought we would need in this faraway country.
So, now that we've set our hearts on moving to Taiwan, what do we do there?!
Since Cameron already knew Chinese, it was easy for him to make the transition into university there. We found a great university with a bilingual program in the major that he was already studying back at home.
Our plan was to come early and work for six months before we started school. Well, that was a huge fail (which I'll get to in another post about teaching in Taiwan). But, despite paying our rent in change (yes that really did happen) and getting totally ripped off by our employer, we eventually got our life sorted without having to fly home in shame. Cameron got a full-ride scholarship and I started full time Chinese classes and we finally felt like we had a handle on things. It only took us six months! Yikes...
So, to save you the trouble and worry of wondering whether you will be eating lunch or using that money to fly home, I've compiled a list of things we wish we had known before we came to study in Taiwan.
- Do Your Research! I cannot stress this one enough. Read about the schools that you want to attend, read about the city you will be living in, find blogs, find expat forums, find people who have done what you want to do and talk to them, whether you know them or not. Make sure you find reputable sources. There are a lot of universities in Taiwan and they are not all created equally. Tealit and Forumosa are great resources for finding connections in Taiwan.
- Find a Program. If you know Chinese already, you rock! Life will be easier for you and you can essentially choose any program you like. If you don't know Chinese, don't despair, I didn't know any before I left, and life has turned out just fine. You'll probably want to enroll in a language program like the one I attended. It was 15 hours a week of language study and offered me a great foundation to jump into mainstream university. Many universities offer English or Bilingual programs, it just depends on what program you're interested in.
- Choose a City. Once you have a few universities on your list, look at which city you'd like to live in. Each city in Taiwan is different and each offers its own set of perks and challenges. Taipei is easier for foreigners because a greater number of people speak English and has a great public transportation system, but it has become very westernized and you'll be more likely to end up surrounded by other foreigners speaking English. Taichung is more traditionally Taiwanese and has some famous night markets, but it isn't as easy to get around and English is uncommon.
- Get Copies of School and Personal Documents. You'll need about four high school and university transcripts authenticated by the Taiwan Consulate (TECO) nearest your school. This will probably take a few weeks, so leave time for that when you start your application process. Bring copies of birth certificates, marriage certificates, and passports and leave a copy of each with a family member.
- Letters of Recommendation. It's time to call in those favours and email those old professors. It's easiest to get these ahead of time so that you're not scrambling for references when the time comes.
- Get a health check. They'll want one that is less than three months old for your application and ARC application later, so best to do this one just prior to application. It generally takes about a week to process since there is blood work to do.
- Apply for Scholarships. There are numerous scholarships available to foreigners that offer full-ride, half tuition, and even tuition plus a living stipend. The most popular are the MOE and MOFA scholarships. You need to apply for these through your local TECO office. There are also scholarships available through your individual university that you can find on their website or by direct contact. For the MOE you'll need to pass an intermediate level TOCFL Chinese test (level 3).
- Contact the University. Don't be afraid to call or email the campus directly. They're willing to help and know about your situation. On some campuses they've got foreign students who can advise you on how they did it and give you their perspective on campus life.
- Housing. Most universities have on-campus housing. It's not always the best option though. You can generally get an apartment nearby that is bigger and better for just a slighter higher price. If you don't mind sharing a bathroom with a stranger, plan on sleeping until the very last second before class, or you like the community feeling of a dorm, then don't sweat it, go the on-campus route. If you're looking for something a little more private, it's easier to find one once you get there. Most campuses have a temporary housing division that you can stay in while you look for a place. There will be people at the school and classmates who will help you find something. In Taichung a typical one bedroom apartment near campus will run about 6000-7000 NT ($180-210 USD) per month, depending on how picky you are.
- Have Some Money in the Bank. Whether you receive a scholarship or not, you'll need to have at least $3000 USD in your bank account within 3 months of your application process. When you apply for your ARC, you will also need this in your account (or on a statement). You can have that money, print a bank statement and then 10 seconds later use it to buy your plane tickets, but you'll need a recent bank statement that shows you with 90 000 NTD in your account at some time within the last 3 months. So you can beg, borrow, and steal, then give it all back if you want, but you need some proof that you've had some money in the bank.
- Get a Visa. If you get your acceptance package before you apply for your visa, this is the easiest. Then all you do is take all your documentation plus passport photos to your nearest TECO office (or mail it if there isn't one nearby) and apply for a resident visa (you will later change this into an ARC). If you haven't gotten your acceptance yet, just make sure to let them know that it's coming and then apply for a visitor visa. Don't worry that it only says single entry, you can change that once you get to Taiwan when you apply for a resident visa.
- Don't Sweat the Small Stuff. By that I mean that most everything that you think you can't live without, you can. You would be surprised at the number of things that I look at and go "why the heck would I bring that?" but seemed totally vital when I was packing. Anything you really need can be purchased in Taiwan. There are only a few things like measuring cups and muffin tins that I had difficulty finding, but I did find them. They have Costco and Ikea there, so really, you'll survive.
- Relax! No amount of worrying ever made anyone's life more interesting. Once you've got your acceptance and you have your flights booked, the rest can be dealt with in Taiwan.
Cameron is now attending Feng Chia University as part of the Bachelor's of International Business Administration in English. He got a full-ride scholarship from the university so his tuition is completely free. I took a full year of language study courses at the Feng Chia Chinese Language Center which I would highly recommend. My Chinese improved exponentially and I gained real conversational experience with native speakers and had fantastic teachers. Just about a month ago I was accepted at Feng Chia University into the BIBA program as well. I received the MOE full tuition scholarship which includes a monthly living stipend!! That's right ladies and gentlemen, I am getting paid to go to school! And so can you.
So, after all our hard work and struggling to get life going, we finally did it. We are both full time university students attending private university overseas for free. We are saving our dollars while getting the experience of a lifetime and earning our degrees at the same time. Taiwan is a beautiful country with kind-hearted friendly people. It seems like another planet at first, but you'd be amazed at what you can adapt to when push comes to shove. It hasn't always been easy, but I wouldn't trade our experience for anything... though in a weak moment I might trade one of my students for a Crunchie bar...
All in all, if you're looking for a better way to finish school and not go broke, see the world while you're still in university, or just looking for a change of pace, you should definitely consider moving abroad to finish your education.
Our transition wasn't perfect, but it was absolutely worth it.