Job hunting in Taiwan vs job hunting in the US

Here's a picture my students drew during a Halloween activity.
Here’s a picture my students drew during a Halloween activity.

Having just finished a rigorous week [update: that week was about three months ago] of deciding which English teaching job I would take here in Zhongli, I thought it might be interesting for to detail the differences between finding a job in the US and finding a teaching gig here.

For context, the last job I sincerely applied for and got back in the US was my content writing position at Rosetta Stone. It was four months from the day I sent my application until the day I started. I went through two rounds of telephone interviews and a rigorous day-long set of interviews with every person on the writing team. When I finally got the offer, the starting date was a month away.

I should also note that not everyone will have the same experience looking for teaching jobs here in Taiwan. I’m white, female, straight, 34, and American. Every single one of these factors privileges me over other candidates who are not white, not female (and feminine, with long hair and cute outfits), too young or too old, and not American. At 5’4″ and 158 pounds, I am too fat to be attractive by conventional Taiwanese standards, but you can’t win them all. Most people here “know” that Americans are fat because we love pizza and hamburgers, so to the people hiring me, I’m a typical American.

That being said, I’d also like to humbly point out that on the occasions when I’ve had the opportunity to stand up for male teachers, black or Asian teachers, or gay teachers, I’ve done so. I do know that it’s a lot easier for me for a lot of reasons that have nothing to do with any qualifications I’ve earned (I have a BA in philosophy…), so I run my big American mouth when I can to defend other teachers against harmful stereotypes.

I know we don’t typically talk about discrimination against white dudes in almost any field, but I’ve had multiple teachers and managers tell me that it’s much better to have female teachers. They say women are more maternal; I suspect we also put up with more bullshit; I know female teachers here who put up with at least the same bullshit for less pay. Anyway, I am certainly not more nurturing than a guy who is nurturing. I am not a particularly nurturing person, but I try to keep my students safe, clean, and dry, even if I have to do some of the cleaning and drying for them.

Another factor: I live in Zhongli. It doesn’t have the culture and nightlife of Taipei, Taichung, Tainan, or Kaohsiung. It doesn’t have the beaches of Kenting or the beaches and mountains of the east coast. There is no small town charm here. There are lots of factories,  hordes of high-rise apartment buildings ruining the view in every direction, pollution, terrible weather in both summer and winter, and stifling traffic from 8am-8pm every day. Not a lot of foreigners are rushing to live here, especially if they want to enjoy their brief teaching time here. Judging from the plaintive cries of desperation coming from teachers looking for hours in Taipei, I’d say it’s much easier finding work here than it is there.

Finding jobs in the US: Join LinkedIn, discover which job sites and networking sites are most heavily used by employers in your field, send out business-y emails to friends and family who might have connections. Go to job fairs and sign up for seminars and conferences.

Finding jobs in Taiwan: I posted my availability on Facebook groups like “Need a Sub Teacher or Want to Sub Teacher in Taiwan?” and “Taoyuan Info Exchange. Buy, Sell, trade & English Teaching matters.” [sic] I sent out a mass message on Facebook messenger to some other teachers here with the same information. Within a few hours, I connected online (as Facebook friends or on the Line app) with about half a dozen schools looking for teachers.

Cover letters and resumes in the US: Meticulously written and rewritten, tailored to every new job posting. I consult lists verbs that will make me sound like a go-getter groomed for success. I pass around rough drafts to friends and family and pore over every suggestion. I draft e-mails and force myself to wait two hours before sending so that I can look at it with fresh eyes, making sure beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is not one letter or period out of place. I pray, I fret, I regret every edit.

Cover letters and resumes in Taiwan:  hahahahahahahaha

Corresponding with potential employers in the US: You have to use the most boring e-mail address you have, and if it’s not @gmail.com, it had better not be @hotmail.com. Edit twice, send once, and make sure the damn files are attached.

Corresponding with potential employers in Taiwan: Teachers from schools looking for new teachers started friending me on Facebook when they sent their first message. We correspond via Facebook messenger and the Line app (similar to WeChat in the US, I think).

What to wear to a job interview in the US: I researched it online and went with a navy blue pinstripe skirt suit, feminine heels (just high enough to be cute, but not high enough to be sexy). I bought a new white button-down just for the occasion, something appropriate but not very interesting. I wore pantyhose. I never wear pantyhose.

What to wear to a job interview in Taiwan: I wore a black-and-white striped skirt from Target and a white lace polo shirt over a nude tanktop. I wore the black ballet-slipper-style Crocs that I always wear. I spoke to two schools that day, and both managers seemed surprised by my outfit. “You don’t need to dress like that! Our teachers wear very sporty clothes here!” I brought a computer bag stuffed with stickyballs and reproducibles and they were very impressed with my professionalism.

The job interview in the US: I printed out lists of interview questions and wrote out answers to them. I contemplated my strategy and how my words might be misunderstood by someone who had just met me. I rehearsed and practiced. I thought long and hard about my life goals, what I wanted out of a job, why content writing was the only job for me. I researched the company and prepared a list of questions about the work environment. I brought a notebook and took notes. I left feeling simultaneously like I had done the best I could and like I was never going to get a job and probably going to have to move back to Taiwan to teach.

The job interview in Taiwan: Two out of the three schools I visited sat me down and told me what my schedule was going to be as soon as I walked in the door.

I was originally thinking to write something funnier about my experiences, but it doesn’t seem very funny to me because a lot of people are getting passed over because they are black or brown. I have a lot of traits that privilege me when I’m looking for work here that are just accidents of birth: being white, being American. But it’s still mind-boggling to me how mechanical the process of finding a teaching gig can be. They need a foreigner, they stick a foreigner in a class with a 20 kids for an hour, done and done. I always try my best and try to keep in mind that I am dealing with young human beings, but the schools don’t ever seem concerned about that.

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