Living in Taiwan can be exciting and stimulating, but it can also be confusing, frustrating, even overwhelming. Culture shock is a condition that affects even the experienced overseas resident. It's a form of psychological stress experienced when familiar cues or patterns are no longer present. These cues include the many ways in which we orient ourselves to the requirements of daily life. The lack of familiar cues may cause discomfort, often accompanied by irritability, resentment, homesickness and depression. Culture shock may be mild or severe. It may be fleeting or last several months. Most foreigners experience culture shock to some degree at some stage of living overseas.
It is important to be familiar with the symptoms of culture shock. When the strain of adjusting to change is marked, a number of physical and emotional reactions are common. These include sleepiness, apathy, depression, compulsive eating and drinking, homesickness, exaggerated yearning for all things and friends back at home, negative stereotyping of Taiwanese people, a decline in efficiency, recurrent minor illnesses, and obsession with cleanliness or health.
Symptoms may be aggravated by a lack of proper exercise, rest and/or poor diet. The symptoms tend to surface within the first three to six months after arrival, when the novelty of a new place begins to fade and settling in becomes imperative. They usually taper off as soon as this process gets under way and generally disappear by the fourth to sixth month.
Consider the following as a means to ease the adjustment process:
- Admit frankly that these stresses exist. It's not a sign of weakness to admit that you feel uncomfortable, tense or confused.
- Recognize that adjusting is hard work. View change as a challenge instead of a threat. Don't expect everything to fall into place immediately.
- Establish a routine as soon as possible. A routine for eating, sleeping and personal time provides an anchor, a stable base, at a time when everything else is in flux.
- Make your home a place that is comfortable and plan special times for yourself in Taiwan. It's not enough just to look forward to vacations.
- Learn the rules of living in Taiwan. Try to understand how and why the Taiwanese do things the way they do. Taiwanese behaviour and customs are different from your own but they are neither better nor worse than what you are used to. Don't try to change everybody else; it's easier to adjust yourself.
- Learn some Mandarin. Learning even a little Mandarin makes your life in Taiwan a lot easier, and is always appreciated by Taiwanese. The best time to start is at the beginning of your stay, as many foreigners lose momentum and end up living in Taiwan for years without speaking a word of Mandarin. In Taipei, there are several universities and private institutions offering Mandarin classes.
- Get involved and meet people. Becoming involved in activities you are interested in is a good way to meet people with similar interests. Reach out and befriend both Taiwanese and foreigners. Start exploring the part of town where you live, the environs of the city and the scenic attractions of Taiwan. A good way to meet Taiwanese and practice some Mandarin is to check out notice boards where there are messages from Taiwanese university students looking for language exchange. The usual practice is to spend an hour speaking English and then an hour speaking Mandarin.
- Keep in touch with friends from home.
Most schools are privately owned, with parents paying tuition and exerting substantial influence on curriculum and school policies. A great deal of focus is on academic performance, even at a very young age.
Sometimes a student's poor performance is seen as the result of shortcomings of the teacher. The main goal of much of ESL programming is for the child to quickly demonstrate the ability to say something in English; little emphasis is placed on genuine learning. For example, young students sometimes memorize a book instead of actually learning how to read.
Taiwanese students are usually respectful in class, but may not always be so with a teacher who is a foreigner. Problems can arise because Taiwanese children are unfamiliar with the more relaxed and open style of foreign teachers. To ensure class discipline, it is important at the outset to explain your expectations and the rules that students must follow. Support staff should be in place to help, and they should be used when a Chinese-language speaker is required. Trying to regain control in a confrontational or challenging manner is not effective.
Adult classes will offer different kinds of challenges: students are older and often come to class tired from a long day of work.