Thursday, October 16, 2014

the reality of being a working expat

Today, during some down time at school, a friend and I were talking about life as a working expat.
And we both kinda felt like some things needed to be said.
A lot of people imagine that we are off on this grand adventure and every day is exciting and like a vacation because we're in Taiwan rather than America.
And there is no doubt that we certainly are on an epic adventure, some days.

But honestly, Monday through Friday, my life could take place in any country or in any city around the world.
It matters not one lick that it happens in Taiwan.
My life as a working expat is remarkably like my life was as a worker in America.
I wake up at 6am, eat breakfast + get dressed, go to work from 7:20 until 4:10, go home + sit on the couch for a bit to recover (teaching can be very exhausting), then make dinner, do the dishes, go for a jog and then maybe grade or watch a movie, and then collapse into bed and do it all again the next day.

That sounds pretty exotic, right?
But that's the truth.

I know some non-working expats both in real life and from the blogging world who have a lot more freedom to fill their day however they please and maybe they do feel like they are on a grand adventure most of the time.

But that is not my reality.
Part of our decision to move to Taiwan was the belief that it would be a wise economic investment. And it has been. But that implies that I kinda, sorta have to go to this thing called work, which kinda, sorta eats up most of my time and therefore a lot of my life as well.
Some days, I am fine with that.
Other days, I struggle with the feeling that I am missing out on something because I have to carefully plan and schedule my adventures in Taiwan in order to make them happen at all.
Otherwise, I could easily live and work here and miss out on most of it.

I would love it if every day I could wake up whenever I wanted and do whatever I wanted.
Then, I imagine I would have done a lot more on my Taiwan To Do List.
But for me, as I think is the case for many working expats, I have to consider it good enough to get through the workweek and then, maybe, have some adventures over the weekend, you know, in between the grocery shopping and Skype chats with family and loads of laundry and spending time with friends, to go experience Taiwan.
Some days and weekends, the best that I can do to appreciate + experience my host country is admire the little ornate temple crammed in between two ugly apartment buildings near where I live.


  1. Interesting because I definitely think the expectation of expat life and the reality of expat life are quite different! Although I have to say that I'm now not working and - maybe it's because I've been in Russia for a long time - but life becomes pretty normal and routine. Human beings are capable of adapting to most anything: even living abroad becomes boring eventually :)

    1. I agree that time does have something to do with it. We are now in year three here in Taiwan. When we first got here, we went so far out of our way to experience Taiwan every single chance we got. But I do imagine that for expats who do shorter stints or have less demanding jobs (if any at all), the experience must be really, really different. I recently met someone who came to Taiwan to just live without any obligation of work or school, and in the two months they have been here (they plan on spending six months total) they have seen and done more than I had in two years!

  2. Agreed! When I was at work when living abroad, I was working. Granted, it was slightly different, minor changes. Instead of just hearing English in the work place, there were a few other languages. Paper sizes were different (I could go on and on about this grr). That said, I always did have a sense that the job was only temporary, that I wasn't really doing what I envisioned to be my lifetime career, but it doesn't mean I didn't take it seriously. The day to day life really wasn't all that different than what I'm doing now that I'm back home. The only difference is what happens outside of those 8 hours on the weekends.

    1. I do think, depending on the kind of job an expat has, the experience could be much different. My career is education and I plan to make a go of it as an international teacher. While I know I will not remain at one school (or in one country) for 10+ years, I will continue to work in the (small) world of international education. Therefore, I take my job here as seriously as any teaching job in the states. Given my nature, I would do that anyway but I certainly do not have a detached feeling about my work. Sometimes I envy people who go to a country to teach ESL for a while because they know their true aim is not a career in education. I think it's a lot easier for them to work less and experience more. Ce la vie.

  3. I completely agree! It is not all exploring your new city and new country. Last year I was working from home to finish my PhD and kept a pretty strict working schedule. Now I'm freelancing and working part time. Even with the pretty flexible schedule I have I don't (can't) go out each day to explore.

    1. It's one odd aspect of living and working abroad. I think it would help in my situation if my school had more frequent breaks.

  4. Yeah, totally agree. My week is filled with a 9 - 5 job, sitting at a computer. I could be doing that in any city in the world. Life is still life, no matter where you are. Great post.

    1. It's kind of a bizarre thing to realize that, day to day, it really doesn't matter all that much where you live (except in extreme circumstances).

  5. So true! I'm studying here and not working, but I really have the same feeling!
    Waking up at six, studying the whole day, coming home after eight if I'm early - is life supposed to be like this? I try to enjoy the little glimpses of Taiwan I get through the busy days too, but it's so easy to get stressed and forget why I choose to come here in the first place!

    1. Yes, it can be very difficult to balance a full schedule. I hope you're enjoying Hsinchu and Taiwan as much as I do!


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