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Jenny Green, Taipei

Who are you?

I’m Jenny Green, an ex-ESL teacher and education manager and now freelance writer.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

I moved to Taiwan with my husband and son on my son’s 8th birthday in August 2011.

What challenges did you face during the move?

One of our greatest challenges was downsizing from a four-bedroom house in the U.K. to a three-bedroom apartment in Taiwan.We’d lived in the house over ten years and managed to fill it with stuff, most of which turned out to be useless. I packed 15 large boxes for shipping to Taiwan along with my son’s piano. After we reached Taiwan we had to wait six weeks for the boxes to arrive. In that time, I forgot most of their contents. I don’t regret shipping books for my son, however. Books in English aren’t widely available or cheap in Taiwan, and although he now has a Kindle, he still likes reading books he can hold in his hand.

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How did you find somewhere to live?

I made a friend at my son’s school the first day I went there, and she helped me find a place. She was invaluable, in fact. There are English-speaking real estate agents in Taiwan but they’re rare and mostly specialise in finding places for expats on contracts with large housing budgets, which we didn’t have.

Are there many other expats in your area?

No, there are very few. I see white foreigners occasionally, but I don’t actually know any expats living in my area. My expat friends live in other areas of Taipei.

What is your relationship like with the locals?

Very good. I have good Taiwanese friends, and nearly every experience I’ve had of interacting with local people has been positive.

What do you like about life where you are?

The things I like best about Taiwan are the natural beauty, the interesting culture(s), the safety and the cheapness of public transportation, eating out and visiting sites. I do have a few caveats, however. Taiwanese roads aren’t particularly safe for pedestrians or drivers, and though many things are cheap, housing in Taipei is quite expensive.

What do you dislike about your expat life?

The language barrier can make things difficult or lonely sometimes. When I visit the UK, I find myself talking to lots of strangers, simply because I can. I’m learning Chinese, but I still struggle sometimes.

What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?

Attitudes to education are worlds apart. The Taiwanese value education very, very highly. The idea of it being uncool to be a swat is alien to them. I like this, but it has its downside. Children are under immense pressure to succeed academically, and there’s little fun or creativity in learning.

How does shopping (for food/clothes/household items etc.) differ compared to back home?

There is a much wider range of independent clothing shops in Taiwan than back in the UK. You can find a style to suit you, but you might not find your size! Most Western foods can be bought, for a price. (Though I am asking my older son to bring out Branston Pickle, Marmite, gravy powder, Christmas pudding and custard powder when he comes to visit next month.) Basic foods are cheaper; electrical goods about the same

What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?

Come prepared for rain and very hot summer weather. You don’t need to bring a lot. Taiwan is very Westernised, and you can probably buy anything you need here. Look forward to an enjoyable time full of interesting things to do.

What are your plans for the future?

We’ll be here for another four years, until my son finishes middle school. I’m not looking forward to leaving Taiwan. We feel at home here.

For more information about life in Taiwan check out Jenny's blog, Tales From the Beautiful Isle.

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