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Interview with Melanie – a South African expat living in Taiwan

Updated 9 Jan 2020

Melanie Koegelenberg is an expat from South Africa. After completing her university degree, she decided to take a chance and moved to Taiwan. She has now been living in Taiwan since 2016 and works as an ESL teacher. She enjoys the convenience of living in Taiwan and doesn't see herself leaving any time soon.

Read more about expat life in Taiwan in our Expat Arrivals Taiwan country guide.

About MelanieMelanie_Taiwan.jpg

Q: Where are you originally from?
A: South Africa

Q: Where are you currently living?
A: Taichung City, Taiwan

Q: When did you move here?
A: 2016

Q: Is this your first expat experience?
A: Yes, it is.

Q: Did you move here alone or with a spouse/family?
A: I moved here on my own.

Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: A teaching opportunity presented itself at the time of my graduation. I didn't have any concrete plans in South Africa, so I made the choice to move abroad and become a teacher.

Living in Taichung City

Q: What do you enjoy most about Taichung? How would you rate the quality of life compared to your home country?
A: What I enjoy most is that everything is extremely convenient. There are shops everywhere that are open 24/7. The transportation system, buses, bikes and rails are amazing and FREE for up to 10km. It's just so convenient to go anywhere. I really enjoy the night markets too. They have awesome cuisine for an affordable price, and most of the food choices are really tasty and unique. The quality of life is on another level; South Africa fails in comparison.

Q: Any negative experiences? What do you miss most about home?
A: Some days, the air can get quite polluted, so we have to wear masks and remain indoors. I used to miss South African snacks and biltong the most, but I've become a vegetarian since, so now I just miss my family. 

Q: What are the biggest adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life here? Did you experience any particular elements of culture shock?
A: I wouldn't say that I had culture shock because Taiwanese people are extremely kind and welcoming, but the biggest adjustment was the language. I couldn't speak or understand any Chinese when I arrived, and that made daily tasks quite difficult. 

Q: What's the cost of living compared to home? Is there anything particularly expensive or particularly cheap in Taiwan?
A: Taiwan is more expensive than South Africa. However, everything is still affordable because the salaries are higher. But because the island is very small, apartments are small, and rent is extremely expensive.

Q: How would you rate the public transport in Taichung? What is your most memorable experience of using your city's transport system?
A: The transportation is amazing. Name it and Taiwan has got it. There are free buses and bikes, high-speed trains and inner-mountain-area trains as well as metro systems, and of course a lot of Ubers and taxis. Taiwan has also invested in many green initiatives which will see the use of more electric buses and cars. My most memorable experience was definitely finding out that I could get from point A to B for free!

Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Taichung? Have you had any particularly good/bad experiences regarding doctors and hospitals? Are there any hospitals you would recommend?
A: The healthcare is excellent. Your employer provides you with an Alien Citizenship card, which in turn provides you with a healthcare card. Whenever you want to go to a doctor, physiotherapist, gynaecologist or a traditional Chinese doctor, you take your card, they swipe it, and you pay hardly anything for your visit. Healthcare is affordable and thorough, and it definitely adds to the greatness that is Taiwan. Taichung has a great women's hospital called Lin Shin Hospital that I would recommend.   

Q: What are the biggest safety issues facing expats living in Taiwan? Are there any areas expats should avoid?
A: Pollution can get quite bad when the wind is blowing in the wrong direction, but it's not a major concern. There aren't any major illnesses that I'm aware of. 

Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in the city? What different options are available for expats?
A: There are many options available and many websites and groups on Facebook that are helpful. There are rooms, apartments, lofts, houses, and shared accommodation available to rent.

Q: Any areas or suburbs you'd recommend for expats to live in?
A: The cities and areas within are all well connected, so it really doesn't matter where you choose to stay. It depends on where you work. Right now in my city, I live in the West District, which has a lot of department stores and restaurants. 

Meeting people and making friends

Q: How tolerant are the locals of foreigners? Is there obvious discrimination against any particular group? Have you ever experienced discrimination in Taichung?
A: There's no discrimination. Taiwanese people are very friendly but also very reserved and shy. A lot of foreigners are very outgoing and 'loud', and this intrigues and excites the Taiwanese people, so they take well to foreigners. Foreigners should remain respectful of the Taiwanese culture though.

Q: Was meeting people and making friends easy? How did you go about meeting new people?
A: It was very easy. There are a lot of hangouts that are popular amongst foreigners. I met most of my friends through my work colleagues. But there are many Facebook groups that you can join that will fit your personality, for instance, art classes, book clubs and marathon groups. 

Q: Have you made friends with locals, or do you mix mainly with other expats? What advice would you give to new expats looking to make friends with the locals? 
A: I have many local friends. I met most of them at my workplace, and they have introduced me to their other friends. Most of them are really keen on improving their English, so they really enjoy having an English-speaking friend. In return, I've learned a lot of Chinese from them, so it's great to have local friends. Just be as kind and as welcoming as they are.

Final thoughts

Q: Is there any advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals to Taichung or Taiwan?
A: Get involved with your community, try everything (especially the local food), learn how to drive a scooter, learn basic Chinese before you visit an Asian country, and just, you know, live your life.

► Interviewed January 2020 

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