Culture Shock! Adjusting to Life in Taiwan
By: Wendy Evens
Greetings newcomers! Welcome to Taipei!! We are glad you are here!!!
For some of you, your move to Taipei is your first experience living in a foreign country. Others may be more accustomed to the expatriate life, but wonder how Taipei will differ from other places you’ve lived. You will soon find Taipei to be a great place to live!
Twelve years ago my family and I began our journey here in Taipei. We have enjoyed it so much that we anticipate being here for about another ten years before moving back to the USA. As you talk with expatriates who have lived in a variety of other countries, you will discover that a majority of expatriates prefer living in Taiwan over other countries they’ve lived in. There are numerous reasons why Taiwan is such a pleasant place for foreigners to live. Taiwanese people are usually very friendly towards foreigners, and you are likely to find a number of locals who speak at least some English. Other strengths that Taipei has to offer include an excellent transportation system, public safety, affordable and good quality medical care, reasonably priced dining and entertainment options, and a good variety of city, beach, and mountain experiences.
Moving to a new country brings about various stresses and strains, but can also lead to growth and happiness. As you adjust to life in Taiwan, you are likely to go through various phases of change until you feel adjusted and more comfortable living in this new country. These phases are often described as three different stages: the Honeymoon, the Slump, and Equilibrium. These stages can be summarized as follows:
During the Honeymoon stage, new experiences are fresh and exciting. A new land lies open before you, waiting to be discovered, a place where the people are intriguing and the sites are fascinating. However, after some time, one grows weary of all the newness and longs for the familiar. Your mind fills with unanswerable questions: “Why don’t people here do things like they do back home?” “Where can I find my favorite food?” In other words: “Why can’t things just be normal?” Welcome to the Slump stage of cross-cultural adjustment. During this phase expatriates may idealize their homeland, and find endless fault with their new land. During this period it can be helpful to share your negative feelings with supportive expatriates, especially those who have already navigated through the Slump. Remind yourself of the new people, places, foods and experiences that you do enjoy. Once you endure the Slump stage you will successfully pass through this period and into Equilibrium. This final stage is not paradise or bliss, but is a time of relative contentment, of feeling more at home. Taiwan is now familiar to you. You have found where you like to shop, how to procure or make your favorite foods, and you have supportive relationships with people here.
Smoothing the Transition
Clearly, every expatriate hopes to successfully navigate the first two stages and arrive in Equilibrium in a timely fashion. Certain things you do early on in your time here in Taiwan will help you transition through these stages and feel at home here. During the Honeymoon stage of cross-cultural adjustment, you often feel excited about new experiences. Do all that you can to take advantage of this stage and use the added energy that you feel to build supportive relationships that will carry you through the Slump.
Building new relationships in a foreign country can be challenging and often requires more effort than we experience in our home country. The best balance of friendships will include friends in three categories of people:
1) Local people (Taiwanese);
2) Compatriots from your home country, and
3) Fellow internationals from other countries.
Good candidates for local Taiwanese friends include neighbors, co-workers, and parents of your child’s friends. We foreigners greatly benefit from our local Taiwanese friends. These friends help us navigate the mysterious cross-cultural situations that we encounter, and help deepen our experience of Taiwanese culture. Second, making friends with people from our home country gives us the opportunity to interact with others who are going through similar cross-cultural adjustments, or have already navigated through them and reached Equilibrium. Building relationships with compatriots also provides us opportunities to continue celebrating our traditional holidays in a more festive atmosphere. Finally, our life is further enhanced by making friends with expatriates from other countries. These relationships can broaden our global horizons even more than foreign travel. During travel we have brief encounters with various people from countries we choose to visit. However, because Taipei attracts foreigners from many countries, we can take the time to develop in-depth relationships with people from countries we may never even visit. Think of your time in Taiwan as an opportunity to learn more about other people and their cultures and traditions, through your global friendships.
Getting Further Help
Many expatriates find that living cross-culturally brings to the surface emotional wounds that have not fully healed. They discover that the stress of cross-cultural living leaves them overwhelmed by issues that seemed more manageable in their home country. Such issues might be marriage/relationship tensions, depression, family-of-origin issues, anxiety, addictions, parenting challenges, substance abuse, etc. If you find yourself struggling with these or other concerns, please reach out for help from one of our caring professional counselors at the Community Services Center. While settling into Taiwan and this new culture, please connect with the services and activities offered at the Center. We hope that you will discover that we “strives to help you thrive.”
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