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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Taoyuan, Taiwan

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Expats in Taoyuan, Taiwan are treated to rich cultural experience. "Gentle spirited people" and crazy drivers are a few of the insights offered by this American expat in Taiwan.

What is the name of the city or town that you are reporting on?

Taoyuan

Did you receive any cross-cultural training for your move abroad? If yes, was it before or after the move?

No training, but I did some reading on the subject.

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If they speak another language in your new country, do you speak the language? If yes, did you learn the language before you moved or while abroad? If no, are you planning to learn the language?

I studied a little before I left, but I've learned the bulk of it--I'd say I'm at a low intermediate level--while abroad.

Were you worried or concerned about culture shock before you moved abroad?

I knew it was inevitable from the reading I had done, so I wasn't unduly concerned.

How significant was the culture shock you experienced when you moved abroad?

My own experience is that, while I did experience the various stages, none of the negative aspects overshadowed the positive aspects I've experienced since arriving seven years ago.

Expats often talk about going through the "stages of culture shock." Examples include the honeymoon phase, the irritation-to-anger stage, the rejection of the culture stage, and the cultural adjustment phase. Do you feel like you went through these or any other stages as you settled into the new culture?

I went through all the stages listed, and still do to varying degrees. My honeymoon phase was at least a couple of years ling. The irritation stage still comes and goes, but each occurance has been shorter, while the acceptance stage continues to lengthen. After five years I became a permanent resident, which helped the adjustment considerably.

What, if any, were some of the changes you noticed in yourself that might have been caused by culture shock? These might include things such as anger, depression, anxiety, increased eating or drinking, frustration, homesickness, etc.

Frustration, most definitely, usually because of language or traffic issues. I had a couple of bouts of weeks-long depression, but I think the winter weather was mostly to blame. Travel around Taiwan--even day trips--helps me gain renewed appreciation for my adoptive country.

What are some things you appreciate most about the new culture?

Gentle spirited people who are often willing to help me; extremely safe environment (safe from criminals, not traffic!); not a world power so I can watch what the major players--including my home country of the US--are doing, as an observer from far away.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

Although language continues to be a great challenge (Chinese is NOTHING like Germanic or Romance languages in any way), far more frustrating are the clueless, selfish, inconsiderate drivers who lack what I consider basic driving sense. After seven years it's still an almost daily source of irritation and frustration.

Did you "commit" any embarrassing or humorous cultural blunders? If you did and you'd like to share them, please do tell!

My first Chinese New Year I was invited to dinner at my local friend's house. I had been eating and drinking at a large table with the host's family and friends, when my friend suggested I go to a smaller, vegetarian table to meet one of his cousins who had been living in Australia. At that table the guests invited me to share in their vegetarian dishes. I took food from the communal bowls as is the custom in Chinese society. However, it wasn't until the next day that my friend informed me that I had used the same chopsticks as I had used at the non-vegetarian table, which I hadn't even considered. Although the guests were concerned enough to tell my friend about it, they didn't want me to lose face. I was pretty embarrassed nonetheless.

Do you have any advice or thoughts about culture shock you would like to share?

As my email signature says, "It's people who can make a friend, who have friends, who can do well overseas."  --Edward T. Hall

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