Taiwan is a land of opportunities for anybody looking to start a career in Asia. However, a much more proactive approach has to be taken in seeking out these opportunities, and – like most places in the world, particularly in Asia – heavy emphasis is put on who, not necessarily what you know. The decision for me to make the move after graduation to Taipei was an easy one: I had lived here previously as a scholarship student in 2012, where I made some lifelong friends (both foreign and Taiwanese) and fell in love with everything Taiwan had to offer.
Nonetheless, finding a degree-related career opportunity that was not related to teaching English was more difficult. Although, having a network of friends and contacts that were already in the workforce here, or had started their own businesses, really helped as they could introduce me to other potential contacts. In particular, I found regularly attending the various Chambers of Commerce’s networking functions to be very helpful in meeting a range of professionals across all industries and discussing my future ambitions and learning from their experience. Another good resource for finding internship and job opportunities and networking are online job hunting websites and expat community forums and blogs.
It was at one of these Chamber functions I was introduced by a good friend to Heidi Gallant, the Executive Director at the British Chamber of Commerce in Taipei, who offered me an internship position. While it was unpaid, the experience and contacts I made at the BCCT provided a crucial stepping stone from university graduation into the professional working world in Taipei. As I was working in the same building as the Australian Office, news about an internship position available at Austrade Taipei travelled fast, and I applied. Only recently have I discovered the value of knowing the right people and being in the right place at the right time, and having the opportunity to work at Austrade was a product of both. It was a fantastic experience working with such professionals in a truly international environment and at the forefront of promoting trade, investment and education between Australia and Taiwan, and gaining invaluable insights into the Australia-Taiwan commercial relationship.
It was, again, through a friend that I was introduced to Winkler Partners, a law firm that is a unique partnership between Taiwanese and American lawyers in Taipei that deals predominantly with trademark, patent and intellectual property law. I applied for a paralegal position that was advertised on their website, and have been here almost three months. Since my arrival, I have been working with the various legal teams on a range of interesting international and domestic legal matters ranging from intellectual property disputes to corporate formation and governance issues.
Although some might say that language ability is not necessary, I have found that it puts you at a distinct advantage over others in the job market. Whilst being able to say pleasantries and maintain basic conversation in Chinese is definitely helpful, the ability to communicate on a more sophisticated level opens more doors. At the BCCT, I had to make phone calls to overseas companies attempting to convince them of the benefits of overseas corporate membership and organise event sponsorship – in Chinese. At Austrade, I attended meetings and hosted events with businesspeople ranging from Australian entrepreneurs to Taiwanese government officials – in Chinese. At Winkler Partners, being able to understand Chinese allows me not only to communicate more efficiently with my colleagues, but also allows me to become more involved in their casework and understand our business and our client’s business on a deeper level. But gaining fluency is a long-term goal, and is something that needs to be consciously developed on a daily basis. On the other hand, doing too much may result in what I termed “Chinese Headaches”: the key is to find a balance between developing your language ability, whether that be from taking classes at a language school, language exchange programs, reading the local news, or even just chatting with friends, and keeping the interest in the language alive. If I were to offer one piece of advice, I would say that being able to communicate in Chinese orally is most important and as your speaking ability is often the first thing other people notice, it leaves a lasting impression on others.
Living and Working in Taipei
While the cost of living in Taiwan is generally very cheap (eating out three meals a day will most likely cost around AUD $15), the pay is also very low. A decent post-graduate wage for a Taiwanese local would be around NT $30,000 per month (approximately AUD $1,200), with rent being the biggest regular expense. Depending on proximity to the city center and MRT stops, renting a one bedroom apartment in Taipei City can cost upwards of NT $10,000 a month (approximately AUD $400). While this may sound cheap in Australian dollar terms, it must be remembered that wages are relatively low, utilities are expensive, and eating out is often cheaper than cooking. In addition, it is common practice for an intern in Taiwan to be unpaid and competition for good jobs to be fierce, which is a reflection of Taiwan having one of the highest percentages of universities per capita and university graduates. However, living in Taipei can be both affordable and of a high quality, provided you are willing to make concessions on your Australian standard of living. There are many international companies which have a presence in Taiwan and many Taiwanese companies which have an international outlook, however, due to visa and labor restrictions for foreigners working here, the majority of foreigners in Taiwan are here teaching English. These issues present the main obstacles facing foreigners looking to find long-term professional work in Taiwan; however with persistence (and a lot of patience) they can be overcome.
With working overtime and on weekend (“加班”) common practice in many businesses, working hours tend to be longer in Taiwan than Australia. A typical working day is generally from 9am to 6.30pm, but varies greatly depending on the industry, work culture and employee/employer relationship. As a foreigner, my experience might be vastly different from that of a local, but I have found that generally interns are treated well by colleagues and clients and their work is appreciated; however, the level of strict supervision and training is low compared with Australia. Work in Taiwan is far more collaborative and team-orientated than in Australia, with greater emphasis on working together and effectively as a team rather than showing individual excellence.
I have immensely enjoyed my time so far working in Taipei: I am continuing to learn more about business practice in Taiwan, including my own interests and abilities, and I am enjoying being able to apply my legal knowledge and skills from university and previous work experience in Australia in a practical context at Winkler Partners. I plan to stay in Taiwan long-term and look forward to continue developing my professional skills, Chinese language ability, and expanding my professional network.
- Be actively involved in any Chamber of Commerce, regularly attend their social and networking events, and meet contacts. Don’t forget to take plenty of business cards!
- Be enthusiastic and positive: while not everyone will share your optimism about starting a career immediately overseas, those that do will remember you and will want to help.
- Take an interest in local and current social, political, economic issues – while a detailed understanding is not necessary, being able to share your thoughts with other professionals shows you’re engaged with the place you’re living.
- Be flexible in terms of adapting to different work environments, work culture and work-life balance.
- Be proactive in seeking out opportunities and getting involved – this is not seen as being “too keen” in Taiwan, but shows you have an interest in learning from the experience of others.
- Always ask to tag along to any meetings, conferences, luncheons and events – you will always meet someone interesting or learn something new. Being seen regularly at these types of functions (especially as a young person), makes you stand out.
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- Insights from a Foreign Intern in Taiwan: Jack Fisher - May 4, 2015