Meet Audra, Texan Expat Living & Working in Chiayi, Taiwan

Published: 24 May at 9 AM
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Filed: Interviews,Taiwan
Audra is an expat from Texas currently living and working in Chiayi, Taiwan. She teaches English to fourth-graders in an English and Character camp. Audra’s interest in Asia goes way back, and it’s been her dream to live overseas forever. Now, she’s living her dream, and after she completes her BA in Texas, she’ll be back in Asia for (hopefully) the rest of her life. Audra loves reading about Asian culture, studying Chinese, writing, eating a lot of food, and avoiding the Taiwanese humidity in giant shopping malls. Audra's expat blog is called The Flying Armchair (see listing here)

Meet Audra - Texan expat in Taiwan
Meet Audra - Texan expat in Taiwan

Here's the interview with Audra...

Where are you originally from?
I am originally from the North Texas area – hot, long summers with no rain and an excess of A/C.

In which country and city are you living now?
Now I live in Chiayi, Taiwan – more heat, more humidity, more rain, less A/C. I frequently fear drowning in my own sweat.

How long have you lived here and how long are you planning to stay?
I moved here for a gap year in August 2012, and will return home in July.

Why did you move and what do you do?
I’ve had wanderlust for years, and Asia has always been Number 1 on my list of places to go, so when I had the opportunity, I jumped on it. I teach English right now in a Character and English camp, and the experience has been incredible.

Did you bring family with you?
No family, but my best friend did come with me. She’s pretty much family.

A rainy view from the bus station
A rainy view from the bus station
How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
Extraordinarily easy, actually. That may be due in part to my Asian obsession going back several years – I was familiar with the culture through media, loved the food, and had studied Japanese and Chinese a little on my own. It has also helped being on a team of four Americans. It probably would have been a lot more difficult if I was alone.

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
Yes and no. As I said, I’m on a team with three other Americans, and one of them is my best friend. I work with them, so I see them a lot, and when we go out, it’s often me and my friend or all four of us. On the other hand, our co-workers almost all speak fairly good English, and we go out with them a lot. They’ve been really helpful in taking us places and seeing all the good tourist sights. But it’s been hard to make friends outside of work. We don’t have much time to just wander in town, so, thus far, I haven’t made any friends not connected to work yet.

What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
Being in Chiayi, Ali mountain (Alishan) comes to mind first. It’s a very popular tourist attraction, and the hiking is gorgeous. We took a tour bus up and stayed in a bed and breakfast so we could be up for the sunrise. The owners have a tea farm, so we were able to wander around the plants and see how tea is made. The scenery was breath-taking, the food was amazing; all around a great place to visit.

A gorgeous morning on Alishan
A gorgeous morning on Alishan
What do you enjoy most about living here?
I enjoy the fact that it’s a different culture to America. I feel much more at home here, and I think the culture fits me better than America. The people are so friendly and fun, and I love the un-pretentiousness of life here in Chiayi. Not to mention some seriously good shopping. The work is amazing too - teaching these kids is a joy.

How does the cost of living compare to home?
Much cheaper here. That’s to be expected, but honestly, it’s shocking. Although now I get sticker shock looking at American websites. Some things are comparable to Western prices - especially coffee and American chain restaurants. Starbucks and McDonald’s are about the same price as home. But otherwise, expect to spend much less on food, travel, and housing.

What negatives, if any, are there to living here?
If you don’t speak or read Chinese, it can be daunting to go exploring. Since you have no way of saying street names, you can get lost easily, and shops that aren’t well advertised go unnoticed. Making friends is a plus since they can take you places, but unless you do, you’re going to be living in a very small sphere of existence.

Where are we? School!
Where are we? School!
If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving here, what would it be?
Be prepared to be stared at. That was the most noticeable thing that no one told me about before moving here. If you aren’t Asian, you will get lots and LOTS of stares, murmurs, even the occasional “Hello!” Just deal with it, don’t be rude, and move on.

What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
Not being able to read Chinese. This keeps me from knowing what a lot of stuff is in grocery stores, going to many of the restaurants, exploring more, and by extension, making more friends.

When you finally return home, how do you think you'll cope with repatriation?
This is worrisome, actually. I love it here in Taiwan, and while I’ll be grateful for some of the conveniences in America, I’ll miss not being judged for how I dress, I’ll miss my co-workers, I’ll miss the lack of blatant materialism, the amazing drinks here, the food, the public transport, and the total exposure to the Chinese language. Not to mention the kids I’ve taught. I’m really going to miss my kids.

Spring in Chiayi is beautiful!
Spring in Chiayi is beautiful!
What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
  1. Watch your behavior. If you’re a Westerner, you’ll be highly visible, so anything you do, down to the smallest detail, could influence how someone views all Western culture.
  2. Be prepared for some funky food and smells. Get over your germ-ophobia, if you have it, because a lot of the best food comes from trucks on the side of the road.
  3. Pack clothes you don’t mind ruining. Unless you need a bunch of corporate suits, you’ll want light, sturdy clothes you can sweat in and wash a lot. There are few dryers here, which can result in stretched out or distorted clothing.
  4. Bring medicine, deodorant, tampons, and hand sanitizer. Haven’t seen any sanitizer here, and they don’t sell Ibuprofen, so stock up on pain pills.
  5. Try the milk tea! Most people would probably do this anyway, but seriously- it’s the best. I’ve heard many travelers say that out of all East Asia, Taiwan has the best drink stands.

Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
The Flying Armchair chronicles my life in Taiwan, along with some motivation for living the dream life. Even after I return home, I’m sure my time here in Chiayi will influence how I react to living in Texas again. Right now, you can expect to see pictures of interesting places or times in Taiwan, thoughts on being an ESL Teacher, notes about Asian culture, and motivational posts.

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
The best way is via my blog. Or you can follow me on Twitter @OtterMei, to ask me anything you want to know.

Audra blogs at which we recommend a quick visit if you haven't been already. The Flying Armchair has an listing here so add a review if you like! If you appreciated this interview with Audra, please also drop her a quick comment below.
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