This article was written during my last year of graduate studies in 2017. I was working part-time as an English teacher and using that money to finance my schooling, daily expenses and to pay off a loan incurred for the same reason. The plan was to go back home right after I finished my studies, you know, to apply what I had learned and make my country a better place with my newly-found knowledge. Little did I know I would be staying on for a few more years, and then some.
The cliche foreigner. You know, the ones that graduate from a Taiwanese university and stay on to teach English well, because, speaking from an honest point of view, the money is better than what one would make if we returned “home”. The truth of the matter is that there are several factors why many foreigners, like me, do not go back to their countries right after graduating. I decided to write about the few that hit close to home:
Fear of Becoming Dependent.
Have you ever seen that meme that says, "Once I started spending my own money, I realized my mom was right, there is food at home" As is the case with most Belizeans who come to Taiwan on a scholarship, there is no other income apart from the stipend received every month. There is no Mom and Pop's credit card to rely on, there is no savings in the bank, there is only that USD400 and that better give for all we need (and want) during the time ahead until the next "payday" comes along.
Living far away from family and friends, we have to quickly adjust to becoming a self-reliant person. Whether we come to study as a teenager or an adult, we still have to do everything on our own: cooking, shopping, cleaning, laundry, registering for school – you name it. Most of us come with a full scholarship and receive little to no financial support from our families back home. Even if our parents offer assistance, we understand the many bills that they already had even before we left our countries, so we tend to refrain from asking for help. Therefore, we have to learn to budget our monthly allowances and prioritize our money if we want to ensure that we have food until the very day our next stipend comes into our bank accounts again.
Let me tell you, in the beginning, this is terribly difficult. At least for me it was. Before coming to Taiwan, I was used to spending money as soon as I got it. This was so because I never paid attention to where my mom would get money to give me to go to school, I just knew that when I needed more money, my mom would get it for me. I clearly remember when I arrived in Taiwan on August 29th, 2012, we were given two month’s stipend – August’s and September’s. I also came with a little extra money which I had saved from work. With USD800, September went by smoothly! The idea of living in a technologically advanced country plays with our desires of going with the trend, so we go ahead and buy laptops and cellphones as if our little savings could magically still exist after those large expenses. Guilty as charged. The joke was when October rolled in and I received that stipend. On the second day of October, after I went to the supermarket to buy groceries and other home supplies and then went to IKEA to buy my mattress and bed fittings, I was completely and utterly broke. I had 29 days to go and no money to spend whatsoever. That’s when I learnt my lesson. Save Yuh Money!
So after learning a bit about living alone and tightening the belt, there is that dark thought in the back of our minds: "What if we go back to nothing?"
Fear of remaining Jobless.
Some graduates go back and stay. Belize is happy for that. I know many that did. I even tried it myself. In 2017, I returned to Belize. I got to attend my daughter's primary school graduation and I started to find available jobs. I figured that with my little teaching experience and my Master's degree, I could continue by teaching at a high school in my hometown. It was not my dream job of becoming an ambassador, but you know, a job is a job they say. I didn't inform my friends that I had returned home for fear that they would want to meet up for a dinner or God forbid, some other more expensive activity that I could not afford. During that one month's stay, I felt so bad that my mother spent her hard earned money to give me all the food she felt I had missed during the years I was away from home. I think I drained her savings that summer. Imagine spending more time staying with your family while in search of a job. I couldn't do it. I then decided that I would come back to Taiwan and apply for jobs rather than stay home broke and be jobless for God knows how long.
And some reading this blog may have no idea how in small population societies, it is even harder to get a job. Talking about job vacancies in developing countries is like counting the number of friends that still remain after being away for four or more years, few and far between. It probably really comes down to connections. The number of connections I have in government offices and other companies/organizations does not even exist in one hand. I do know many people whom I used to work with or be acquaintances with along the journey of life, but to say that I will ask them for a favor to “hook me up” with a job or “put in a word” with their boss. Nuh-uh. So unlike me. I’ve always believed that one should earn one’s position in whatever field we want to work in. The optimist in me says someone will take one look at my credentials and not even hesitate to hire me. They will surely see that I am more than capable of achieving great things in life because of my past achievements. For sure they will see that I will give my all to their company because I am hard-working, work well under pressure, have all the necessary emotional intelligence abilities they require, bla bla bla. Such a fool, the pessimist in me says. “No connections, no money” Period. There is a constant battle between the little angel and devil sitting on each shoulder.
I wasn't the only one this happened to. One of my seniors went home and tried to re-adjust to the working environment. that person came back to Taiwan after only six months of being back home. Another acquaintance also had trouble putting her diploma to work and had to settle working in another field just to make ends meet. Talk about professionals putting a pause on their dreams and knowledge due to a lack of employment opportunities in their chosen fields of study. I am not trying to sound like there are no opportunities in Belize. There are. You just have to have a LOT of patience and be willing to leech off your family and live fully aware that 1. You will be considered as "over-qualified" thus paid less than you deserve and 2. Your experience will count for nothing and you might have to start with a beginner's salary, just like that of a Associate degree graduate. I only speak my truth. You may get lucky and be offered your dream job without connections. Whoah! If you do, please come back to this blog and share the joy with me. I promise to be just a tid bit envious but mostly happy for you.
"So why don't you become an entrepreneur?" you may say. Give me some time to build my savings and we can come back to this topic.
We get to travel
Taiwan is a beautiful, small island full of possibilities, any day. You don't even have to travel long distances to find a nice, quiet café, or a recreation center, a gym, some scenic spots, hiking trails, you name it. I used to walk 5 minutes from my Uni's dorm and there was a hiking trail, full of fresh air, well-worn paths and spiders. Taipei is a very convenient city with lots to do and ease of getting there, you can take the MRT, buses, ride public bikes called Ubikes, or even walk the distance. Once you get out of the city, maybe the timing between trains and buses gets farther in between but there are still ways of getting to where you want to go. There are iRent cars, Ubers, Taxis, special buses. It is possible. If you want to go a little farther, traveling to nearby countries is also easier to do. Remember I just told you we learned to budget? That is where the traveling money comes from. Now you get it? Also, foreign students are allowed to work in Taiwan with their Bachelor's degree. So there's that extra cash apart from the monthly USD400.
We probably can travel the same way in Central America, but talk to any Belizean both home and abroad. Few even come across the idea. I guess its something about living abroad that sparks those travel ideologies within.
I get to appreciate a different culture
I am for the most part, a Latina. I look the part, think the part, speak the part, hey even dance the part. I embrace who I was born to be. In Taiwan, I can be totally myself, no judgement. Even if they do talk about me, my Chinese is too poor to understand and take it to heart. It's not that poor to not be able to communicate with others about you know, my age, where I come from, why did I come here, why I haven't left. You will laugh at me but I used to think, "I wonder what goes on in their minds. What kinds of unworldly things do they talk about?, what kinds of thoughts or conversations make them laugh?" I guess I really thought they were some otherworldly beings. Once I got the hang of Basic Mandarin, I realized, hey they are JUST LIKE ME! Why do we think people that speak other languages and live oceans apart have a different kind of life?
We do have a totally different history, that we can come to appreciate. With history come customs and habits. We Latinos eat corn because, Mayas. They eat noodles and rice because..ok I haven't really read their history. But, to live among them is very wonderful everyday, in the whole sense of that word. I keep being amazed at how little I know of life, of human thought. I am blessed to live among them, even if its for the time being.
Some day I might decide that it is time to leave. I cannot say it will be to go back home. This experience has taught me to live outside my little bubble. When I once thought I would never live outside my beautiful Belize, here I am. When I would think, I will never live in an island for fear of dying during a Tsunami, here I am. Only God knows what my future holds. Maybe I do get that dream job of becoming an Ambassador of Belize to be able to represent my country's goods and services, cultures and customs and have the power to make it a better place for my fellow Belizeans.
You never know.