When I was younger, I dreamed of leaving my hometown and moving to the nearest big city: Chicago. Every time I took a family day trip or long weekend to Chicago, it seemed like such a distant land. The people, the architecture, the activities, the food, the flow, everything was different than our Chicago suburb. 

I had always longed for that life. And I got that life. In college, I moved to the city and loved every bit of it. I didn’t think life could get much better than living in Chicago. 

Then, I did a summer semester abroad. Chicago, the place I had initially thought to be giant, started to feel a great deal smaller compared to the possibilities of the wider world. That opened up a desire in me to explore more. In the summer of 2012, a year after I graduated from college, my (now) husband and I packed our bags and headed for a year abroad in Taiwan. One year has become nine years and this time has changed my life significantly. 

The vast majority of this change has undoubtedly improved my quality of life in some very impactful ways.

I have learned a new language

When my husband and I first moved to Taipei, we were fortunate to have many local English speakers that helped us with getting settled into this Mandarin-speaking land. As grateful as I was for the generosity of these people, I knew I needed to learn the language. 

Having the ability to practice a language while immersed in that culture is most ideal, however not always as easy as you may think. My first year and a half of learning left me with about enough to order food and give cab drivers directions. Living in Taipei is surprisingly easy to do with little to no Chinese ability. 

Thankfully I was able to find a job that allowed me to use Chinese daily, which has helped my ability considerably – and it’s something I continue to improve to this day. 

Learning Chinese has given me a new perspective and understanding about the culture, and continues to give me more independence to problem-solve without relying on translators. Achieving this independence makes it even easier to set up long-term here.

I have had the chance to explore the world

As someone who has chosen to live abroad, traveling is obviously important to me. However, the transportation part of traveling is my nightmare. Transportation hubs are typically crowded and give me anxiety, and sitting on a crowded bus or stuffy plane makes me sick and I have to make an effort to sleep it off (though not always successfully). 

BUT, I will gladly endure my personal transportation hardships over and over again for the invigorating feeling of travel. The sensory overload of experiencing and exploring new places makes me feel alive and restores that child-like wonder – both feelings which often too easily fade away in our daily routines.

Living in Taiwan for 9 years and counting has granted my husband and I the ability to visit 9 countries together so far. Taiwan’s proximity to other Asian countries makes for pretty convenient and cheap travel. On multiple occasions I flew to neighboring countries for short three to four day holidays. My lifestyle here has also given me the ability to make trips back home most years, which is extremely important. The most exciting parts of the year are planning for the trips I will take next. 

Traveling is a natural part of life for most expats, and it’s friggin incredible.

Living abroad, your friends become your family.

I have a diverse group of lifelong friends

While traveling, I have met people from absolutely everywhere. I have listened to their stories, had drinks, chatted about life and places I have been, recommended places to go next and advice for what to do and not do while travelling, and even exchanged Facebook info to keep up with one another’s travels.

These experiences are special and have stuck with me. Living abroad, these people become your family. They have to. You can’t make a quick trip home for every holiday. You instead spend your holidays with these friends-turned-family (I call mine Friendmily). 

I spend weekend after weekend with my Friendmily. We feel homesick together and tell stories of our families. We get the same holidays off and go explore Taiwan and neighboring countries together. We vent about things here we can’t seem to get used to and tell stories about the things we love about living here. We talk about future dreams together – sometimes our own and sometimes involving each other. The connections we have built here are lifelong. 

Travel and living as an expat will inevitably change your life and perspectives, and people that haven’t had similar experiences may not understand. When I make trips back home, there are people that are curious and ask lots of questions and want to hear about the weird life I have. I love that, obviously, but there are also many that don’t know where to start and would rather just not inquire. It’s not their fault at all and it never upsets me; the experiences are just simply unrelatable. 

Simply put, my appreciation for my expat friends is so great because they have had as much life experience and therefore, naturally, make me feel more normal.

I have saved money

My husband and I left college with a collective debt of US$150,000. I was mortified. We planned for a year abroad to escape the reality of immediately finding a high paying job to cover these costs, and instead distract ourselves by moving halfway across the world to immerse ourselves in a culture very, very different from our own. 

A little intense, right? 

But, to our great fortune and gratitude, that decision has worked wonders for us. We were able to pay off our student loans in less than half of the projected payoff time! That was a HUGE deal to us. To be honest, life wasn’t always the easiest or happiest during that time; I cried on numerous occasions watching a majority of my money going straight to a big, private bank. We had a couple of years of pinching pennies, and we took jobs we weren’t thrilled about yet granted us real earning potential. 

However, life would have been at least the same (and more likely worse) back home. Maybe I could have found a high paying job, but I would also have had to worry about car payments, car insurance, high rent, maybe a mortgage, credit card debt, the high cost of living back home, and more. 

Instead, I didn’t have to worry about any of that – only loans. And I got to travel multiple times a year, including visiting home almost annually, and besides those couple of rough years, live a very comfortable life. After I paid off my loans, I began to immediately save and invest some of my income that had previously been devoted to paying down debt. 

I often dream about how much money I could have saved if my debt had been way lighter or even nonexistent – I’d be living like royalty here.

I have learned to critically examine my own culture

When you grow up in one country and are surrounded by people who basically all agree on the way society should flow and work together, it’s natural to believe those ways are the “right” ways. 

It wasn’t until I started traveling, and especially living abroad, that I began to really see how other cultures could operate smoothly in completely different ways than my own. 

My culture’s ways aren’t the “right” ways. There are so many ways. I can’t say what’s right and what’s wrong because each culture has a very long and complex history behind why their culture runs and operates the way it does. 

I can use the observations and experiences I’ve had to form my own opinions of what I think works and doesn’t, but I don’t think I’m right by any means. I’m grateful that I’ve been able to see different ways that cultures can work and question my own. Stepping out of my own culture has helped me understand my own more, as well other cultures.

I have stopped worrying about what society expects of me

Growing up in the States, there is a lot of implicit pressure to be a “responsible adult”. To fit this bill you should get a college degree, find a decent paying job, buy a car, buy a house, have a family, and if you want to do it the “most responsibly,” you should do it in that order. 

A lot of the world is pretty much the same. Here in Taiwan, a college degree is even more of an expectation than it is back home, owning things like houses and cars is a little less of an expectation, but having a family is just as important. 

These expectations may sound normal, but this laundry list is not always easily attainable or desirable. To go against the grain of society can be stressful and will lead you to repeated and uncomfortable conversations. 

However, as an expat, these expectations vanish! Sure, you might still have to find ways to answer these very private life questions from time to time with family back home (as soon as I got married, the baby questions came pouring in like a crowd of unruly customers at a Black Friday sale), but living the expat life has shown me that I don’t have the same set of rules to follow. 

We expats have the freedom to move through life at our own pace and take our time to think about whether or not we actually want to check off these boxes we see so many others preoccupied with. The expat community has never made me feel inadequate because I haven’t met all of the expectations that I “should have” by now. And I may never get to some of them, but I will live a very fulfilling life. 

I have so far!

Mmmm … noodles.


I love food, so so so much. I think most people who love traveling also love food. Food shows you the soul of a place and its culture. Beyond the beautiful sights, food is a main reason why I am most excited to travel. 

Asia is a fun continent to experience food on. Seeing all the food stands at street level and the different ways food is handled, consumed, experienced – in the tiniest of alleyways, on the tiniest of carts, sitting at the tiniest tables and child-sized plastic stools, this is where you will find the best food. 

And for SO cheap! Every time I travel through Southeast Asia I am constantly doing math to convert to how much this meal and beer would be in USD. Very rarely does it exceed $5, for both the food and drink combined. 

The meals are also typically not the same portion size as back home in the States (for which my waistline is extremely thankful), so you can try multiple things from different stalls, almost like the most delicious buffet you’ve ever experienced. 

Everything is piping hot and fresh, and accompanied by an icy cold beverage, it forces you to slow down because you don’t want to consume anything too quickly. 

Food while traveling is an eye-opening and joyful experience.

As you may have gathered, I love my life abroad. I appreciate all of the beautiful things I have gained. 

True, I miss my family a great deal, which is undeniably the hardest part for me. But when I get to visit them every or every other year (thanks Covid), time seems to slow down in our moments together. 

I am very happy with the life my husband and I have been able to build here in Taiwan. The places I have seen, the people I have met, the things I have accomplished, and the experiences I have had have given me a rewarding life, and will continue to for years to come.


Teacher in Taipei

Shay is from Chicago and has been living in Taiwan since 2012 with her husband. She loves the opportunities for travel, nature adventures and many other freedoms that living abroad offers.