The Issue of Social Class Among Foreign English Teachers

One of the most sensitive issues about foreign teachers is the problem of social class. Social class is one of the key concepts of Sociology, and as such its nature is hotly debated. In the West, it is common to see social class discussed in terms of income and education, but as I will elaborate on later, such definitions are of limited value to the discussion of social class among foreign residents in Taiwan.

In the past, Michael Turton and I discussed the problem of income and employment status among foreigners in Taiwan. I continue to maintain that many foreign English have disposable incomes higher than many expat workers. In fact, I maintain that the fixation on expat’s income rather than other salient factors is itself a reflection of the belief that social class must follow income, at least roughly.

But what is a social class? What does social class do for you? A complete answer to these questions is far beyond anything I can discuss here, but an answer is in part called for. Some theorists have talked about social class as a kind of capital. With this symbolic capital, aspects of society can be accessed for personal use. Others have talked about the role of language and education in the accumulation of this symbolic capital; still others discuss the role that symbolic capital can be used to protect oneself from stigma. The point is, however, that social class gets you ‘stuff’. Whether this ‘stuff’ is protection, resources, or the right to be listened to, class is a major ingredient in the social equations that defines what kind of life is possible for you.

In the Taiwan foreign community, however, the ability to get ‘stuff’ is fundamentally grounded in relationships other than just income and education. Certainly income is important, but given the lack of access to political rights, pensions, proper labor representation, as well as other significant forms of legal representation, the ability to ‘get stuff done’ is facilitated by personal characteristics that go beyond just income or education.

One working model that I often describe divides foreign residents into 3 social classes based on their connectedness with production in core regions of the world. What I mean by the core is those places in the world where political, economic, and military decisions are made. Primarily this refers to the USA, Europe, and Japan. It also includes to some degree Australia and New Zealand. Some foreign workers in Taiwan come here with the authourity of political, economic, or military organizations from this region. Others work here on different terms. It is this that divides foreign workers in Taiwan into social classes.

The Lower Class – Culture Workers

The lowest class of foreign residents are the largest and includes those of us who work in the culture industry. This includes primarily language teachers, but also many translators and proofreaders. It would also include entertainers who exploit their ethnicity as professional speakers of Mandarin and other such workers in the entertainment industry. Income in the culture industry can be very high, as the numbers cited in this post indicate. It is possible for top teachers to make very high incomes for long periods of time. Opening one’s own language school has little affect on social status, but if successful can be extremely lucrative.

Culture workers are employed in a workplace that is socially isolated from production almost anywhere else in the work. Work experience is entirely defined locally. While I can move almost effortlessly to within geographical East Asia, this is because Korea, Japan, and Thailand share this culture industry. There is virtually nowhere in the world outside this region of East Asia that recognizes work experience here as meaningful. No amount of work experience is meaningful in the language markets of North America and Europe without appropriate educational qualifications. In fact, I have read posts on Dave’s ESL Cafe that teaching experience at the university level in East Asia has only limited value in other markets, such as the Middle East for otherwise qualified indivuals.

The Middle Class

The middle class is the most intriguing to me. Perhaps this is because it is the closest and most accessible to me socially. But I also find it intriguing because it is relatively new. The middle class is composed of workers whose jobs are accumulating merit that is transferable to a workplace in a core nation. It is a diverse group that includes local hire managers, foreign owners and managers of small businesses. It even includes people who might otherwise be culture workers but have been given useful labels by powerful organizations, such as English newspaper editors, proofreaders for government organizations, and in-house translators for large business or political groups.

A large middle class of foreigners is a new phenomena for Taiwan. Its true there used to be a large but transient middle class back in the heyday of foreign electronics companies and military presence. This is different from what I refer to now. The middle class now is composed of permanent residents, many of whom are married and have children. They are heavily integrated into Taiwanese society, speaking Mandarin, and sending their children to local schools. Their life style, whether they like it or not, is preparing their children for another generation of life in Taiwan.

This class began to expand rapidly around the turn of the century. When I came here in 1996, there was virtually no one other than culture workers and the elite workers I will discuss next. Now it is not unusual at all to meet foreign workers who are neither elite corporate power brokers nor English teachers, but rather work primarily in a professional capacity as researchers, writers, or editors in well-capitalized organizations.

One of the defining characteristics of middle class employment is a lack of any true decision making authourity. For example, a researcher with a politically-aligned research group once told me he would not allow himself to be quoted by journalists. As he related to me, he can not even put his name on documents from his group. It is not clear what his actual function within the group is, but it is clear he has no authourity or ability to represent the group in any capacity.

One of the more interesting aspects of the middle class is mobility within the class. The middle class can be stratified into at least an upper and a lower strata. For example, the researcher that I described above might fall into the upper strata whereas a government-sponsored editor would be a lower middle class worker. Given the lack of formal communication regarding employment opportunity that defines professional life for Taiwan foreigners, personal networks are extremely important. Joining groups that create such contacts is extremely important to ‘hearing about things.’  Members of the middle class that I have spoken to have described sports team, pubs, and even the Sunday brunch at Carnegie’s as significant places to make these contacts. I would include in this category Jerome Keating’s Breakfast Club that I attend along with Michael Turton and many other members of Taiwan’s blogging community.

The Upper Class

I have very little knowledge about what happens here. My interactions with this class are limited primarily to contacts from days when I played rugby union. Members of the upper class are primarily people sent here by their companies, governments, or organizations to solve particular problems. They are decision makers and have the power to speak on behalf of their group. In the past, when illustrating this class, I have described diplomats, expat business hires, and consultants. A Taiwanese friend told me that he would also include missionaries, but he meant those from the major denominations, such as the Presbyterians or Roman Catholics.

It is significant to note that not all business people in Taiwan are necessarily members of the upper class. For example, I have met representatives of the government food marketing boards. They did not have especially influential lives here, nor did they have a material life much greater than mine. They are not members of the upper class because they have no decision making authourity.

What I Would Like to Know

As I pointed out in my post on the family life of foreign English teachers, there are many ways in which social status affects our lives here. I would like to know more about these.

Many of the questions I have about the class structure of foreigners here concern mobility within and between classes. How much mobility is there? How are mobile people aware of the change in their class status? What are the conditions that make mobility possible?

One of the main aspects of life in Taiwan is entrepreneurship. How is this involved in the lives of foreign teachers and their place in the class structure? Am I correct that entrepreneurial English teachers are still part of the culture industry no matter what their income? Is it necessary to expand outside of the recognized culture industries to gain legitimate status as a businessman? If this is true, it might explain the expansion of foreigners into operating restaurants and bars, which, while ethnic, are not defined as the traditional scope of the culture industry.



I always felt that the class system in Taiwan didn’t apply to me. I’ve consistently made more money than middle class and even upper middle class Taiwanese, and yet, being a foreigner, I’d be viewed as being on the outside. I pay only 20k a month in rent to live in a gated community with grass, trees, flowers and walkways, outside Taipei, but my father-in-law thinks we’re “putting on airs” by choosing to live there. ~shrug~ I’ll chew a betelnut with my mechanic while discussing car repairs, and he doesn’t bat an eye, but I’m sure he doesn’t think of me as a “xiongdi” I’m an outsider with every social class I encounter.

As far as social mobility goes, I think assimilation is the key here. Speaking Mandarin, being married to a Taiwanese woman, and owning a local business have opened a lot of doors for me.

My point was that social class can not be found in income. Social class is linked to income in Western states for historical and social reasons. As I pointed out, there are many English teachers, and particularly school owners, who have much higher incomes than other individuals who I have described as ‘middle’ or ‘upper’ class.

While issues related to integration may be important for the mobility of some culture workers, I think they miss the point that ‘class‘ as I discussed is related to one’s ability to function in core nations and economies. No amount of integration is going to affect this without appropriate occupational or organizational affiliation.

But perhaps we should discard the labels of ‘upper class‘ and ‘lower class‘ and just think about getting ‘stuff’ done. The chief engineer on a subway line who could speak no Mandarin, has no knowledge of Taiwan, yet has lived here for almost a decade has the home phone number of the mayor of Taipei and probably the police chief. His income may be high, but it is irrelevant. Whatever he needs done gets done.

Getting my head around your attempt Scott at the minimal definition, “getting things done” is not easy. I like the attempt, but it its simplification loses as much as it gains.

In Taiwan maybe “getting things done” means the ability to get put in the front of a waiting line for surgery, or getting a meeting lined up to get your child into a preferred school. Things like that seem to take up all the time of my colleagues. Children do seem to require lots of guanxi applied on their behalf (as Maoman is about to find out–congratulations BTW).

In other words, lots of the get stuff done I see is related to family, and social things and I don’t know many foreigners with children trying to get deep social stuff done.

An important part of getting into the inside of a social group, related to what Maoman was saying, is to have something others need. This leads to people expending some of their guanxi capital on you and bringing you into their group. Again, I don’t know many foreigners in such a position, as those I do know seem quite satisfied with their “high” income and don’t aspire to obtaining such things.

Let me sum it up this way: How many foreigners are working hard to get their children into Tai Da? How many have done it before? If your answer is, “Who cares” then you are detached from the local class structure. This is somewhat self chosen and a consequence of the difficulty of getting in.

What interests me most about this post is the complexity added by the global context – the same thing applying to other migrant communities. What does it mean that a Russian chemist worked as my moving man in NY? Surely migration had lowered his class status, but his tremendous cultural capital also made it unlikely that his children would also be doing physical labor.
This ties in with Scott’s question about class mobility, but Scott’s discussion adds another dimension of complexity by bringing up the issue of Taiwanese class identities and how these articulate with the professions foreigners find themselves in.

That Scott works at a university makes his local status very different than if he worked in a buxiban. But what is so complex is that Taiwanese attitudes are shifting. The rise of numerous universities has served to devalue this position at just the same time that so many more foreigners are entering into the university system. I suspect that owning one’s own chain of Buxiban would be a far more prestigious position these days. (Although being a professor at Harvard or Yale is still more prestigious…)

But such status questions only partially map onto the issue of control (“getting things done”) which Scott also discusses. While some foreigners may work their way up from teaching in a Buxiban to owning one, I suspect (and Scott seems to suggest the same) that most of those who do so come from wealthy families abroad and are therefore able to mobilize that capital once they decide to invest in Taiwan. (Wealth tracks onto class much better than income.)

Clyde, I agree that much of what I mean by ‘getting things done’ is taken up in guanxi. I do not agree that this is necessarily related to integration into Taiwanese society, although it may be by some. The example of the subway chief engineer that I gave is a real one, and I could give many more. In fact, most of the highly placed expatriat managers that I know have so little working knowledge of Taiwan that it’s ridiculous. There social power comes from their affiliation with organizations, companies, and governments. It is very rarely related only to wealth.

I think I should say more about this issue of integration. There are large numbers of foreign residents who are highly integrated into Taiwan society in the sense that they are fluent speakers of Mandarin, have a local spouse, and have children attending local schools. These characteristics in no sense affect their social status. Why would they? There are working class Taiwanese with the same set of characteristics, why couldn’t there be working class foreign residents? The only differences would be that foreign residents whose social influence would be described as working class would also lack political rights and job protection afforded Taiwanese.

Kerim, I agree that this situation is similar to the situation of other migrant groups. The exception would be the point I raised above. It is possible for migrants in the USA to raise their social status through integration because integration includes all the legal rights of the native-born. Maoman’s conception of integrated mobility of integration makes this sort of mobility impossible.

Ask your spouse what class she feels she’s in, and if that changed when she got married to a foreigner.

It was interesting to hear my wife’s take on the subject. She felt that she was viewed as being a member of the middle class before she met me, but now Taiwanese people view her differently.

She feels that in their eyes she now occupies that rarified strata belonging to returned overseas students and other “international” class Taiwanese.

“International” class Taiwanese have the cachet of actual physical mobility. They can move to greener pastures anytime they have to/want to.

She also believes that most Taiwanese (but not she) associate class with financial success far above and beyond the association we have between the two in the west. Cultural capital, political capital, are all very nice, but money rules supreme.

The issue of class has been developed to describe relationships between people in Western society. Discussions of class in Asia that I have read are very poorly conceived. For example, studies done in Japan in the Japanese language find that almost everyone describes themselves as ‘middle class‘, including factory workers on assembly lines. But all of this is based on translations of terms that have no real historical meaning to Japanese. I judge almost all of this work to be meaningless.

The same is true for the Taiwan situation. It is not clear at all what ‘middle-class‘ means to Taiwanese, since there has never been a worker’s movement here. I’m not saying there isn’t status stratified relationships between different groups of Taiwanese, but this would have to be based on a different collection of concepts than Western historical tradition.

It is this point I hoped to make in my original post. Foreign residents in Taiwan are not stratified by their incomes, although there may be income differences. My perception is that neither Taiwanese nor foreign residents have much difficulty understanding who is where in the world of status. English teachers are English teachers and that’s that. Teachers at TAS or senior engineers on train projects are who they are, and no one has to ask how much money they make. Nor does it matter how well they speak Mandarin or how much they know about Taiwanese or Chinese history.

A point I have made in other posts is that even for Taiwanese people, the concept of an English teacher (as distinguished from public school teachers who teach English)is not substantially different from trade-based professions. Buxiban-based local teachers can enter the industry with no skills other than minimal language ability. It is an apprentice system with workers being brought through to mastery (buxiban ownership) by more skilled practitioners. Why would perceptions of the industry differ for foreign teachers?

I started this post by saying that class is a difficult concept to talk about. It addresses personal facts about many of my readers, also myself, and as such, can be easily taken as offensive. One of the more difficult facts to talk about is the family backgrounds of the spouses of foreign English teachers. If we discard the labels of ‘middle’ and ‘upper’ to describe these backgrounds, I think my point becomes more clear. I know very few foreign English teachers who have married into professional families, where parents are university-graduated members of professional organizations. The same would probably be true for the local spouses of most foreign English teachers – including myself.

One final point about class in Taiwan. I doubt the perception that you describe for your wife is as clear cut as it sounds. Where would Lee Yuan Tseh fall in all this? Or for that matter, the other professors who work at the Academia Sinica or National Taiwan University? Or what about the garbage merchants who I understand have substantial incomes? In Japan, farmers who are protected by the government with guaranteed high incomes and security are no better at finding local brides than their much poorer Taiwanese counterparts.

Fussell once used the term Class X to describe those of us on the outside. I suspect all the itinerant Caucasians from N Amer are middle class and up, temporarily taking an income drop to experience the World Out There. Those of us long-term expats belong in class X. At home, a minor instructor at a minor university, I’d never be able to make the connections I’ve made in Taiwan. IMHO: the lower/middle/upper rubric simply doesn’t describe the different classes short and long-term work foreigners fit into.

if I had to, I’d divide the elites into two groups, single males, and males with families. They are short-term but have tons of $$ and are taken care of by the companies they work for. The family people live in gated communities and send their kids to expensive private schools, the singles go to the local bars and pick up girls. I suspect that the family crowd is more american, the singles more european.

Then there is another class, the long-term expat like me and clyde. We survive on the skills and connections we’ve made. Many of us have on to other fields but English teaching is our safety net, we can always make money doing it.

Then there are the itinerant english teachers and students, the crowd that comes for two-four years, doesn’t learn much mandarin (except for the students), goes home, knows little about Taiwan.


In some sense, this is the distinction I’m trying to make as well. But I don’t think it’s as simple as this. There are many long-term English teachers, translators and proof readers who never quite make it out dead end jobs that don’t pay well.

I don’t doubt the picture here is quite different from the one in the USA. This is the reason I choose the title ‘culture workers’ to describe one of these classes. You can easily convince me there are other or different classes of foreign residents in Taiwan.

Many of the people I place in the ‘upper class‘, which I have also called the ‘international professional class‘, are here for only a short time as well. But their status in the community of foreigners in Taiwan is quite different. My point was that members of this class are not just gathering merit that can be used for jobs in their core country of origin, they are on a daily basis connected to that core.

I look at this way; you and I have the opportunity to publish research that can be used as merit for jobs in ‘upstream’ countries. This is significantly differnt than buxiban-based language teachers. This puts us in a different social space. I call this different space a different social class.

But as I said, this is not a point I feel particularly attached to.

Yeah, I was thinking the other day about the other group, the over-40s with limited economic prospects back home, who can make a living teaching English here…. they don’t fit anywhere either.


How many people are in each class? I estimate 450,000 subway-diggers and maids, 6000 English teachers, 3000 white collar professionals.

In my post on the family life of English teachers, I linked to National Police Agency figures on foreign residents. The NPA has taken these numbers down. The NPA originally stated there were 429,703 foreign residents in Taiwan. More than half of these (297,287) were employed as ‘Foreign Workers’, but the Chinese is probably better translated as ‘labourer’ or ‘general worker’. There were 6630 ‘Teachers‘ in Taiwan. There are actually a very large number of foreign residents employed in professional positions.

I think the Scott’s divisions are pretty apt in terms of different experiences’ utility back on the career ladder at ‘home’, and this is a big problem for me and my husband, who is American and lives here because I want to be in Taiwan.

I would fall roughly into what Scott call the “middle class“, and sees good prospects for parlaying my bilingual ability into job opportunities superior to those in the states. For my husband, however, his prospects are much, much worse — as an English teacher, these years in Taiwan would be a bit of a wasteland on his resume, I’m afraid.

I hesitate at applying the label “class” to the three groups though, careful as scott is to separate the designations from value judgements by qualifying class as a proxy for the ability to get “stuff”. I think the status differential between the three group is more self-applied than applied by the Taiwanese in general.

In terms of local pull, connections, guanxi whatever you want to call it, foreign business owners (and buxiban owners) probably come out on top — they need it to keep their businesses going and connections are something you build.

As for respect, when I tell Taiwanese people I write for an English newspaper (which would put me in the middle class by your conception) their immediate reaction is always “You dummy! Don’t you know you can be making more money teaching English! What a fool! You husband is American too, why don’t you quit that job and open a buxiban and really start raking it in?”

(As for the reason why workers in the “elite” group seems to be on the top of the food chain, that’s kind of obvious. You’ve got to be kind of important for your company to send you to a foreign country and it’s not because of your foreign language ability. I wouldn’t be surprised if that is well-correlated with wage too.)

The point of post was not to explain who is at the top or bottom but WHY they are there. My point is that status is directly related to connectedness to core nations where military, business, and political decisions are made. That this is the reason why teaching at Morrison Christian Academy is perceived of as “real” job but teaching English for Hess is not, even though a Hess teacher will make far more money.

The concept of class has a long and troubled history in the disciplines for which it is a central concept. Early sociologists used the term to denote a relationship between the owners of different kinds of capital. It is this usage of the concept that has been retained in academic disciplines where the concept is used but in which it is not central (Psychology, Economics, etc.) Like many of the early core concepts of Sociology, this definition has not proved to be useful in analysis of the increasingly complex contemporary world.

I would prefer a different term because of the connotation that “class” carries with it. Still, the term “class” has an intention that most of us understand and it is the word we use in everyday life to describe what I want to write about here.

It is important that your Taiwanese friends tell you to “own” a buxiban. No one tells you to go get a job at Hess or Happy Marian. One of the reasons they do this may be that since you are ethnic Chinese and probably speaking to them in Mandarin, they equate you much more closely to the class evaluations they would make with other Taiwanese and not necessarily ‘foreigners’.

It may be that I am writing about a community perception foreigners have about themselves and not one necessarily shared with Taiwanese. If you are correct, what I call “class” would be better represented by words related to “respect” or “propriety”. I had thought I had worked through this issue and that this was what Maoman was confusing with class. But honestly, I need to work more on this point.

The issue of ethnicity and Chineseness is an important one. It is extremely sensitive and I hesitate about it. But I do agree that Chineseness plays a central role for some people in the evaluation of status.

i can’t follow your idea at all scott. maybe if i had studied the concept of class in sociology i might be able to follow your argument. you talk about a community perception of class. which community are you talking about? maoman’s post made the most sense to me. things that give us status are money, an escape passport, a white face. i might also add that as a yale graduate i got access to a low-paying government job as an yingwen mishu and political insiders (one who had gone to yale). as a buxiban owner in later years, my ex-liumang husband told me that we weren’t hit up for protection money because of his connections in the area. i don’t know if he was exaggerating or not. as for connection to the core country- you might not have good job prospects as a 30 plus former buxiban owner- but that money came in handy in getting a master’s degree, buying cars, a house, etc. . i’m a public school teacher now. if i were interested in a more prestigious job, i wouldn’t have stayed in taiwan a long time; i would’ve gone to graduate school in the us.

It is important that your Taiwanese friends tell you to “own” a buxiban. No one tells you to go get a job at Hess or Happy Marian.

Actually they do. I don’t like this, but they do this with great specificity. They aske me my salary and tell me how much more I would be making if I were teaching at a buxiban. Not all of them, of course. Some are supportive.

I think entrepreneurship is a highly pursuit trait in Taiwan, but perhaps not highly respected to the same degree, therefore a buxiban owner might not be accorded the same amount of decorum in person as a university professor. Is that what you mean by belonging to a higher class? But I can also imagine a professor being accorded more respect than a businessman or people going out of their way to be more helpful to the professor.

First, I’d like to confirm that it is perfectly acceptable for me that I am wrong on all this. Some ideas I will fight over to the very end, but this is just not one of them. Having said that, Battlepanda, I’ll try to address your points in a manner consistent with my post.

What we refer to as ‘society’ is a collection of often very different kinds of people whose shared membership in this society may be based on only the thinnest of commonalities. As much as the term has meaning, I agree that Taiwan ‘society’ does have a strong entrepreneurial spirit running through it and that the class structure of Taiwanese society for the Taiwanese does to some degree follow success as an entrepreneur.

I believe that foreigners (at least the white and black kind) do not generally live in this world. This is based on my experience working here. I have taught English for a long, long time, both here and in other Asian countries. I have many experiences hearing and seeing disparaging remarks and images related to foreign English teachers. I have collected ads from newspapers calling foreign English teachers racist names. Back in the late 1990’s, there was a series of ads on TV portraying foreign English teachers as homeless bums. The image of the wild, womanizing foreign drunk is ubiquitous and whenever an occupation is given, he is always an English teacher. The list goes on and on and on. While your friends may tell you you’re nuts not to be teaching English, if your opinion differed from there’s on politics or some other learned matter, who would they be more likely to listen to? A bilingual foreign journalist? Or a buxiban English teacher? Everyone can understand why you would want to make more money and even be mystified at your unwillingness to do this. But my point is that giving into it, as a foreigner, lowers your social class and makes you, among other things, a less serious person.

I think to some degree, every English teacher knows what I mean. Other university-based foreign educators who frequent my site have commented to me privately on this matter. I have been told by one that they do not teach conversation classes anymore, no matter what, because it damages their reputation as a serious scholar. At my school, the ability of foreign teachers to make this outside income is a point of stress between the foreign faculty and the local faculty.

A final point. Battlepanda is one of the coolest blog names out there. And that picture on your blog is also great.

This is great Scott, you have finally got down on paper (well, cyber-paper) this idea that we have talked so much about.

Well like I told you in our various face to face discussions on this, it is an interesting approach to understanding the North American/European foreign community.

take care,

ok, i get it. the old english teachers as bums idea. i think we’ve all heard it. are you offering something new? i don’t think the true bums care one way or another, and the ones who don’t fit the stereotype aren’t really adversely affected by it anyway. they still get paid, and their friends know who they are. the point about the connection to the core country is something i’ve never heard mentioned by taiwanese when judging foreigners- that’s more something foreigners are apt to worry about since the longer you’ve been in a taiwan job, the more you ‘age out’ of jobs in your home country. my yale friends who came to taiwan came for two years tops as a way to pad their grad school applications. one worked in the taiwan epa with me and later went to the yale forestry school. his friend worked for a law firm here, then went to law school. and his brother wrote english articles for one of the bilingual magazines, and then went to the columbia school of jouranlism. i like that you are writing about how foreigners fit into taiwan society- i hope you continue. i would personally love to read research about how foreigners like linda arrigo and maybe brian kennedy have made a diference in the social/political climate here.

For the record, I have NEVER referred to long-term buxiban teachers as bums. In fact, I have always supported the General Union in Tokyo South which represents among other people, long-term English teachers in Japan. My feeling is that no one involved in this post has used disparaging terms to describe foreign English teachers, although there were references to limited career options available to some.

Connection to the core is my way of describing the range of responses I have witnessed to the phenomena of foreign English teachers. As I have said, I’m not particularly attached to this idea, but I’m looking for another way to describe the hierarchical division of foreigners and the differential access to the resources of life I experience here. I have lived in Taiwan for many, many years and had visas from many different places other than a university. Much of what I write about is a translation of the events that I witnessed as I moved from an illegal English teacher to the job I have now.

In the past, I have consciously steered away from biographies of leading foreigners. Actually, the more I think about this idea, the more I like it. I have a general direction in which I’m trying to move this discussion. Let me see if I can work something into this.

M. Turton says you missed “the over-40s with limited economic prospects back home, who can make a living teaching English here…. they don’t fit anywhere either.” Well, when you take people who are different, who come places as different as Canada, the U.S., Japan, New Zealand, the UK, Germany, France, Australia, the Netherlands, South Korea, Sweden, Poland, Finland, Ireland, Iceland (you get my point) and then lump them all together as “foreigners” to sort them into three rough groups, you’re going to have a heck of a lot of individuals that seap through the cracks.

I don’t understand the point of this post at all. How is grouping people who come from these different countries, who probably have a different outlook and goals, meaningful? What are you going to learn? Or, are you just going to perpetuate stereotypes about “foreigners”?

I’m opting out of your three classes because I think it’s bad enough when Taiwanese call me “foreigner” and lump me together with all other people that don’t look Taiwanese without any regard for my nationality, background or who I am without you doing it as well.

I admit that I fit your middle class, but this is only in terms of my work. I steadfastly reject this middle class just as I steadfastly reject being labelled “foreigner” or any other racist nonsense. Since I feel that I am closer to my wife, who is Taiwanese, than any of your three classes, that’s what I’m going to stick to.

Patrick, thank you for your comment. One of the things I’m very happy with is the increased contribution made by readers who have so far not played an active role in my blog. I think this is great and hope for this to continue.

What do I think the concept of class has to contribute? I believe it’s an important concept in understanding the career mobility of white-collar migrants working in Taiwan’s culture industry. I am involved in scholarship in TESOL and Taiwan Studies and have found it hard to talk about anything related to foreign English teachers without generating a chuckle or two. This is wrong. The deterioration of the job market for white-collar workers in Core nations is a serious issue.

As far as my grouping of foreign taechers is concerned, it’s not fundamentally different from the groupings used for decades to discuss workers in North America and Europe. Historically, there have been groups that claim to have opted out of these classifications and established a different kind of production. They were wrong about this. whether my classification is correct or not bothers me less than the acceptance of the idea that foreign professional workers from the Core are increasingly settling in East Asia and that their lives and careers here need the same understanding as other groups of transnational workers.

the derogatory comments we sometimes hear about English teachers often is directed towards male English teachers who some locals think are trying to use their women. so i think a distinction might have to be made within the english teacher group between males and females. i got a job as an editor at the taiwan epa easily- as an ivy league grad i was sometimes like a conversation piece for visitors. i was responsible for editing what really amounted to english propaganda material (88-90). I later got to know the head of the DPP huanbao lianmeng who i believe is now the head of the epa (zhang guo-long) and his wife who at the time was head of the housewives’ union. as for perks from a lower middle class job as an editor in a government agency- i can’t say that there were any outside of learning how a corrupt government operated and meeting lots of interesting, intelligent movers and shakers in taiwan society. i got more perks from being the wife of an ex-liumang. when neigborhood teens were cursing at me and circling me in a threatening manner, my husband took them to the local gang leader to see if they were hun4 with that group. they weren’t, and they got beat up and had to apologize to me. so, yeah, that was a nice perk.


I’m not talking about “the grouping of foreign teachers“. I don’t think I mentioned this in my comment. I’m talking about you assuming that you can lump all “foreigners” together in three groups but at the same time disregard that these individuals come from some 20-odd countries. They are not “foreigners”, but rather Americans, Canadians, New Zealanders, Japanese, Aussie, Brits and what have you.

I do not wear a tie and suit to work so I am constantly asked: “Where do I teach?” But I am not a teacher. The problem is that Taiwanese immediate stereotype when they meet someone like me. I guess this is because a.) they were educated to do this and b.) I don’t know why. But I figure it is an extremely bad habit, and posts like this feed it.

I don’t disregard that individual in Taiwan come from different backgrounds anymore than this has been disregarded for migrant workers in the history of places like America and other migrant destinations. In fact, I wrote a whole post about this once.
But I do think with regards to ‘status’ that being, for example, an English teacher versus researcher for a private think tank is much more important than differences in nation of origin.

Your story is a good example of what I mean by locating English teaching as a low status occupation. You are obviously bothered by being mistaken for a language teacher. I suspect this is a common sentiment and one not shared by people mistaken for foreign diplomats or hi-tech engineers. The intention of my post was to explore the nature of what I suspect is a pretty universal feeling among foreign residents here.

Thank you for the example. I think I’ll be using it in future writings.


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