Living internationally opened me up to so many new experiences. Languages, culture, my partner, and career prospects in a field that I can honestly tell myself in the mirror is interesting; sadly nothing else in the mirror is though. Yet, there are still days when I can’t help but feel somewhat lonely.
It’s natural for friends to come and go, and in some way, it’s refreshing to meet new people at different stages in life. But, living in Taiwan, the cycles of friends is difficult. If you’re lucky, you have Taiwanese friends, or maybe some long-termer friends, but for many people, the only person they can count on as a friend is their husband or wife. That’s also usually the one person that also helps them pay their taxes, sort out administrative problems, and take phones calls.
Defining loneliness for foreigners in Taiwan
Before digging into loneliness in Taiwan, it is first important to at least set some definition of loneliness. As you can imagine, that’s quite difficult. “Being lonely” is subjective, and individuals have different reasons for being lonely. Likewise, being lonely at times is part of the human experience. Nobody goes throughout a single day without a sense of loneliness.
Defining loneliness is difficult, and I think the best way to understand it is by first understand what can cause it. Some causes might include:
- Not having a social network
- An inability to speak Mandarin
- Feeling culturally isolated
- Being in a bad relationship
These situational reasons for loneliness and they can be differentiated further. Loneliness can be broken down into a choice continuum as to whether or not it’s a choice or not. Added to this spectrum is society’s perception of what this continuum should be. Hence, what might be viewed as a choice to be lonely for one person or society, might be seen as a choice in another.
So now that we’ve somewhat defined loneliness as a spectrum, with causes, we can see that loneliness is a situational state that isn’t always your choice, but it can be seen as your choice depending on your society or culture.
I know, that’s a mouthful! But hey, here are some tips on how to alleviate that sense of loneliness you might be feeling, particularly if you’re new to Taiwan.
Taiwan might be a small island, but there are a lot of excellent people as much as there are vile ones. There are a lot of opportunities to meet other people that have the same hobbies, interests, or just want to professionally network.
- Professional Networking: All Hands Taiwan – Facebook page & Website
- Hobbies and interests: Meetups Taiwan & InterNations
Don’t use alcohol or drugs to offset loneliness
It’s sad to say but, there is a connection between loneliness and drug abuse. Self-medicating is often associated with loneliness and people will often offset isolation with drug abuse. Now, that could be illegal substances or legal ones, but they all have the same effect on a person; nothing good.
You’ve probably noticed that many expat bars are frequented by people that have little else to do, and there are many people that have a habit here. To be honest, I don’t know how they have a habit. Marijuana in Taiwan is more expensive than gold per gram, according to my friend (saved myself with that one!).
You know what happens when you live somewhere that you can’t speak the language? You can get easily disenfranchised from society. Can you imagine being the US and not being able to speak English? You’d never get anything done! You’d probably get a fair bit of abuse.
Luckily in Taiwan, people give you a bit of slack and will often help foreigners that can’t speak Mandarin. It’s super nice of them, and in many ways, it is part of the reason why Taiwan is enjoyed by a lot of international visitors and residents alike.
With that said, if you find yourself feeling enclosed, and in a box, try to break out by learning Mandarin. You’d be shocked at just how many more opportunities you’ll have to interact with people past the typical early morning “nihao” to your elderly neighbor that nods and walks away.
I was very fortunate in that I could already speak near fluent Mandarin when I arrived in Taipei. I didn’t really have much trouble greeting my neighbors, navigating menus, or even meeting people (both foreign and local). I had already spent time in Beijing, and Taipei is far friendlier.
I honestly can’t imagine what life would be like if I couldn’t speak Mandarin in Taipei. I really think people miss out on a lot of what makes Taiwan interesting. From pop culture to being able to hear stories from old people at your local temple, speaking Mandarin opens up a whole new experience to be able to actually take part in Taiwanese society.
You are able to get past the usual nervous conversation from the one person that is either able to or is simple brave enough to talk to the foreigner that just walked in.
I’d encourage anyone that plans to stay in Taipei for the long-term to take evening classes of Mandarin and make the effort. It will be good for both your mental health and your appreciation of Taiwanese society and culture.
Mental health issues
Again, loneliness can be a spark that can lead to mental health issues, or it can be lead to loneliness. It’s a real chicken and egg situation that I’m not really going to get into. All you need to know is this; there are resources available to you if you need help.
- Live in Hope 活出希望 hosts some pretty great events
- The Centre has 12 counseling psychologists that conduct 5,000 sessions a year
No matter what, it is important to recognize that our mental health isn’t something that can be ignored. We might not show scars that are visible, but scars of the mind are hard to find for our friends and families, and it can be very difficult to admit them to others.
If you find yourself in Taiwan suffering from loneliness or mental health issues, I’d suggest getting in touch with the Centre.
Final Thoughts: Evaluate why you’re in Taiwan
Living internationally is difficult, and at times, you can go through bouts of loneliness. Many of my expat friends tend to lean on their Taiwanese partners for support, but for a lot of people, they don’t have that support.
I would always tell people, if you find yourself consistently lonely in Taiwan, even after trying the above tips, then you need to consider why you’re here in the first place. Sure, sometimes loneliness is a natural part of life and it will happen no matter where you are. But, if you find yourself in Taiwan or anywhere internationally, and you are consistently feeling lonely, then I’d suggest looking elsewhere. You shouldn’t live somewhere that is contributing to your loneliness.
Again, for some people, the situational factors of their loneliness are choices, while for some, these factors are not choices. It’s all down to your perspective and how you evaluate your life.