The Arrival of COVID in Taiwan – Stay, or Leave?

by | Feb 11, 2022 | Taiwan | 1 comment

The Arrival of COVID in Taiwan–Four Lessons Learned

Taiwan was a nation long hailed as a supreme and rare example of a COVID success story, a COVID conqueror, a place that survived and even thrived as a shining light in an otherwise dingy period of the twenty-first century. Indeed, I would be lying if I said that jumping ship from an island experiencing catastrophic socio-economic losses (the UK) to an island of peaceful prosperity and normality (Taiwan) was not one of my major reasons for moving to Taiwan in September 2020.

An eerily quiet abandoned in May 2021 - the start of Taiwan's outbreak - Photo by Taiwan News
An eerily quiet abandoned in May 2021 – the start of Taiwan’s outbreak – Photo by Taiwan News

After almost a year and a half of an essentially non-existent virus threat, Taiwan’s bubble has burst fairly severely. With a suddenness that is as surprising as it is worrying,

Taiwan has recently reported around 300 cases a day and entered a period of restrictions that its arguably complacent population is unaccustomed to.

As I face up to decisions that were unthinkable (and unwelcome) only a matter of weeks ago, I am left not only grappling with some tough choices but also wondering what lessons I and others can learn from this fairly soul-crushing (albeit far too familiar) experience.

Here are four pragmatic lessons from perhaps the toughest decision of all; to stay or go.

Adaptability to Rapidly Changing Circumstances

Perhaps the greatest lesson I have learned from Taiwan’s remarkably sudden awakening from its halcyon COVID-free days is the value of adaptability in this most tumultuous of era’s. As much as I’d like to cling blindly onto the wonderful past I have had here, it has left me with the reality that cutting my losses through a premature return home may become the only viable option. This is a valuable, albeit grim reminder that in this era, one needs to be ready for a fleeting sense of normality to be stripped away from you at any moment. When such a time arrives, adapting oneself and one’s plans are the only options available to us.

Although I don’t think he had COVID-19 in mind, I have been recently reminded of this reference to expat life (said by one of the first expats I met here); ‘the highs are super high, and the lows are super low’. Indeed, (as a classic British pessimist), I also have stated that, until recently, life was ‘suspiciously good’ and that ‘something [had] to go wrong’. Although this quip proved tragically prescient, the recent descent into COVID chaos has reminded me that I need to be ready to chop and change plans whenever troublesome times come. In essence, hope for the best, expect the worst, and get ready to adapt to even worse when it comes.

The Good Times Are Transient

Although my own pessimistic remark that ‘something [had] to go wrong’ in my amazing time in pre-COVID Taiwan may sound a tad gloomy, it does perhaps contain some element of truth. Indeed, it would be naïve to think that the nomadic life of travelers and expats continues serenely and without complications, troubles, and, depending on your perspective, bad times. An acceptance of this will not only make these worse times less crushing when they arrive, but will leave you better equipped to readjust and adapt when COVID-related issues rear their ugly head. There is of course the flip side to this binary, and that is that the bad times are (hopefully) as transient as the good times. Optimists and pessimists alike should be ready for both when we sign up to a life away from home.

Treasuring the Good Times

Treasuring the good times should logically accompany any acceptance that these good times are fleeting in their nature.

Taipei in the good times - Photo by Jens Gudmensen
Taipei in the good times – Photo by Jens Gudmensen

However, this does not necessarily follow. Although I was initially totally enamored at a life that barely resembled one living within a global pandemic, I eventually grew as complacent and perhaps even as ungrateful as the rest of the expat population of Taiwan (a population that had essentially skipped the traumas of COVID-19).

Instead, I should have treasured moments spent traveling, partying, and even teaching as a merry miracle in and of itself.

Rather than taking the good times as a given, travelers and expats alike should frequently remind ourselves to be as grateful as we can possibly be.


Valuing Links With Friends and Family Back Home

Perhaps the most poignant lesson I have learned from facing up to this stay-or-go COVID dilemma is the ultimately isolated existence which I and other expats have here.

My parents and I just before my departure - Photo by Calum Bryant
My parents and I just before my departure – Photo by Calum Bryant

In the whirlwind that is expat life, it’s easy to forget that those you can truly rely on are often thousands of miles away.

Although embarking on a new life is as addictive as it is exciting, I think it’s important not to forget how isolated life in a foreign country can feel. Although the independence of a decision to move abroad is also its greatest appeal, one shouldn’t forget that (for newly established expats especially) those who can help you through the tough and ultimately independent decisions are as important as they are geographically distant.

As Taiwan’s cases rise, my timetable for making this decision is moving forward fast. I’m confident that, whichever way I choose to go, I’ll have learned a lot from this rather grim decision-making process. To employ a couple of over-used clichés, the most important actions you can take is to take full responsibility for the choice you made and, following this, not looking back.

How about you? Have you faced any tough decisions when traveling or living abroad? Sign up for free and join our growing community of expats from all over the world. We have a group of expats who can help you through your journey and its decisions. 

by: Oliver Sanders