I had survived my first day of our look-see visit in Taipei. It was an amazing experience to wander the streets and take in all these new impressions. It was so different from back home in the Netherlands, nothing I had ever experienced before. It even smelt different, but I loved the exotic atmosphere of the incense filled humid air.
Today, I was going to focus on finding a job. As soon as I put on my business suit my mindset changed from excited tourist to confident professional woman.
I had a meeting planned with the CEO of the branch of the bank where I worked in the Netherlands. The branch was small and I had already been told by my boss in Amsterdam that the chances of finding a job there were slim. But the branch manager was happy to meet me.
The hotel porter helped me with the taxi and I was given a name card of the hotel for the way back. Taiwanese people do speak a little English but the Hilton Hotel has a completely different name in Chinese. The taxi driver wouldn’t know if I asked for “the Hilton”. Who knew?
I arrived at the bank and was surprised to see that it covered just one floor in a building that was home to several western companies. Very strange if you come from a large head office in Amsterdam where a couple of thousand employees group together every day. It turned out that the branch only employed about 35 people.
The CEO was a typical traditional expat in his mid-fifties. We exchanged some pleasantries and then I told him about my wish to work. “Why do you want to work? My wife is very happy here not working. She plays golf and has lunch with her friends. Why don’t you just enjoy your stay here? I am sure you will have a good time”, was his response.
This man clearly didn’t know me and maybe that was a blessing. He was not the type to warm up to a young and ambitious feminist. I realised that this was a lost cause and decided to thank him for his time and that I “looked forward to seeing him again once we have moved.” “What a waste of time”, I thought, as I left the building.
In the afternoon I had a meeting with my boyfriend’s company HR. They were ever so friendly and polite. “Lovely to meet you and, no, we don’t have a job for you and, no, we don’t know who to introduce you to.” Great; this wasn’t going so well.
My boyfriend came to pick me up and brought along the CFO, a middle-aged Dutchman who turned out to have an open mind. He suggested that I meet his contact at their accountant’s office, also Dutch. An appointment was made and I was sent off in a taxi to meet him.
He was a young and dynamic guy and happy to help. After he had some idea of my work experience, he introduced me to the HR consulting department and it turned out that I was extremely lucky. They had been wanting to hire a Westerner to make connections with the foreign community. Was I interested? Of course I was!
I was introduced to the manager and we agreed that I would start in about six weeks, when we were meant to arrive. We didn’t talk terms, I wasn’t given any paperwork but I had a job!
Back in the Netherlands, a few weeks after returning from our trip, I started to worry. I had nothing on paper. Was it all going to happen? I contacted my new boss by fax but nothing came back.
I tried staying positive while we packed up and made the big move to Taiwan.
On our first day in Taipei I contacted the office and asked about the job. “Oh, you came, I wasn’t sure you would”, the manager said. I asked about a contract and he said that they normally didn’t do contracts but that he would see what could be done.
He kept his word, a contract was written, I was invited in and a work permit was applied for and a few weeks later I started my new job.
I was a local hire and the salary was low, very low. Ouch! According to the local employment law there was no holiday entitlement in the first year. Ouch again! But, heigh-ho, I had a job in HR with one of the big four accounting firms and I was just going to make the most of it.
Wendela Elsen has been an expat partner for more than 20 years. She is originally from the Netherlands and has lived in Taiwan and Japan and is now in the UK. She has been professionally active for most of that time in different capacities. She now works as a coach and helps expat partners find meaningful and fulfilling ways of using their professional skills and experiences, be it in paid work or otherwise.