Running My Own English Teaching Business in Taiwan in the 1970s
Running My Own English Teaching Business in Kaohsiung
During the period 1974-1979, my ex-wife and I ran a successful English teaching business in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, a southwestern port city of just over one million at that time. Catering primarily to adults, I taught private and small group classes out of my apartment. Most of my classes emphasized every day listening and speaking topics. There were some classes, however, that dealt with the reading and writing of commercial documents. I even taught a few children classes. By the time I gave up my business to return to the United States with my family, I had more than 60 students and employed two teachers.
In this article, I begin by explaining why I started my own home business in 1974. Next, I recall year by year how I got my business off the ground and developed it into a profitable English teaching service during the years 1976-1979.
Why I Started a Private English Teaching Service
In June of 1973, I arrived in Kaohsiung with my newly married Taiwanese wife. Since I was unemployed at the time, I quickly learned that I could get a job teaching English in one of the many 补习班 "buxibans" or "cram schools" which specialized in teaching English conversation to children and adults.
I'll never forget the first teaching position I accepted. It was a special summer session class for elementary students which met 0900-1200 Monday through Friday. The classroom was poorly air-conditioned and there were about 70-80 students all wanting to learn basic conversation packed into a small area. After getting through one week, I opted to teach adults in evening classes.
After about a month, my wife and I moved out of the central district of the city to a small third-floor apartment above a plumber's shop on Ching Nian First Road. At the same time, I changed schools and took a job with a boss who operated two language schools on Chung Shan Road near the train station. One of the schools was two kilometers away and the other a half kilometer from my apartment. I commuted to the schools by bicycle. My first class from 7:00 p.m. until 8:30 was at the school farther away. After I finished, I had to jump on my bike and hustle to the other school for a class beginning at 8:40. In addition to traffic, I had to struggle through inclement weather because it rained a lot in Kaohsiung.
In September of 1973, I also accepted a job at the International Commercial School four kilometers away during the day. I believe that my classes there met for three hours in the afternoon.
By the end of December, I was getting exhausted from all of the commuting, and my wife was in the later stages of her pregnancy. We made the decision at that time that I would quit my outside jobs and start accepting students in our apartment after the first of the year.
The First Year: Getting Started in 1974
1974 was the first year that I began my English home teaching service. My first student, Mr, Hao, was the general manager of a shipping company in Kaohsiung. He was one of my students at one of the "cram schools" and decided to have individual tutorials with me after I quit my outside teaching job.
My first group class consisted of 10 students from the International Commercial School (ICT) where I had taught the previous fall term. This class was arranged by Percy Huang, an ICS student, and friend who lived in my neighborhood.
My wife had our son on February 1, and for the first month after his birth, I didn't do any teaching.
When I resumed teaching in March, Mr. Hao was my only student. He showed me how to compose a good ad for recruiting students which I placed in a local Chinese newspaper. A few students answered the ad and set up classes; however, it wasn't until I got a phone installed one month later when my business started to pick up.
A rich businessman who lived in the neighborhood had found out that I was teaching. He and his wife then arranged a class for both of them together a few days a week. When I mentioned to Mr. Lin that the government-owned telephone company said I had to wait months to get a phone installed in my apartment, Mr. Lin smiled and said, "Don't worry. I'll take care of it." Within two days, I finally had telephone service.
By September of 1974, I had between 10 and 15 adult students taking both small group and individual classes. I taught in my living room with a small chalk blackboard mounted on the wall. Students sat on my sofa and armchairs. With the exception of Mr. Hao who wanted help in writing business letters, the other students all wanted to practice everyday conversation.
Then, towards the end of the year, my wife had a run in with the landlady who happened to be the plumber's wife. The result of this was a short move up the street to another third-floor apartment above a furniture store.
Expanding My Business in 1975
After moving onto the third floor of the Yongxing Furniture Store, I had a neon sign installed outside of my apartment in January of 1975. The sign merely read in Chinese, "English Classes Taught by an American." Following the installation of this sign, it was so much easier for new students to find me.
Shortly later, I had thousands of advertising fliers printed up. Mr. Hao once again helped me with the Chinese translation. The fliers stated that I was a native American speaker teaching both individual and small group conversation classes in my apartment. Students had their choice of beginning, intermediate, and advanced classes which met on either Monday, Wednesday, and Friday or on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday for one or one and a half hours per session. It was also noted that I could speak and read Chinese. Finally, the fliers included my address and contact telephone number.
When I wasn't teaching classes, I would walk around the surrounding neighborhood distributing my fliers. Some I put in mailboxes and others I put under doors.
I also ran ads at least once a week in a Kaohsiung Chinese newspaper advertising my home classes. When I was teaching classes, my wife would answer inquiries about my classes and tuition.
All of this advertising resulted in more students and even a children's class in the late summer. Mr. Lin arranged for me to teach a large children's class in a neighboring private kindergarten on Saturdays and Sundays for one or two months. His two kids, of course, were in this class.
By the end of 1975, I was teaching at least 20 hours over six days a week. I had about 25-30 adult students who were in all levels of group conversation classes and some in individual tutorials.
1976-1977: Investing My Business Profits
In January of 1976, my wife and I once again moved. This time we rented a second-floor unit in an apartment about two blocks from Yong Xing just off of Ching Nian First Road. I also remember that it was only a block from a big outdoor green market.
Since this apartment was bigger than the ones we had before, I had my own small classroom. It was furnished with a long rectangular table and stools. My blackboard was once again mounted on a wall, and I had windows facing me to look out of.
By the summer I had recruited so many students that I briefly hired another American teacher. I had raised my tuition a little and was earning more. With 40 students enrolled mainly in small group classes, I was making 40,000 New Taiwan NT dollars or the equivalent of $1,000 per month. Since my family needed no more than 20,000 NT each month for living expenses, we were able to save 20,000 NT.
At the suggestion of my wife, we decided to invest our monthly savings in an office building unit which began construction at that time on the corner of Ching Nian First Road and Chung Shan Road. This structure was named the Chi An Building and was to have 13 floors upon completion. We signed a contract to buy a 20' by 15' unit on the thirteenth floor. After making payments of 20,000 NT per month over 40 months, our final cost would be 800,000 NT and we would be able to move in when the building was completed in April of 1979.
My business was very good for the remainder of 1976 and also in 1977 when we once again moved to another apartment above a furniture store on Ching Nian First Road towards the end of the year.
1978-1979: Planning for Relocation to the U.S.
As early as 1976, I helped my wife fill out the application paperwork for an immigrant visa to enter the United States. For the future of our son who was now four in 1978, we thought that growing up and going to school in the States would be better for his future. As an Amerasian, my son was often ridiculed and bullied by Taiwanese kids who lived in the neighborhood. Although I would be leaving a lot of money on the table by giving up a profitable English teaching business, we thought we would be doing what was right for our son's future.
In July of 1978, my family and I made a trip to the U.S. to visit my parents in Wisconsin. This was my wife and son's first trip to the States. My folks, brother, and sisters were very excited to see me after five years and also happy to meet my new family. After a great two week stay, we returned to Taiwan.
Before we moved into the Chi An Building, we had to hire a contractor to partition the open unit into two bedrooms and add kitchen furnishings. When this was finished, I moved my teaching business to the thirteenth floor of the Chi An Building. My business immediately started doing very well since I was now in a great location which all students could readily find.
For the next three months, I was teaching classes seven days a week for about 4-5 hours each day. I recall having a children's class on Saturdays and Sundays, and also employing two teachers shortly before I departed. There must have been at least 60 students and I was earning at least 60,000 or $1,500 per month.
Then around the middle of July of 1979, I stopped teaching to return to the U.S. with my family. My wife arranged for her nephew to run my business with the two hired teachers. That turned out to be a disaster which I won't comment on in this hub.
I will never forget the experience of being my own boss teaching in Taiwan in the 1970s. It was a great time in my life filled with memories of friendships with students like Mr. Hao. It was also a big turning point in my life when I returned to the United States in 1979.
© 2015 Paul Richard Kuehn