Sun, Feb 09, 2014 - Page 3 News List

FEATURE: Working holidays: exploitation or experience?

PROS, CONS:The popularity of working holidays amid claims of exploitation in menial jobs has alarmed some who say it shows that young Taiwanese see no future at home

By Shelley Shan  /  Staff reporter

The wide availability of jobs and the opportunity to live in a foreign country are prompting many Taiwanese to seek employment in Canada via working holiday programs.

One such Taiwanese is Judy Wang, who went to Banff in Canada’s Alberta Province to look for temporary work.

According to Wang, the strong demand for service workers during the high season at the popular Canadian travel destination is now primarily met by holiday workers from around the world.

Prior to arriving in Canada, Wang studied hotel management in Switzerland and worked at a five-star hotel in Taipei. She left her job in the Taiwanese capital in 2005 and went to Australia as a part-time holiday worker.

“Being a holiday worker is not a waste of time,” Wang said. “You take whatever job is available. I once worked late-night shifts at a hotel and the experience taught me how to make managerial decisions. The value of gaining this type of on-the-job experience cannot be measured by the money you make.”

Despite the loneliness and cultural shock holiday workers may suffer while living abroad, as well as the sometimes frustrating search for work, Wang said the experience made her realize the importance of having strong language skills.

She also said it gave her the impression that young Taiwanese are less competitive than their peers in Japan, South Korea and China.

“They [young Japanese, South Koreans and Chinese] are much more willing to travel to other countries and experience different cultures, even if their English is poor,” she said. “It would be good if more young Taiwanese did the same, and the earlier the better. If they stay in Taiwan and don’t experience life elsewhere, there is no way they can compete with their counterparts from other countries.”

However, not all holiday workers see the value of the program.

Like Wang, Evelyn Chuang (莊凱涵), who works as assistant brand manager at a food company in Taipei, went to Australia under the working holiday program. Chuang made the trip in 2009, after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in management science from Chiao Tung University.

“I had planned to study overseas while I was in school. However, that plan was put on hold after I got a job at a foreign company upon graduating,” she said.

“After working there for two years, I started to research MBA programs in the US and found that I could not afford to go to any of the top 30 schools because the tuition fees are too expensive. Given this, a working holiday seemed like a cost-effective way to live abroad. I chose Australia because it was the only country at the time allowing non-students to apply for working holiday visas,” Chuang said.

Yet Chuang said she regretted going to Australia, as “it was frustrating at the beginning when I spent little more than one month sending out resumes and did not hear back from anybody except Chinese restaurants.”

“I realized that having a college degree from a Taiwanese university is useless when you go to apply for jobs in Australia,” Chuang added. “If you are of Chinese descent and do not have professional skills, you have to settle for menial work.”

Although Chuang said her work experience in Australia did not make much of a difference to her career, she said it did help make her more able to endure hardships and willing to take on challenging tasks.

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