In this video, ITA alumna Jassira & ITA Student Affairs Advisor Erika talk about Teaching English Abroad & in Taiwan When you’re part of the LGBTQ+ Community! From TEFL certification to living overseas and finding your LGBTQ+ Community abroad, watch them cover it all!
Here's a transcription of the video:
[Erica] Hey everyone, my name is Erica welcome to our Facebook live this morning. We are here to talk about teaching English abroad as part of the LGBTQ community. I'm a student affairs advisor here at ITA and I taught in Thailand for four years and I am super excited to welcome Jasira here with me. Hey how's it going?
[Jasira] Hi good how are you?
[Erica] Good so let's just start with you telling us a little bit about yourself. Where you're from, what you were doing before you taught abroad, all those good things.
[Jasira] Sure well my name's Jasira. I was born in the UK but raised in the states in California and before teaching abroad, I lived in Chicago for about nine years. I went to school there, I have my bachelor's degree in theater. And before making this big move, I was working in the exciting field of property management. And then I decided that you know that wasn't the career choice for me and I wanted to change so I through a series of events, I happened upon the idea of moving abroad and teaching English and found ITA and now here I am so I've been in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan for two and a half years and this summer I will be moving to my next country which is Spain.
[Erica] Awesome and both super LGBTQ friendly which is awesome and we're gonna focus really on our Pride week celebration it's Pride month here in the states, it's Pride week here at ITA it's Pride week here in Chicago so see you guys at the parade. So let's start with you just talking a little bit about like if you had any concerns before you went abroad and how you settled on going over to Taiwan.
[Jasira] Sure. It's kinda hard to remember at this point because so much is now, for me is caught up in the next move but my biggest concern I think before leaving was other than picking the right country was finding work when I got here. Taiwan is a country where you primarily find work on the ground I'd never taught kids before so I was definitely really concerned about that but a lot of my other concerns before leaving were related to actually leaving and saying goodbye to everyone that I loved and the city that I love and all of that stuff so that was definitely where most of my concerns and my fears were, the cool thing about those fears is that as soon as I got on the plane they vanished. Yeah so but then in regards to concerns about LGBTQ specific stuff, I was really concerned about finding a place finding a country and a city where I could be out, where I didn't have to go back into any closet when I was teaching, when I was out in public, where I could be 100 percent myself if I chose to be. And so, and so yeah that's why I picked Taiwan specifically.
[Erica] So if anybody out there has any questions for either of us, feel free to throw them in the comment section and we will get to them. So when you were looking around to try to find somewhere to kind of fit the bill, were there any specific resources that you used that you found helpful?
[Jasira] Yeah I used I had a couple of resources, one of the ones that I used when I was picking Taiwan over other Asian countries was a blog called move to Taiwan dot com, it did a lot of comparing of South Korea and Taiwan which I found really helpful and then for career-specific stuff there are a couple of sites, one of them is UtopiaAsia.com I think there's another one that's like gay Asia travel and then I also used autostraddle.com which is a site specifically for queer women or women-identified humans and they actually do like queer city guides and they had one on Taipei which was really helpful 'cause it let me know that there was an actual community here, there were places to go and all of that kind of stuff. But there's a lot of information out there and probably the last thing that I used and I used again for this move to Spain has been the Facebook alumni groups for ITA. Probably the best place to get questions answered and concerns alleviated yeah, those were the ones that I used.
[Erica] Awesome and for those of you who don't know we do have a LGBTQ Facebook group here at ITA it is closed and private so look that up, request to join and there's a great community in there that you can ask questions as well. So let's have a little bit about the community that you found so you did do some research to look at what was going on in Taiwan. Now that you've been there for a while, did you find the community, are there things out there to do, things like that?
[Jasira] Yeah so, I picked, I told you I picked Taiwan because it's really LGBTQ friendly, they recently legislated equal, the equal marriage rights although it's not totally in law yet. But the reason I picked Taipei specifically is because it is the big city, it's the capital so there's a lot of stuff to do here both LGBTQ-related just in, so there are events that happen monthly or bi-monthly specifically for the community. There are, there's like a gay area house here in the districts.
There's also a lesbian club which is kind of amazing. Definitely not something that I had experienced before even in the states, it's like 100 percent for women which is pretty awesome. So there's plenty of places to meet people for, for me most of my community abroad has not been explicitly queer or gay which is one thing that I definitely am looking for in the next place we live but I've made a lot of really great one on one friendships with people and it's definitely not hard to meet people here and to find people you just have to go out and look for them.
[Erica] Awesome. We have a question from Patrick, what has been the hardest thing about moving abroad while being queer and what was the biggest adjustment?
[Jasira] Well to be honest there hasn't been anything hard about living abroad here in Taiwan as a queer person. Like I mentioned, they're really LGBTQ friendly, the nice thing here is that everyone kind of let's you be who you are, it's a really welcoming country overall the people are really friendly and really kind. And I have felt the most able to be myself sorry let me rephrase that, I have felt more able to be openly queer and as myself everywhere in Taiwan than I did in the states. So yeah there wasn't really anything hard about moving abroad. Maybe I think the hardest parts of living abroad don't actually have to relate to that, Taiwan is a very special country and I know that my experience has not been everyone's experience in other countries.
[Erica] For sure. I want to add that that was exactly my experience in Bangkok. I think the hardest thing for me was being comfortable with the fact that it seemed like nobody cared, so then all of a sudden you're starting to like be like wait is it me? What's going on here? And that's kind of a really cool thing about moving somewhere where it's like totally open and accepting.
[Erica] Moving a little bit away from LGBTQ stuff we have a great question, was it hard for you to meet a lot of English speakers and did you feel isolated when you first arrived?
[Jasira] That's a really good question. One, no. Taiwan has a really large expat community whether, I mean especially obviously in Taipei in Taipei there are a lot of universities so you've got a lot of study abroad students there are plenty of international schools so you have a lot of expat teachers there and then obviously all of the crem schools et cetera so you have a lot of English-speaking expats here in Taipei but also throughout Taiwan. All of the major cities have a solid expat, English-speaking community even some of the smaller ones as well and because Taiwan is a small island, even if you happen to be in a small town it's easy and fairly fast to get to a big city.
What was the second part of that question? Ah did you feel isolated? Yes, moving here when I first got here I definitely felt, maybe not isolated but lonely, that was a learning experience for me. I met a lot of people but you know it takes time to make sort of deeper connections with people and deeper friendships so when I first moved here I did go through some loneliness. I was lucky To meet great people, I met my partner about a month and a half after moving here so I did find my community and I think that's true for everyone. It might be lonely when you first arrive, you might find yourself having a lot of the same conversations with people, you know those getting to know you ones but you can find people in Taiwan and I think pretty much anywhere you go you can find your community, it just means, I mentioned this earlier but it just means putting yourself out there a little bit more and that feeling it goes away.
[Erica] Awesome thank you for sharing. So let's switch back into the LGBTQ kind of mindset here. Did you find that locals have any specific stereotypes, what was your experience with that as being part of the community?
[Jasira] No from me, no specific stereotypes regarding being queer. One of the, within Taiwan, within the lesbian and gay community here within Taiwan, there are stereotypes like for women, primarily dating happens along very gender-normed lines so you have Ts which are like tomboys and Pos which are like femmes and you don't see a lot of same-label dating I guess you could call it. But as a foreigner, those stereotypes don't really get applied to me and I haven't really come across them. The only stereotypes I've come across have been viewing me as like an American girl woman, yeah but nothing necessarily queer related like I said people here are pretty open.
[Erica] Very cool awesome and that was very similar in Bangkok, we, the labels also even have very similar names so that's super interesting to think about. At least for me. So let's talk about safety a little bit. What are your thoughts about safety in Taiwan and does being a member of the LGBTQ community play any role and your thoughts on safety?
[Jasira] So Taiwan is ranked, I actually don't remember but ranked one of the safest countries in the world. And it I really is. I feel as a person, as a human than I ever did in the US and as a women and as a queer woman, I feel about 1000 times safer than I ever did in the US. I can walk down the street here at three AM listening to music on my phone dark alley and I have zero worries or concerns about my safety which is something I'm really gonna miss when I leave here, I've actually thought about it a lot in the last couple of weeks that that's one of the biggest things that I'm gonna miss is that sense of safety. And then specifically as a queer woman, I have never experienced any kind of harassment or cat calling or negative behavior out in public from other people, so yeah I feel very very safe here it's a wonderful country for that.
[Erica] Awesome, okay so we have a question from Stephanie here. I'm gonna try and rephrase it just a little bit so Stephanie I apologize if I'm not asking your question correctly but I think she's asking have you found specific spaces that are women-only and not maybe dominated by the gay men scene and she does make the point to say that she loves our gay brothers but we need inclusive gay lady stuff too. So have you been able to those spaces in Taiwan?
[Jasira] Yeah I mean I think that's a problem just about everywhere you go. That's why I mentioned the the lesbian club here, it's called taboo by the way I think I saw a question about that. So it's called taboo and they have some kind of thing where I feel like if you're a man, you have to pay double to get in or come with two ladies. They are trans inclusive though but yeah so that space is really great. It is I mean it's still a club I know it's smoky and bad music and all of that but a lot of the other spaces are fairly gay dude centric and I think like I said before that does happen just about anywhere you go. For whatever reason well that's like a whole other discussion but they, they do try to be welcoming. There's an event that happens once every two months here in Taipei called come and that is, like they do drag performances and also circus performances and they have really made an effort to make it inclusive of queer women as well as gay men. So you can find those spaces here there are still more spaces for gay men.
[Erica] You know when you were talking about the women-only club, my brain literally thought you were talking about like a book club or something like that so now that's super cool.
[Jasira] No I wish. I had a book club in Chicago that I was part of with the queer book club and man do I miss that space. But yeah I'm a little older so going out and partying at the lesbian club, the lesbian dance club is not something I do regularly.
[Erica] That's awesome well Stephanie I hope we answered your question and if we didn't, let us know but I think that was it. So let's talk about like, have you been to any Pride events or any events that could be kind of like what we think of as Pride here while you've been abroad?
[Jasira] Yeah so Taiwan does their Pride in October. And I'm not sure if that's because of the heat in June or if there's another reason but we do October Pride and so I've been to a Pride parade, I've been to plenty of Pride parties. It's about the same as it is in the US maybe a little bit smaller and a little less revealing, but it's still a lot of fun, there are so many parties that have an after Pride here it's usually the last weekend in October. And then I've also, so I also went to the, one of the rallies for marriage equality here in Taiwan, in Taipei that happened gosh about a year and a half ago now. And that was actually probably my favorite Pride event that I've been to, it was really wonderful because one, I was one, we were one of the few white people who were there. There was a lot of Taiwanese people who came out a lot of families like moms and grandmas and grandpas and little kids supporting their family members and and it was massive, there was so many people there and that was really special because yeah, because it's something that I hadn't really had that opportunity to be a part of before and watching that kind of change take place was maybe better than any Pride parade I've been to.
[Erica] Very cool, that's awesome. The perfect, idea really for us to share stories and for us to inspire our community and to say like, look it's out there, you can do this too. So do you have any advice that's considering going abroad and they're trying to figure out what country to move to any advice for them?
[Jasira] Yeah I mean my in general advice is always you know do your research. Make a list of the things that you, you need to feel happy. For me I need to be in a huge city, I need public transportation I need a queer community, you know so those are all things that were on my list and then you know the things that you would be okay with and I think once you figure out really what will make you happy and what your needs are, you can, and using ITAs amazing resources, you can really find, yeah find the right place for you, find the right place for you to settle. And in terms of like making the leap and doing it it's definitely the best thing that I did in my life I've had some great experiences, I met my amazing partner you know and I mentioned this again earlier but the scariest part for me was before I left and once I got on that plane, once I landed here in Taiwan, all of those fears they just I just, you know, started making it work. And it wasn't always easy but it's always been worth it.
[Erica] Awesome thank you for sharing. One more question from the audience before we wrap up, did you do the online course or an in-person course and if you did an in-person course, did you feel that it was the safe space to be yourself?
[Jasira] I did, I did the in-person Chicago course. And yes, it was definitely a safe space to be myself. I did the October 2015 course an I definitely was not the only gay or queer person, sorry in my class. The staff at ITA are all very welcoming, I'm really glad I did that in-person course. Not necessarily for safe space related reasons although those are true but also because it was really lovely to have people right there who you could talk to and ask questions of and chat with I've had with ITA staff members while I was doing the in-person course helped me decide where I was gonna go and what to prioritize and how to plan and all of that kind of stuff so yeah, in-person course in Chicago is a good option.
[Erica] Awesome I agree, I'm here in Chicago. So we actually have another really good question I'm seeing right now that I really want to ask. Do you think that it's okay to be in your 30s and single and queer abroad or is that too old? And then there's kind of like a sideways face. it is not too old. So side note, I'm I'm turning 30 this year, 27 I think that's right and I'm older than many of the like queer expats here in Taiwan that I know but I'm also younger than a lot of the ones that I know. I think it, I mean it depends where you, where you go maybe but I mean I think it's okay to be in your 30s abroad and it's okay to be single abroad so all of those together are very okay. And you know on regarding the single thing the really cool thing about living abroad is that you meet a lot of people that you wouldn't meet in your hometown or your home city wherever you are right now and you might not meet the love of your life but you also might not be single for that long.
[Erica] Awesome, I had a similar experience so hey. Okay so before we say goodbye is there anything else that you would like to share with the people that are out there listening right now?
[Jasira] Man, I don't know I think, like I said before take the leap and do it. Really think about what you want from your experience abroad, like I said, I miss, I miss my queer book club, I miss sort of the larger community that I am a part of so that's why we're moving to Madrid because for me it wasn't quite offering that. So yeah think about what you're really interested in think about, think about stuff you are okay. You know or not, there's lots of things to consider when you're moving abroad but ultimately look for a year or two and a half years or whether or not you make it permanent like I am, you will have a lot of memorable and amazing experiences and you'll get to see parts of the world in ways that you don't when you're just traveling through so yeah, just do it.
[Erica] Just do it, I love it.
[Jasira] Just do it. And also, if you have any questions you can send me a message on Facebook I'd love to talk about all of this stuff in Taiwan and everything, I mentioned before the Facebook alumni group's been really great to me and so I love I love being really great to them.
[Erica] Awesome, thank you. Well I am going to say goodbye to you for now and I just want to let everyone know that on Friday of this week, we have an alumni taking over out Instagram. Follow the hashtag TEFL pride force of this week, check out the take over you can read Q and As from myself and Jasira and articles by alumni on our website so check all that stuff out and we are super happy to have you today Jasira so thank you so much for joining.
[Jasira] Thank you so much for having me. It was lovely talking to you.
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