LGBTQ&A: Teaching English in Hanoi, Vietnam with Kim Gordhan

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What is your citizenship?
South African

Where are you from?
Johannesburg, South Africa

How old are you?

What is your education level and background?
Bachelor's Degree

Have you traveled abroad in the past?
I taught English abroad previously and have traveled to 37 countries. I'm currently living in Vietnam.

What sparked your interest in teaching English abroad?
I initially wanted to do it as a gap year in between my studies, but I fell in love with the lifestyle and the job and now I’m on year 2 of teaching abroad.

What city and country did you decide to teach English in?
I taught in Hat Yai, Thailand and I’m currently in Hanoi, Vietnam.

What did your friends and family think about you moving and teaching abroad?
The first time I went, they were incredibly supportive. They visited me after a few months and said they could see how much I’ve changed, for the better. The second time was more challenging to convince them. They wanted me to start my advertising career in Cape Town, but I was not ready for an 8-5 office job. Life is short and I need to do what makes me happy, first.

What were some of your concerns about teaching abroad?
I was concerned about the language barrier, using public transport, the humidity, whether the school would support me and have sufficient resources, if the students would think I was a good teacher and if I would make friends with other foreigners or locals.

South African teaching English in Southeast Asia

What resources did you find helpful when deciding where to go?
I did the ITA Barcelona, Spain TEFL course and I used their list of sites on the drive to find an agency in Thailand. I also spoke to friends who had been before.

Please give your thoughts on dating abroad.
I am currently in Hanoi with my girlfriend and we have found everyone to be very accepting and supportive of our relationship, especially at work.

Was there anything about being a member of the LGBTQ+ community abroad that was unexpected?
Well the only thing that was unexpected was how accepting the Vietnamese people are of LGBTQIA+ people. I knew there was a queer community here in Hanoi, but everyone outside of the community share the same principles.

Did being a member of the LGBTQ+ community have an impact on where you decided to teach English? If yes, how so?
Yes, my girlfriend and I wanted to teach in South Korea, however, the schools were concerned about having a same sex couple working for them. We did multiple interviews and they all said no for the same reason. We gave up after 3 months and decided to apply to Vietnam instead.

Did you come out while living abroad? If so, how did your host country and experience influence that decision?
No, but the thing about ‘coming out’ is that you have to do it constantly. On my first day at my new school in Thailand, I told the school director that I am gay and that my girlfriend will be coming to visit for a few weeks. She was so excited and intrigued. The whole English department were so welcoming when she came.

Tell us about finding your community abroad.
In Hat Yai, Thailand, there was a very tiny group of foreigner teachers, so I wouldn’t say I found a community, but within this group, there were people who accepted me and we became good friends.

What were some of your most memorable experiences teaching English abroad?
In Thailand, it was probably coaching the cheerleading team and winning the annual competition (bare in mind, I’m a terrible dancer and nowhere near being a trained choreographer). I also loved my solo trip to Chiang Mai, where I spent a full day with the elephants. When my girlfriend came to visit, it was the same week as my Visa run to Malaysia. It wasn’t all bad, but it’s definitely an experience I will never forget.

In Vietnam, so far, riding a bike in the traffic has been an unforgettable experience, it’s so wild, but exciting.

Did you have any difficult conversations abroad?
The conversation didn’t happen abroad, it happened during our application process to South Korea. It was difficult being rejected by every school we applied to. We eventually told the recruitment agency to remove our file from the system. They were reluctant at first and told us that they were determined to find us a suitable position. After a month, we told them that we’ve decided to look at alternative options. They were not happy, but there was nothing else they could do.

Teaching English in Vietnam as a minority

Were there any cultural boundaries you found to be different than your home country? If so, please explain.
Yes, in Thailand I had to get used to eating with a fork and a spoon, rather than a fork and knife. It was very difficult to find a restaurant that had knives, unless it was a steak place.

What are your thoughts on safety in your host country abroad, as a member of the LGBTQ+ community?
My girlfriend and I are so thankful that we ended up in Vietnam and not South Korea. We feel so safe here, in fact, at times we feel celebrated.

Have you participated in any Pride celebrations abroad?
Not yet! The next one is coming up in August. I have never been to a pride party before and I’m so excited for this one!

Do you have any advice for people planning to move abroad to teach English?
I have plenty of advice, but the most important would be to find a decent apartment. You need to take the time, make the effort and spend the necessary money to secure yourself a good place to live. Don’t settle.

Want to watch more videos and read more articles from LGBTQ+ alumni that are teaching English abroad? Check out our LGBTQ+ Resource Hub!

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