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LGBTQ&A: Teaching English in Miskolc, Hungary with Alan
Written by: Alan
Last Updated: July 19, 2021
What is your citizenship?
Where are you from?
Spokane, Washington, USA
How old are you?
What is your education level and background?
Master's Degree or higher.
Have you traveled abroad in the past?
Yes, I studied abroad in Salamanca, Spain and I have traveled to Italy, the UK, Republic of Ireland, Germany, France, Portugal, Morocco, Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself!
I love doing creative things -- painting, drawing, pottery, baking, gardening. Ever since my first trip overseas to the UK in 1990, I knew that I wanted to be a global nomad as much as possible. The world is an amazing place and the variety of ways people have discovered to be creative always astounds me. I've been lucky to have spent a summer in Castelgandolf, Italy living in the Pope's summer residence, lived in beautiful Salamanca, Spain for seven months, made a retreat for LGBTQ+ people in a 1400-year-old monastery on the Isle of Iona Scotland, given retreats in the Spanish Basque Country, and spent a month volunteering in Tangier, Morocco. Every one of those places has given me something unique and has formed me in some profound way. I look forward this summer to moving to Barcelona, the city of my dreams, to finally settle down with the man of my dreams. But I'm not worried about becoming stagnant. He and I will continue to travel the world and to grow together as a couple, this time seeing the beauty of the world through each other's eyes.
What sparked your interest in teaching English abroad?
I love to travel, I love teaching, and I love languages, so it seemed only logical.
What city and country did you decide to teach English in?
I decided to teach English in Miskolc, Hungary.
What did your friends and family think about you moving and teaching abroad?
There was a healthy mixture of apprehension and excitement. Some were concerned about such a radical move at my age, 61, especially since it entailed a change in career. But they also know me well enough to know that that wouldn't stop me from having an adventure. I hope now that I'll soon be settled in one place, the lovely city of Barcelona, some of them will visit and let me and my partner show them what an incredible place the world can be.
What were some of your concerns about teaching abroad?
Hungary is the first place I've visited where I knew almost nothing of the language. I tried to learn some before I arrived and continued to take online classes while here, but I think the language-learning window has finally closed for me. This should not put off others, however. The Hungarian language has some very interesting features that I've not seen before. Moreover, I suspect that for a younger person, it's not as difficult to learn as the Hungarian people would have us think.
Were there any LGBTQ+ friendly resources you found helpful when deciding which country to move to?
I knew that the Hungarian government isn't exactly effusive in its support for LGBTQ+ people, but I'd also heard they aren't oppressive. So I figured, why not? The situation around pandemic restrictions has made it more difficult to meet people, but at my age, I'm hardly partying every night at bars and dance clubs anyway.
Please give your thoughts on dating abroad.
I think that the pandemic has impacted and changed the way people date far more than the location and culture of where they live. I met my partner online at a site called GayCupid. I also tried Tinder and a couple of other sites. Full disclosure: there are a LOT of people there who are looking to scam honest users. Handle with care. On the other hand, I would never have met my amazing partner, who lives in Spain, if it hadn't been for online dating.
Was there anything about being a member of the LGBTQ+ community abroad that was unexpected?
Again, this year is highly unusual because of the pandemic and its restrictions. So I don't think I, or anyone else, had a typical experience of being a member of the community.
Did being a member of the LGBTQ+ community have an impact on where you decided to teach English?
Not really. I was interested in the UAE as well, for example, and I know that the official attitude toward the LGBTQ+ community is very intolerant. Nevertheless, I would have gone there if a job had presented itself.
Did you come out while living abroad? If so, how did your host country and experience influence that decision?
I did not come out but having worked in a high school, I wasn't especially open about my sexuality. I think, however, this would be the same attitude I'd take if teaching in my own country.
Tell us about finding your community abroad.
My community was given to me by Central European Teaching Program (CETP), a phenomenal organization based in Portland, Oregon, that headhunts English teachers specifically for Hungary. I was given several choices of places to live and work, and I chose this one because I'd heard there was a high concentration of Roma people here and I feel called to work with oppressed populations. To be honest, though, I don't know where they are, or what they even look like, so that part of the work didn't really materialize.
What are some of your most memorable experiences teaching English abroad?
The level of English for some of my students continues to amaze me. I taught Spanish in the US for a while, and never did any of those students ever approach the degree of fluency of these students.
About a month into my time there, I found a group of three students waiting for me outside the teacher's lounge. They presented me with a somewhat formal invitation to come to their class photo session so I could be included. I was very moved by this small but kind and inclusive gesture.
Did you have any difficult conversations abroad about being a member of the LGBTQ+ community?
No. One student during a game of 2 truths and a lie once claimed to hate gay people, but in the end, I couldn't tell if that was his lie or one of his truths. So I didn't pursue it any further. Knowing him and his clique, it may have been as much for shock value as anything else. On the other hand, a few times certain students shared their own support for our people, especially for transgender people.
Did you find that locals had any stereotypes? Or did you have any stereotypes about locals?
One popular stereotype of Central Europeans, in general, is that they are always very pessimistic. I didn't find that to be any more true here than in the US. Students would often criticize the city we lived in, but almost in the same breath, would defend it as the best city in Hungary.
What are your thoughts on safety in your host country abroad, as a member of the LGBTQ+ community?
I don't think I have enough experience to say. My intuition is that it's as safe as in the US.
Have you participated in any Pride celebrations abroad?
No, not yet!
Have you had any weird or funny questions from locals?
"Why would you ever come to Hungary?" This was asked at least once by almost every class.
Do you have any advice for people planning to move abroad to teach English?
Work hard on learning the local language. But at the same time, don't be put off or surprised that people who will want to speak English with you. It's no reflection of your command of their language. They just may not have as much opportunity to do it as we might think, and they really do cherish those opportunities.
Bring your own passions and hobbies to the experience. The great thing about teaching English is that anything can be a lesson, as long as it's in English. In writing fiction, they say "write what you know." I think the same principle can be applied to teaching English. On the other hand, be willing to learn something about what interests your students. I got a crash course in hip hop culture from a friend who had lived in Brooklyn when the culture was coming into existence because hip hop, and especially American hip hop, is hugely popular here. And while it's still not my music of choice, I actually came to appreciate certain elements of hip hop.
Finally, keep in touch with friends from home. Living in a new land with a foreign language can be very isolating at the best of times. Even if your main social contact is online with friends and family, it will be more important and nourishing than you expect.
Anything else you'd like to share?
Every American should be required to spend a year living and working abroad. It would go far towards healing many of the toxic attitudes and prejudices in American culture today.
Additional LGBTQ+ Resources:
- ITA LGBTQ+ Video Library - Interviews and Instagram Takeovers from LGBTQ+ alumni sharing their experiences of teaching English abroad.
- ITA LGBTQ+ Blog Hub - Read stories, Q&A's, and more from LGBTQ+ alumni all around the world.
Alan is 61, born outside Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, with a master's in writing from Emerson College in Boston. He's currently in his first and only year teaching English at a high school in Hungary. He also teaches about eight lessons a week online outside of his usual job. He'll be moving to Barcelona, Spain in the summer of 2021 to live with his partner for the first time.
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