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LGBTQ&A: Teaching English in San Jose, Costa Rica with Laura Harbaugh
Written by: Laura Harbaugh
Last Updated: February 11, 2021
What is your citizenship?
Where are you from?
Kokomo, Indiana, USA
How old are you?
What is your education level and background?
Have you traveled abroad in the past?
Yes, I'd been to England, France, Italy, the Bahamas, Sint Maarten, and Anguilla.
What sparked your interest in teaching English abroad?
I wanted to travel the world!
What city and country did you decide to teach English in?
I am currently teaching English in San Jose, Costa Rica.
What did your friends and family think about you moving and teaching abroad?
Mostly excited. They said some super ignorant things that only people who can't imagine leaving the country would ever think is okay to say. I was originally intending to go to Nicaragua and my mom cried every day until she begged me to go to Costa Rica instead. For Christmas she gave me a rape whistle, mace, and a keychain weapon.
What were some of your concerns about teaching abroad?
How would I make friends? How would I learn the language? Was I even a good teacher?
What resources did you find helpful when deciding where to go?
The ITA Country Chart and my ITA Student Affairs Advisor.
Please give your thoughts on dating abroad.
I had never really dated before moving abroad so I don't have very much to compare it to but I would say not terrible.
Was there anything about being a member of the LGBTQ+ community abroad that was unexpected?
The community of people. I finally met someone else that identifies the way I do which was liberating.
Did being a member of the LGBTQ+ community have an impact on where you decided to teach English?
Did you come out while living abroad? If so, how did your host country and experience influence that decision?
I can't count how many times I've come out. I have a really obscure sexuality and so every single time I come out I have to explain because no one has heard of it before. I live with friends instead of a host family so other than some ignorant comments, it's nothing huge.
Tell us about finding your community abroad.
Thankfully almost all of my friends are queer so they have brought me along to events and parades and such.
What were some of your most memorable experiences teaching English abroad?
Any time my students make hilarious mistakes, or thank me for teaching them. Learning more of my language than I thought I ever would.
Did you have any difficult conversations abroad?
All the time. Because I'm demisexual I constantly have to explain to allosexual people what it means, which is really hard because if you don't experience it personally it can be difficult to understand. Many times I don't say something but then when I do, they just shut me down as if they know better than I do.
Did you find that locals had any stereotypes? Or did you have any stereotypes about the locals?
No matter where you go, straight is the default. People, especially men, always ask me if I'm married or have a boyfriend when I say no they ask why not.
Were there any cultural boundaries you found to be different than your home country? If so, please explain.
Adults will often stay with their family until they get married unlike back home where we usually move out once we reach adulthood.
What are your thoughts on safety in your host country abroad, as a member of the LGBTQ+ community?
I don't present any signs that I'm not straight so I don't experience any anti-queer hate but I have had friends that did.
Have you participated in any Pride celebrations abroad?
I went to San Jose pride which was my first time every going to one. It is a day I will never forget. People assumed I was a lesbian. I've been to this event called a "kissing party" where they raise money for the community and you basically pay to kiss someone. I swear it isn't as weird as it sounds it's just super hard to explain.
Have you had any funny or weird questions from the locals?
If you mean locals as in strangers I'm not friends with then no because they just assume I'm straight.
Do you have any advice for people planning to move abroad to teach English?
If you aren't straight-passing there is a good chance you will experience some discrimination. Costa Rica is pretty accepting and I've only heard a few stories but it is something to be aware of.
Even in the most progressive countries where same-sex marriage is legal, there is still a stigma around the queer community. Even in the queer community I get backlash for being ace. Life is too short to not follow your dreams, don't let a little ignorance get you down.
Laura is originally from Indiana and got TEFL certified at ITA's headquarters in Chicago. She then took the plunge to teach English in San Jose, Costa Rica.
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