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LGBTQ&A: Teaching English in Chiang Mai, Thailand & Hanoi, Vietnam with Sean
Written by: Sean
Last Updated: April 22, 2021
What is your citizenship?
Where are you from?
Chicago, IL, USA
How old are you?
What is your education level and background?
Have you traveled abroad in the past?
Yes, I'd been to Switzerland, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Philippines, Japan, Mexico, the Caribbean, Canada, Peru, and Greece.
What sparked your interest in teaching English abroad?
It came to me at a major turning point in my life. I was experiencing a lot of depression, fear, and uncertainty. I decided to turn within for 90 days. During those 90 days, I spent several hours a day meditating. Every day I asked for clarity, purpose, and peace. One evening during meditation (around day 60), a voice said to me, "Teach English in Asia." I decided to research it a bit, and found ITA. Two months later, I was enrolled in the online TEFL course. This idea had never crossed my mind before. And that's why I trusted it. It excited me to think that I could serve as a teacher, foster the minds of young people, and travel the world to places I have always wanted to go.
What did your friends and family think about you moving and teaching abroad?
My friends and family were incredibly supportive. It didn't particularly surprise them that I would choose to follow a path that held so much unknown. Once I told people what I was doing, everyone seemed to have a story about someone they knew who did something similar. That calmed a lot of nerves and only excited them more. The only thing that may have been an apprehension, was that I didn't have a "return home" plan.
What were some of your concerns about teaching abroad?
I had a lot of personal healing to do before I could move on with my life and take off on this new adventurous chapter feeling free. I needed to overcome a lot of self doubt. I needed to focus on forgiving myself and my family. I needed to get stronger in my body and mind. I needed to decide who I wanted to be in this next iteration of my life. What does it mean to be a teacher? While taking the online TEFL course, I focused on rebuilding my familial relationships, working out at a gym with an obstacle course, meditating and reading, and eating clean. I am so grateful I had this time to focus on what was really important. By the time I left for Thailand, there wasn't an ounce of fear or self doubt in me.
Logistically, I had to legally change my name and update it on all my historical and legal documents. That took 4 months, which worked out perfectly with the course and my moving plans.
What resources did you find helpful when deciding where to go?
I only used ITA’s resources and meditation.
Please give your thoughts on dating abroad.
There are so many beautiful, adventurous, curious, entrepreneurial, compassionate, hard working, loving people in this world. For me, when living and traveling abroad, genuine human connection seem to take on more meaning. I didn't date much when I lived in Thailand. I wasn't ready (post break up) and it wasn't my priority. Now in Vietnam, I'm more open to it, and have had a couple of great dating experiences. I always have to ask myself: What's my intention for dating this person? Of course, you always have to keep in mind that people are on their own adventure, they come and go. Are you willing to be open and honest with someone who you many only spend a short time with? Are you willing to put the effort in to authentic communication and connection with someone from another country where there is possibly a language barrier? Are you willing to have some fun and expect to be surprised?
For me, my greatest achievement living abroad has been my friendships. These are the best friendships I've ever had.
Was there anything about being a member of the LGBTQ+ community abroad that was unexpected?
Did being a member of the LGBTQ+ community have an impact on where you decided to teach English?
Yes. I wanted to go to a country that doesn't torture and kill queer people. That exists.
Did you come out while living abroad? If so, how did your host country and experience influence that decision?
I came out selectively, mostly to my expat friends. Even doing that took me some time. I rarely came out to people I wasn't close to. And, I found myself not coming out to Thai people because I assumed the language difference wouldn't allow us to have a conversation. I was very private at my school because I assumed I would be fired. I want to point out that these are my own assumptions. I'm on a path to lead an authentic life, and coming out as trans is a new thing for me. I feel grateful that I can pick and choose when to come out. I found myself more likely to come out in queer spaces because I didn't want people to assume I was straight. Every time I come out I know I am contributing to expanding the consciousness of all humanity. I will try to come out more, when it's safe to do so. I also want to address my white, passing privilege. And, I want to acknowledge that it's not easy for everyone to choose not to come out.
Tell us about finding your community abroad.
Finding community abroad is all about you doing you. Do what you like, you'll find community. Queer folx are everywhere. In Chiang Mai, there were a lot of queer people: digital nomads, yogis, hikers, party animals. There was a Facebook group, but it wasn't particularly active. There were a couple of gay bars. In Hanoi, there is a very active queer scene, which excites me. Lots of gay/lesbian, trans, gender non conforming, drag folx. Tons of events. There just seems to be more of a queer community. That being said, finding community is about mutually beneficial energy exchanges. I have found community among non-queer people in both cities, and it's beautiful.
What were some of your most memorable experiences teaching English abroad?
I wasn't sure if my students liked me. It was the end of the week, last period. I took them to the library. When we got there, I sat on the floor with a book. Immediately, five students rush over to be the first to sit next to me. They all snuggled in next to me and put their heads on my shoulders while I read them a story. I felt so affirmed that I was a real teacher figure in their life. That I was doing a good job. That they were safe with me. I was so overwhelmed by how good it felt that I cried when I got home.
Did you have any difficult conversations abroad?
Most of my difficult conversations were at school with other foreign teachers in regards to discipline. Many of us were not accustomed to the teaching and discipline methods the Thai teachers utilized. It made many of us uncomfortable. In regards to sexuality and gender, I only had one difficult conversation. I came out to a gay bar owner one night. He said I looked like Hilary Swank from the movie Boys Don't Cry. Instead of punching him in the face, I said that his comment was insensitive, inappropriate, and inaccurate. You just don't say those types of things to trans people.
Did you find that locals had any stereotypes? Or did you have any stereotypes about the locals?
I'm not sure. In Chiang Mai there were a lot of lady boys and a lot of butch/femme lesbian relationships. Many Thais don't particularly talk much about that stuff. Most stereotypes that locals had seemed to apply to all foreigners, not just queer people. I wish I had more opportunity to talk to the locals about sex and gender. I'll try to ask more questions while I'm in Vietnam.
Were there any cultural boundaries you found to be different than your home country? If so, please explain.
What are your thoughts on safety in your host country abroad, as a member of the LGBTQ+ community?
I feel more safe in Thailand and Vietnam than I did in the US. Did you know that everywhere in the US, queer people are attacked, murdered, and bullied?
I feel safe because I know how to protect myself. I know that I am fully supported and held safe by the divine nature of the universe. I really do not know the government laws or social laws in Thailand or Vietnam. Perhaps I should research that a bit more. As a general rule, I am not overtly romantic in public.
Have you participated in any Pride celebrations abroad?
Chiang Mai Pride in February 2019. It was their first pride parade in 10 years. It was small, but powerful. The organizers had a display and performance at Thapae Gate, and the parade went around a portion of the moat. It was really important to see, and I admire all the people who made it happen after the long hiatus. I met a lot of great people that night. It felt good to celebrate.
Have you had any funny or weird questions from the locals?
Not really. They all just want to know if I am married or have a girlfriend.
Do you have any advice for people planning to move abroad to teach English?
Be open to everything and attached to nothing. Be intentional. Remember every day where you are and how lucky you are. Have fun!
It is very easy to get your HRT in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I went to a pharmacy near Thapae Gate, and I got 5 months of testosterone cypionate for 1,500 THB. I stocked up with a year's worth before I left for Vietnam because I had read a lot about many medications being fake there. Don't let your HRT hold you back from traveling. <3
Sean is a heart-centered seeker traversing the world in order to experience oneness in every day life. He lets his intuition guide him, and he writes and teaches English along the way.
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