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LGBTQ&A: Teaching English in Taipei, Taiwan with Zackary Wiggins
Written by: Zackary Wiggins
Last Updated: July 19, 2021
TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF
What is your citizenship?
Where are you from?
Greensboro, North Carolina
How old are you?
What is your education level and background?
Have you traveled abroad in the past?
Never left the country
Please tell us about yourself.
I'm from North Carolina in the United States, and graduated from UNC at Greensboro with a degree in Geography, mainly studying climate and the environment. I've been in Taipei, Taiwan, for almost nine months and have been having a great time learning about the culture, and eating the food here. Most of my interests tend to revolve around the environment, politics, travel, and dogs (especially pugs!).
What sparked your interest in teaching English abroad?
I was about the graduate with my Bachelor's Degree, but didn't know exactly what I wanted to do after graduation. I knew there was such a thing as teaching abroad, but I always thought it was something that would be too far out of reach or too hard to get into. Nevertheless, I decided to look into it and I found ITA. After talking to one of the advisors at ITA, I was hooked and decided that after the past five years of school, I needed to do something exciting and go somewhere I never had been before.
CHOOSING WHERE TO TEACH ENGLISH ABROAD
Which country did you decide to teach English in?
Please include the city where you decided to teach English.
What did your friends and family think about you moving and teaching abroad? Were they supportive, apprehensive, excited, concerned, etc.?
At first, I kind of just told them I was thinking about teaching abroad for a year so that I wouldn't surprise them when I decided for sure to do it. Surprisingly, everyone was quite supportive. The ones who surprised me the most (and the ones I was the most nervous to tell) were my grandparents. They were extremely supportive. My grandmother even told me that I was young and needed to go out and do things. My family and friends supported me the entire time. Of course there were tears at the airport, but they seemed very excited for me to have this opportunity.
What were some of your concerns before teaching abroad?
At first, there were a lot of little logistical concerns I had, like would my cell phone and laptop work in Taiwan, how would I pay my bills in the United States, and how would I maintain time to stay in touch with everyone. After talking to my advisor at ITA, and the interviewer at the company I started working at, all of those concerns seemed to go away. Other things that concerned me were my confidence in being able to teach, finding friends once I got here, the language barrier, and whether I would actually enjoy it.
What resources did you find helpful when deciding where to go?
Google! Just researching all of the different places and seeing what matched my personality and needs was incredibly helpful. Also, the resources that ITA provides are unmatched anywhere else. They provide such good details on all of the different countries, interviews with alumni, and information on finances that was very helpful! No matter what country I looked at, I always seemed to go back to looking at Taiwan! I took it as a sign.
THE LGBTQ+ COMMUNITY IN TAIWAN
Please give your thoughts on dating abroad.
Dating abroad can definitely provide some unique challenges. Luckily in Taiwan, it's not hard to find other people who are LGBTQ, but there is a cultural difference when it comes to dating. People might have a different sense of humor, different world views, different customs, and different attitudes towards situations. For example, in Western culture we like to be more confrontational. In Eastern culture, they tend to not be confrontational. I didn't know my future boyfriend thought I talked too fast, until a few weeks later because he didn't want to tell me! I told him to just tell me how he feels or thinks so we don't have any confusion.
Was there anything about being a member of the LGBTQ+ community abroad that was unexpected?
Being in one of the more liberal places in Asia, there wasn't much that surprised me. I did a lot of research online to prepare. All of the websites were right. People in Taiwan tend to not care how you live your life, as long as you're not hurting anyone. The attitude towards things like that here is definitely laidback.
Did being a member of the LGBTQ+ community have an impact on where you decided to teach English? If yes, how so?
Of course! Being gay, just traveling to a place for a week provides challenges in some places. So I wanted to make sure I was going to go somewhere where I would not be persecuted for being gay, or that I had to fear being hurt. Obviously no matter where you go, there will be people that don't accept it. I just wanted to try to keep that to a minimum. Taiwan was a great choice!
Did you come out while living abroad? If so, how did your host country and experience influence that decision?
I didn't come out exactly. I just go to events tailored towards the LGBTQ community. It's a little obvious that I'm gay, so I just don't hide it. People can make their own assumptions. My coworkers figured it out, and I talk about my boyfriend a lot.
Tell us about finding your community abroad
In Taiwan, it's not hard. There is a vibrant gay scene. There are events, social groups, clubs, and apps that make finding others in the community easy. I went to a club on the second night I was here in Taiwan. It was a great time. They had free, instant HIV testing outside of the club for people to get tested with their friends so they wouldn't feel stigmatized. It's a great community here.
What were some of your most memorable experiences teaching English abroad?
In terms of actual teaching, helping a child who had problems reading and speaking actually read half of a book by himself really got to me. It was a great moment. It made me feel successful, and I was so proud of him. In terms of being in Taiwan, exploring the scenery is always memorable. There are so many things to see and do. Taiwan is beautiful. The culture is beautiful. And the food is amazing.
Did you have any difficult conversations abroad? If so, would you mind sharing?
Not really. The closest thing to a difficult conversation I had, was one time hanging out with my language partner and his wife. I told them that my boyfriend was my partner. In America, we would automatically know what that means. Here in Taiwan I don't think it's as clear, so the wife kept asking questions and eventually came out and said "So what exactly is your relationship?". I just said "We're dating". She didn't care in the slightest. Her exact words were "We're not old fashioned, we don't care". Now my language partner asks about Isaac (my boyfriend) all the time. And the three of them really clicked.
Did you find that locals had any stereotypes? Or did you have any stereotypes about locals?
Some of the stereotypes Taiwanese people have are that we're loud, we drink a lot, and we're rude. Being American, I can definitely say that the loud stereotype is very true. The loudest people on the metro or at restaurants are usually the foreigners. I try to break the rude stereotype by just being as nice as I can. The stereotypes that I had were probably the opposite, that locals were quiet, reserved, and hard to make friends with. That is the furthest from the truth. While not as loud as the foreigners, the locals love to talk and have a good time. They're also not reserved or hard to make friends with. I've had random people come up to me and ask questions about where I'm from, why I'm here in Taiwan, etc. They're very nice!
Were there any cultural boundaries you found to be different than your home country? If so, please explain.
Two things: the confrontational aspect, and relationships. Relationships are so important in Taiwan, they have a special name, guanxi. Relationships affect so many of their decisions. "How will this affect my family, my friends, my neighbors, etc". In the West, we're more individualistic. "How will this get me to where I want to go". And confrontation is a lot different between the East and West. Saving face is "preserving one's honor". It's extremely important in the East. Confrontation can make one lose face. Also, because relationships are so important, making someone lose face can affect other people as well.
What are your thoughts on safety in your host country abroad, as a member of the LGBTQ+ community?
I feel safer in Taiwan than in a lot of places in the United States. I'll just leave it at that!
Have you participated in any pride celebrations abroad? If so, please tell is about them.
Yes! Taiwan hosts the biggest pride parade in Asia. It was great. It's a little different than the parades in America, where there's a million floats and people stand and watch. Here, we stood and watched the 4 or 5 floats that there were, and then everyone joined and it turned into a march! It was wonderful! Families where there, old and young were there. It was a great time. It connected me more with Taiwan and the people there.
Have you had any weird and/or funny questions from locals?
Not really. Again, the culture here is pretty laidback concerning that type of thing!
Do you have any advice for people planning to move to this country/move abroad?
Just go for it! Taiwan is a safe country, the locals are nice and helpful, the culture is beautiful, the landscape is breathtaking, and it's an all around great time! Being part of the LGBT community does not provide many challenges here that might come with going to other parts of Asia, or the Middle East. If you're thinking about any other countries just do your research! See what the laws are concerning LGBT rights, and mostly just read testimonials of people who have lived there. If you're comfortable being more discreet, then that will open more countries. If you're not comfortable being discreet, there are still many countries that you can enjoy being in! It all comes down to you!
Zackary is from North Carolina and took ITA's Online TEFL Course. He had never been abroad before taking the plunge to teach English in Taipei, Taiwan.
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