Women’s Studies Post Grad
September 17, 2015
When I was in college I used to work at the Women’s Center on my campus and was also a Women’s Studies minor. The two departments have collaborated together to create a blog about Collective Feminism. They are going to have different categories on the blog, but the most exciting thing for me was that I was asked to write about my post-grad experience and how I am using my Women’s Studies minor in Taiwan. I had a great time writing the post and reflecting on how I actually am using my acquired knowledge abroad.
“Post-Grad”, it has such a scary ring to it. An undergraduate student spends an average of four years studying in one particular field. That focus often becomes what you live and breathe for four years, and once you get that piece of paper saying, “Congratulations! You have graduated!”, it transitions into a horrific moment of “now what!?!”. Maybe not all students feel this way, but this terrifying afterthought definitely rang true for myself. I spent four years at St. Cloud State University majoring in Global Studies and minoring in Women’s Studies. I found Women’s Studies and a new-born passion too late in the game to double-major, unfortunately. I had the wonderful opportunity to work for the Women’s Center on-campus, and be a member of Women’s Action, while also participating in “The Vagina Monologues” and directing “That Takes Ovaries”. By the end of college I felt like I was living and breathing female empowerment just like I thought a good feminist should. Then graduation! The safe cocoon of friendly environments I had accustomed to were replaced by “the real world”. I had decided a year before graduation that I was going to live my dream and live abroad for a year. Not only was I leaving St. Cloud, but I was also leaving the United States for a country in Asia called Taiwan. Currently, I am a Native Speaking Teacher (English Teacher) at a CRAM school in Taiwan. I teach children ages 3-11 years-old. When I arrived in Taiwan I immediately knew that I was on my own. The safe cocoon was thousands of miles away. I went from studying about different aspects of women’s lives and experiences to teaching grammar and the ABC’s. Where was I going to make the connection between feminism and teaching English? One evening, I dramatically texted my friend, “How am I going to keep my feminist soul from dying?” The answer: just switch the lens. I realized I was no longer the student, I was the teacher (when did I grow up so fast!!), and it was time to apply what I learned in class to my new job. I eventually found different ways of being a feminist in the classroom. I continue to teach my kindergarten students to be nice to each other, to embrace whatever color is the student’s favorite (pink is cool and so is blue), and show them that they can like the blocks if they are girls and they can like the kitchen toys if they are boys. In my Elementary classes I make sure all the students are getting a chance to answer questions and started calling on the ones that weren’t raising their hands. I went from only two female students raising their hands to all of them in just a few weeks. Proud teacher moment! While part of my job has been hard (some of the students deal with domestic violence issues in their homes, which tends to lead to behavior issues) it also has been super rewarding. I had numerous conversations with my previous third grade class about how I don’t have a boyfriend but that is okay, and how my best friend is a boy who likes boys, and no he doesn’t like me like that because he likes boys more (try explaining that to someone in their second language). They are curious and they ask questions, and it is amazing at what they know at such a young age. I never thought I would be giving my feminist perspective in simplified third grade form when I decided to move abroad, but I’m so glad they feel safe enough with me to ask me questions and be okay with my responses.
Outside of work I have been taking full advantage of being in Asia and having the opportunity to travel. I’m glad that I have my feminist perspective to look at different aspects of my personal life or my traveling and be able to critically analyze them through a feminist lens. In Taiwan, personal questions are not actually personal questions. Strangers will openly ask if I am single, how many hours I work, and how much I get paid. My biggest pet peeve is their response to whether or not I am single. “Wow! You moved to Taiwan by yourself?” “Yes, I did.” “You are so brave!” This response is accompanied with a stare of awe and a pat on the shoulder. Of course my fellow male colleagues have never gotten this response or been asked questions about their relationship status. Being a single woman, traveling alone in Asia is seen as either brave or crazy (people in the US have also called me both of these labels as well). I call it: living my life to the fullest and doing what I want. My status as a woman was also questioned when I recently went to the doctor for stomach problems. There is a symptoms box in the form the doctor fills out. He asked me if I am single or married, and when I said single he typed it in with my other symptoms. My conclusion: being single in Taiwan leads to stomach pains or stomach ulcers (be aware!).
Don’t get me wrong. It isn’t all sexist side comments in Taiwan or Asia. I have had amazing opportunities such as, walking along the DMZ border in South Korea, eating lunch by an active volcano in Bali, Indonesia, climbing Angkor Wat in
Cambodia, and crawling through the Cu Chi Tunnels in Vietnam. Most of these countries I have traveled to, alone. I always knew I had the ambition to do all of these things, but I know feminist theory and Women’s Studies helped me embrace the ambition and empowerment I was allowing myself to lay dormant. They gave me the tools to feed my empowerment and address the sexists questions.
Throughout this crazy year being abroad and being a post-grad I have learned a thing or two. My feminist soul will not die; I just need to learn how to feed it without the structure of a syllabus or a professor guiding the way. I found books, blogs, and friends in Taiwan that I could talk to and share my thoughts or opinions with. I also created my own blog where I write about the places I have traveled or the things I have done in Taiwan. Not every post has a feminist perspective, but because it is a part of me I think there is always an underlying tone in my posts. I have continued to proudly tell people I’m a feminist. While sometimes it takes people aback it has sparked more conversations than I could have ever imagined it would.
Is being a post-grad Women’s Studies minor or major all flowers and sunshine? No. There is some loneliness or a sense of lose, especially when you lose such a wonderful community after being apart of it for a few years. But you can take the feminist perspective you have learned and adapt it to your everyday life. It’s one of the new challenges a new graduate faces, and I say embrace it.