I identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community and studied abroad in Viterbo, Italy. Safety can be a concern in the U.S. and that doesn’t change when you go abroad. Add culture shock in the mix and it can feel overwhelming. However, going abroad as an LGBTQ+ student can be easier than you think, if you’re prepared.
To help get you started on your study abroad experience, I put together a short list of things I should have prepared more before traveling and living abroad. Not all of these tips pertain specifically to being an LGBTQ+ student, they are general tips for any student preparing to study abroad.
Try to seek out and build some friendships before you go
Personally, I put faces to names through emails and Facebook, you’ll end up receiving a list of all the people that are attending the same program you are. It doesn’t hurt to see what some of your future friends could look like! It also helps if you get lost when arriving and you have some other people in the same predicament!
Find out who the advisors, chair or other staff members are
Talking one on one with just a couple of the USAC staff members on your program can calm your nerves! Maybe even ask if there are some support groups in the area to join. (LGBTQ+, groups are surprisingly easy to find).
Research local laws
When picking the location and being LGBTQ+, BIPOC, etc. It can’t hurt to see what the laws, supports or even a local events are for the surrounding area you think would be a good fit. USAC has a helpful blog post on finding LGBTQ+ friendly study abroad locations.
Make sure you have cash and card ready for travel
Most places in Viterbo (and many throughout Europe) don’t accept card, so those ATM fees will deplete your money FAST. Just have some on hand! Change for laundry doesn’t hurt either!
Talk to the director of the program about any problems
They are there to help you and support you in any way they can. On my time abroad, I was hospitalized and checked on almost every day by the director and other members of staff! They can be like a second family in times of need.
If you wear binders or have things that are best kept to yourself, handwashing them may be a better way to go.
In Viterbo, there are no dryers! So everything hangs out in the open to dry.
Don’t forget your adapter
You’ll be in a world of hurt if you do. Most outlets abroad are different than what we’re used to in the U.S., so it helps if you even get a cheap multi-adapter off of Amazon.
Pack light or bring another suitcase
I ended up buying a whole other suitcase because of all the souvenirs! Those school books take up a lot of room too, but you could check with the director of the area you plan to study and see if they have any extra copies, it’ll save you room in your luggage.
Learn the language
Learning the language from locals themselves is surprisingly easy! If you don’t sign up or want to take the language, it’s very easy to find through an offline version of Google Translate. I say offline because wifi is a rare commodity (depending on where you study it can be very spotty!).
Research the area a bit more (especially if you are a person of color or part of the LGBTQIA+)
Take a gander at local news and stay safe! If you’re Trans/Non-Binary, I suggest opting for the dorms versus living with other people you may not know. It gives you more privacy and doesn’t force you into uncomfortable situations (in my case, I got my own bathroom).
Get a sim card or local cell phone as soon as you are able
If you have a plan that works, sometimes it will be very spotty, it might just be easier to have a cheap phone, just in case.
Bring all types of clothes
I expected sunny days and humid heat in Italy, I was very wrong. It rained and even snowed up until mid-may! Definitely is different, more so than you’re used to. Umbrellas are always needed if you don’t want to be soaked.
Stock up on your medication
In some places, asking for or even getting the medication may be hard. Best to just stick with what your body is used to.
Plan all of your travel and buy them when you get abroad
Airlines abroad, especially in Europe, are a LOT cheaper than buying in the U.S. One of the most expensive flights I took, round trip, was only $70!
On the topic of travel, learn the area’s metro
The trains or public transport can be very confusing, but after traveling you’ll start to understand it! Don’t end up with any tickets for traveling the wrong way with the wrong fare.
Last but not least,
You’ll make friends and travel to places you’ve never been. It might be a little different than what you’re used to, but you will never regret it.
Enjoy your time abroad, it’s an experience not many others get and it will be something you will treasure.
Gage Rutherford is a Portland State University Student who studied abroad in Viterbo, Italy in Spring 2018.