Studying abroad presents challenges for every student, but we recognize that members of the LGBTQIA+ community face unique adversities. It’s important to reflect on your goals before departure and understand how your identity will impact your experience abroad. Below are five questions to ask yourself before study abroad, and learn more about Brent Coulter, USAC Chengdu and San Sebastián alumni, experiences abroad as a gay man.
1. What are my host country’s attitudes toward LGBTQIA+ people?
Understanding the local attitudes toward the LGBTQIA+ community will help guide how you approach your time abroad. Some countries are more open than others, but you can have an impactful experience in any USAC program. Knowing the local laws and cultural attitudes will help you navigate life abroad as you meet new people, get involved in your host community, and explore new cultures while keeping you safe.
2. What resources are available to me abroad?
It’s important to know where to go for guidance and support, and how to make connections once you’re abroad. Does your host university have an LGBTQIA+ student organization? What off-campus community spaces are in your host city? Are there online LGBTQIA+ resources about your region? We recommend finding these resources before you need them. Your USAC Program Advisor can help you prepare before departure, and your on-site staff are a great place to start once your program begins.
3. How open do I want to be about my identity with my cohort, international friends, and general local community members?
No matter the local laws and attitudes toward the LGBTQIA+ community, you’ll need to decide how “out” you want to be abroad. This decision may be situational, and it could change over time, but you should think about how much of your identity you want to wear on your sleeve. Some students plan on being as out and proud as possible. In comparison, others approach each situation differently. There’s no right or wrong answer, so stay true to yourself and do whatever makes you comfortable.
4. Will my identity influence my housing choices?
Housing varies by USAC program. When reviewing your housing options, think about how “out” you want to be and if you need any special accommodations. Again, this may change depending on where you live and who you live with. For example, a homestay with a local family may be more relaxed and accepting than living in an on-campus dorm. Consider how your identity will play a role in your day-to-day living situation, and work with your USAC Program Advisor to make find the best option for you.
5. What do I want to get out of this experience?
There are a million reasons to study abroad. Spend some time reflecting on what you want to achieve while abroad, and how those goals relate to your identity. Not every goal needs to be geared toward your identity as an LGBTQIA+ student, but it’s a great idea to include one or two that can satisfy that part of you. Additionally, you don’t need to have concrete goals to have an impactful study abroad. Think about how you want to grow as a person. Do you want to be more independent? Develop confidence? Meet local LGBTQIA+ friends? Decide what is most important to you and build your study abroad plans around those elements.
You deserve to have a meaningful, impactful study abroad experience no matter how you identify. Asking yourself these questions before departure can help you start your study abroad on the right foot.