Dear Future USAC Students,
Wanting to go abroad is scary enough for some people but for the LGBTQIA+ community it adds another level of fear. Being an openly gay male in the present age is a balancing act.
When I studied abroad, I had to balance being myself and staying safe. This can be very scary, especially when going abroad for an extended length of time. My Portuguese teacher had recommended that I study abroad to understand the culture and language more. The first thing that came to mind was, “Is it safe for someone like me?”
Before I even applied to the program, I did a lot of research on my host country’s views on the LGBTQIA+ community. Most of the research showed that I would be safe. However, like any place, there are areas where it is not safe. Once I realized the city I was going to had a high percentage of LGBTQIA+ people and the acceptance rate was high I felt better. I also talked to the professor a lot because she was from the city where the USAC program is held. That helped put some concerns to rest for me.
USAC has created an article, 5 Tips for Finding LGBTQ+ Friendly Study Abroad Locations, that has some good tips on researching programs.
Fast forward a few months to when I’m actually in abroad and I talked to the director there about how to find some local resources and places I could make LGBTQIA+ friends. He told me, “Simply talk to anyone near the college and I can almost promise they are part of the community or have friends who are. You will make friends in no time.” This put my worry of not making friends at ease. That day I did what he said and made five new friends right away. They showed me around the city, the best places to hang out, and introduced me to all their friends. They adopted me into their friend family and made sure I was happy and safe.
The best advice I can give to a student who wants to travel abroad and is unsure if they will be welcomed due to their sexuality is to do as much research as possible. If you can talk to a professor who speaks the language or knows about the culture, do it. Talk to the advisor of that program, they are there for you and have your best interest in mind. Because of the city I was in it was very easy for me to be open about my sexuality because I was surrounded by a large number of people who were also part of the community.
I studied abroad in the Fall of 2017 and I still talk to my host family and my friends I made there. I made lifelong friends and family. I am planning a trip back soon to visit them all.
In short, your safety is very important but you also need to make sure you don’t regret not going or not enjoying yourself. For many of us, this is a once in a lifetime experience and it should be a happy one.
Bachelor of Fine Arts Major at University of Nevada, Reno