Advising LGBTQ Students on Study Abroad
Category : News & Media
- It helps to remind students that our definitions of sexual orientation and gender identity are American definitions, rooted in our culture. Different cultures approach these matters differently, just as they might approach marriage or gender roles differently. Some cultures might be more accepting; others might be less accepting. When I speak with strangers in China, for example, I sometimes respond to their usual questions about my family by telling them directly that I’m married to a man—something I’m not always comfortable doing in the US. The reaction is almost always one of friendly curiosity: “Oh! You foreigners are different from us Chinese!” We should advise students to explore these differences before traveling abroad, reminding them that learning about cultural differences is part of the overall study abroad experience.
- For students studying in locations where homosexuality is illegal or LGBTQ identities are not welcomed, it’s OK to discourage students from coming out—in fact, it is essential to their safety. For students who have struggled to come out at home, who are proud to identify as LGBTQ, this can be difficult to accept. But there are real safety risks for LGBTQ students in certain regions of the world, including parts of the Middle East and Africa. Students who are not interested in heading back in the closet may want to consider alternative study abroad destinations. Even in locations where people are known to be accepting of LGBTQ identities, I often recommend that students who are unfamiliar with local culture proceed with caution. My advice? Don’t tell your local roommate or host family you identify as gay on your first day. Instead, take your time and learn about their views of LGBTQ matters—make sure you will be supported and accepted—before revealing this part of yourself to your hosts.
- Finally, advisors who work with LGBTQ students should help them explore online resources before they head abroad. For example:
- NAFSA’s Rainbow Special Interest Group (SIG) advises international educators on LGBTQ concerns and offers resources.
- The US State Department recently began offering travel advice for LGBTQ travelers, and they are continually expanding and revising their country pages to include relevant health and safety information.
- Once in country, students can work with on-site staff to identify resource centers serving local LGBTQ communities.