Students who identify as LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and gender nonconforming, or queer), sometimes referred to as LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and gender nonconforming, queer, intersex, ally, or asexual), may have some additional factors to consider when planning an education abroad experience. It is critical that LGBTQ students research and identify education abroad programs that are a good fit for their personal, academic and cultural goals, but also try to ascertain what it means to be LGBTQ in that host country.
Preparing to Study Abroad
If you identify as LGBTQ, you should consider disclosing this as early as possible to your education abroad office so that they can help you find the right program and coordinate other logistics to ensure a safe and healthy experience abroad. For example, your choice in housing options can play a central role to your plans. If you intend to participate in an education abroad program in a country where being out may not be culturally accepted, a homestay with a local family may present more challenges than you would experience with campus or apartment housing. It’s important to be specific about your housing needs with your education abroad adviser or other program staff. You may also wish to reach out to your overseas health insurance company so that staff can accommodate any other needs you may have – medical, personal, or emotional – by connecting your with support services in-country.
For transgender students, there may be a few more factors to consider. Reach out to your education abroad adviser or on-site staff to ask about trans-inclusive housing and other logistics. Some topics for discussion could include:
- Identification/immigration (passports and visas);
- Perceptions and safety of transgender people in host country;
- Gender roles and expectations in the host country;
- Availability and access to necessary health care, counseling, and medication; and
- Housing and toilets (gender neutral bathrooms or best choices available).
While Living and Studying Abroad
In almost every corner of the world there are LGBTQ individuals and allies, yet their role in a host culture will vary greatly from place to place. While abroad, you may find a sense of openness, acceptance, and celebration of the LGBTQ community in your host country. Or you may find homophobia, heterosexism, and transphobia, and the potential for violence a more prevalent and day-to-day reality for LGBTQ individuals who live there. You will likely discover that, just like in the United States, people in larger cities and metropolitan areas tend to be more accepting of differences and less traditional or conservative in their views about sexuality compared with those who live in smaller, rural communities.
Wherever information is available, research the country’s political climate, government laws, and current societal attitudes regarding the LGBTQ community because these factors can directly impact your safety and experience abroad. If you cannot find a lot of information, consider what that tells you about the host culture and make an educated choice about whether or not it is a good fit for you.
(Excerpts from: “Sexual Health Abroad: A Guide to Healthy Practices.” NAFSA Association of International Educators; Education Abroad Series. 2016.)
Bringing the Experience Home
Preparing for your return home is equally as important as preparing for your departure. Give thought to what you have gained from your study abroad experience. Before you return to the U.S. it is helpful to consider how changes in your self-identity may affect your relationship with family and friends back home.
What have you learned while abroad and how will you use the experience later? Did study abroad allow you to pursue research, volunteer in an overseas community, or serve an internship? Compare your pre-departure goals. Are you interested in sharing your experience with others?
- U.S. Department of State: LGBTQI+ Travel Information
- Amnesty International USA: Gender, Sexuality, & Identity
- International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association
- International Gay/Lesbian Travel Association
- The National Center for Transgender Equality: Travel
- TSA Transgender Passenger Information
- Equaldex: Collaborate LGBT Knowledge Base
- The Trevor Project