LGBTQ students successfully study abroad around the world every term. Many of the questions that LGBTQ students need to consider when preparing to study abroad are the same questions that all students need to consider (Where will I find the best academic “fit” for my interests? How will I fund it? What do I most want to get out of my experience?), but given the range of legal and cultural attitudes towards LGBTQ people around the world, you should consider the following tips and questions prior to deciding where to study abroad and as you prepare for your experience:
Questions to Ask as You Decide on and Prepare for A Study Abroad Destination/Program:
- How open do I want to be about my sexual orientation and/or gender identity with professors, friends, fellow students, host family, site staff?
- How important is it to me to have a community of other sexual/gender identity minority individuals in my location abroad? What expectations do I have of seeking out and finding such a community while I’m abroad?
- What are my safety needs and perceptions? What resources are available to support LGBTQ people in my destination community?
- What are the cultural and social attitudes towards sexual orientation and gender identity in my host country, and how might it vary from place to place (for example, between the capital and a smaller town in which I might study, between a university community and a more rural location I might visit, etc.)?
- What is the legal status of same sex behavior and expressions of gender identity in my host country? Are there “public decency”, age of consent, or other laws that might affect me, and how rigorously are they enforced? Are other laws (carrying identification, loitering, etc.) selectively applied against people who are or are suspected of being LGBTQ?
- Are there other social and cultural norms that intersect with the legal attitude towards LGBTQ people – for example, are the LGBTQ communities in urban vs. rural areas treated differently, or in “upper class” vs. “poor” neighborhoods in the city? Is there a difference in the attitude of police towards “local” LGBTQ vs. LGBTQ individuals who are considered “tourists”, and how might that impact me if I am studying in a location where I might be mistaken for a “local” due to my language and/or ethnic and racial heritage?
Things to Consider As You Prepare to Study Abroad:
- Learn the laws of your host country regarding same sex behavior and expressions of gender identity. You are required to follow the law in your host country; failure to follow such laws can result in criminal penalties, deportation and loss of immigration status.
- Be familiar with local laws and customs so you can make informed and safe choices about destinations and programs which will be the best fit for you and your needs.
- Explore LGBTQ travel guides, talk with alumni students and research any other possible resources that provide information about the experiences of LGBTQ individuals in your host country. Find out what resources (local support groups, online resources, local information sources such as newsletters and magazines) will be available to you locally at your destination.
- Learn as much as possible about the context of your host culture regarding gender, sexual identity, and interactions between the sexes. These vary tremendously from culture to culture; open expressions of sexual orientation may be frowned upon, yet public expressions of friendship between individuals of the same gender may be far more demonstrative than is the case in many parts of the U.S.; similar expressions or behaviors can have entirely different meanings. Find out as much as possible about attitudes and customs, to help ensure that you are making informed choices about your own expression of identity and behaviors.
- NAFSA RainbowSIG U.S. Students Abroad: Resource website maintained by LGBTQ and allied professionals working in international education throughout the U.S. Includes links to country-specific guides and resources, pre-departure information, and first-person accounts by study abroad alumni
- Diversity Issues in Study Abroad, Brown University: A compilation of first-person accounts by Brown University study abroad students from a variety of backgrounds including LGBTQ individuals on issues and experiences related to gender, identity, ethnicity, and race they encountered while abroad.
- International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association (ILGA): Country-by-country resource for legal issues affecting the LGBTQ community – including legal prohibitions on same-sex relationships, age of consent laws, entry restrictions for HIV-positive individuals, etc.
- International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission: A U.S. based non-profit organization which provides country-by-country, up to date information on current decriminalization, discrimination, and other issues affecting the LGBTQ community in each country.
- National Center for Transgender Equality – Air Travel tips: Provides updated information regarding issues that transgender individuals may encounter when traveling. Note that this is primarily about U.S.-based travel although the tips are also broadly applicable to international travel