There are many factors that LGBTQ students may need to take into consideration as they plan for an education abroad experience. Customs, attitudes, laws, and social practices relating to LGBTQ people vary throughout the world. The links below, as well as links on some of the program pages, provide a great deal of information about LGBTQ issues worldwide and can assist LGBTQ students throughout the education abroad experience. When used prudently, social networking websites can also be a useful tool for students in finding out information about the LGBTQ community in the host country and city. In addition to these resources, students can speak confidentially with an education abroad adviser to address questions or concerns regarding education abroad.
Students who identify as LGBTQ may want to consider this as one factor in selecting a program destination. How much a student's LGBTQ identity influences the program selection will vary from student to student. There is not one location that is better than another for LGBTQ students. It will depend on individual circumstances as well as host environments.
Questions to consider during the selection process include:
- Is it safe in the host country and host city to be out as LGBTQ?
- If the host country or city is not a welcoming environment, am I prepared to be closeted?
- Does my host institution have an LGBTQ student organization?
- What is the living situation on the program? Will I have a roommate? Will I be living in a homestay? Am I comfortable with that?
For students who are not out at Bentley or at home:
- Do I want to be more out while abroad than I am on campus or at home?
- Are there resources and social opportunities for me to begin to come out and engage with the LGBTQ community in the host country?
- Will there be a large group of Bentley students at this location? Will I feel comfortable exploring my LGBTQ identity abroad with them around?
Adapting to a new culture is one of the most rewarding yet challenging aspects of studying abroad. All aspects of a student's identity impact how he or she adapts and integrates into the local environment. Age, gender, race, religion, nationality, sexual orientation and identity, and many other factors will shape the experience of each student. LGBTQ students abroad may encounter new attitudes, ideas, and stereotypes about gender, sex and sexuality, LGBTQ relationships, and LGBTQ rights. Students may perceive these as both positive and negative. Some may be similar to sentiments back home and others may challenge long-held beliefs.
One of the best ways to learn about the new culture and combat culture shock is to engage with locals. LGBTQ students can get in touch with locals through LGBTQ student and community organizations. Most guide books have some information for LGBTQ travelers and will usually list the address of the local LGBTQ community centers. These centers and their websites will provide information about support services, community events, social activities, and health resources for the LGBTQ community.
A student who enters into a romantic relationship abroad should proceed slowly and cautiously, as he or she would at home. Students need to be very aware of differences in cultural cues, norms, and expectations. Students who choose to be sexually active should protect themselves, as they would at home. Sexually-transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS, are a serious issue for all students, in any country.
Education abroad is a transformational experience for all students. It is often a time of increased independence, deeper self knowledge, and personal exploration. Education abroad often influences students to make significant changes in academic and career goals. Experiences abroad also impact students' perspectives on their personal lives and relationships. Many LGBTQ students start or move forward in the coming out process while abroad. This can be a very positive, yet challenging experience.
There are resources available to students in their host cities and at Bentley. LGBTQ student groups at host institutions and local LGBTQ groups in the host city offer students the opportunity to meet other LGBTQ people. They usually have a variety of social activities and may offer resources such as support groups. Students can also utilize the services of the the counseling office at their host institution. If the host institution does not have a counseling center, students may be able to find a professional through an LGBTQ group. Students can also contact staff in Counseling and Student Development at Bentley.
Leaving a host country and returning home is an emotional experience for all students. This transition can be even more emotionally charged for LGBTQ students. Students who chose not to be out while abroad may be very happy to return to an environment where they feel comfortable being out. Students who came out while abroad often face the difficult decision of whether to continue to be out upon return or to "go back into the closet" at home or on campus. Students are encouraged to reach out to resource people on campus, including staff in Counseling and Student Development.