There are many different factors for all students to consider when choosing a study abroad program. All students are encouraged to think seriously about program selection to ensure that academic and personal goals are met and to have a positive experience abroad. Below are some potential special considerations for GLBT students.
Attitudes and laws regarding GLBT individuals vary widely around the world. Some countries that you choose to study may be more or less supportive of the GLBT community than in the United States. Homosexuality may be illegal, widely misunderstood or even believed to not exist in the country you in which you study. It is important to reflect on how this may affect your experience.
If you are “out” at home, reflect on what it means to leave behind a support system of friends and family. Asserting your GLBT identity abroad has been described by some as a second "coming out." How will you re-establish your identity overseas?
Think about how “out” you want to be while studying abroad. If you want to study in a country that does not support GLBT individuals, are you willing to suppress your GLBT identity? Will this affect your study abroad experience?
GLBT students have lived in homestays, apartments, and dorms while studying abroad. In order to be placed in a supportive environment, be sure to talk with your study abroad program coordinator before departure. Many GLBT individuals have had great success being matched with supportive and open-minded host families.
Does the program you are interested in support GLBT? Most study abroad programs hire onsite staff with much experience working with students of all backgrounds and identities. Talk to your program coordinator about the resources and services they provide to you.
Cultures vary widely in terms of what is considered appropriate behavior and how sexual identities are defined and understood.
Learn as much as possible before you leave about the culture-specific norms of your country. Behavioral signals (such as eye contact, a smile, touching) may lead us astray in a foreign culture. For example, in several Middle Eastern countries hand-holding among males is a custom of special friendship and respect and does not imply homosexuality.
Check with your study abroad program coordinator to see if it is possible for you to contact other GLBT students who are either from the host country or who have studied there to ask them specific questions.
How will the experiences you’ve had abroad play out when you return to your home campus?
Perhaps you were “out” for the first time while abroad or were more involved with the GLBT community more than at your home campus. How will this affect you when you return?
Adapted from NAFSA's Rainbow SIG website.