Staying Safe Abroad for LGBTQI+ Students
Written by Dave Landry Jr.
Studying abroad is an incredible and life changing adventure for many students. The number of students choosing to participate in study abroad programs increases year after year with Europe being the top pick among students. The academic and career benefits of studying abroad are overwhelmingly positive. As the world becomes increasingly more interconnected thanks to social networking, companies are looking for more students with experience living abroad or those with international experiences. Through study abroad programs many international students gain academic knowledge for their field but also career knowledge that can help propel them after graduation. Students studying abroad need to prepare not just for their new classes and university but also their living situation in a whole new country. Students must consider safety precautions while living abroad and LGBTQI+ students in particular have to consider some unique sets of precaution. Here are some things to consider while studying abroad:
- Research The Country: According to research, more American “millenials” who identify as LGBTQI+ feel more accepted in their communities than previous years. Although acceptance seems to be growing in the United States, other countries around the world might not be as LGBTQI+-friendly. As a student abroad you should be conducting research about the country you will be moving to and its culture anyway, but you want also want to make sure you look into the LGBTQI+ culture that exists in the country as well. You can often find country guides online that list the various safety risks in various countries as well as acceptance rates. Finding out your host country’s norms and styles of behavior can help you gain acceptance within the community you are studying in as well as help you learn more of the country’s culture in general.
- Learn the Lingo: In addition to learning the host country’s language you also want to learn vocabulary and slang related specifically to sexual orientation as they will always differ. Learning the positive and negative connotations of the jargon can help you maintain correctness while speaking as well as show awareness. Knowing these terms can also help you gauge who might be the right people to foster friendships with while abroad.
- Find Safe Havens: Learning the safe places in a community for an LGBTQI+ person can take time and for students going abroad it means really stepping out of their comfort zones. As a student going abroad you’ve already taking the brave step of trying something risky but exciting. For LGBTQI+ students abroad the added risk of being able to express themselves in a completely different space and culture comes into place. Try to make friends in your host country that know the lay of the land to find our which places might be riskier for those part of the LGBTQI+ community.
- Join LGBTQI+ Groups on Campus (or start one!): Joining LGBTQI+ clubs or groups on campus can not only direct you to great resources in the area but also make new friends at your university. However, keep in mind that campus activity will depend on the country you are living in and what kind of university you are enrolled in. American universities tend to emphasize campus life and university pride by having many on-campus student activities. However, not all universities around the world have that same higher education culture. You might find that there are few groups or clubs on campus or none at all. Keep this in mind while researching your university but also think about starting your own group if one does not already exist. This can help you meet new people as well and have another activity you can add to your experiences.
- Make Friends: Making friends for any student studying abroad is a necessity and especially making friends with locals. While being friends with other international students has the added benefit of sharing that similar experience of being away from home, making friends with locals can help you learn first-hand about the country you are living in as well as the culture and customs. Remember, people from the country can tell you authentically much more than any guidebook can and of course making friends while studying abroad can help you build friendships that last.
A crucial part of having a fun and successful study abroad experience is safety. This goes for all students but especially for LGBTQI+ students as acceptance various so greatly among countries and cultures. Keep these tips in mind while abroad to ensure a safe experience but do not forget to have fun and enjoy this exciting educational opportunity.