Study Abroad for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered (GLBT) Students
Studying abroad is an excellent opportunity to learn about world cultures as well as your own. As a GLBT student you may wish to consider some additional issues before departure.
Below are tips and resources to help you prepare for your time abroad and your transition back into American life when you return. Preparing for what to expect in a particular country can make the difference between a wonderful experience abroad and an unpleasant one.
- Why should I study abroad?
- Some thoughts GLBT Students should consider when making the decision to study abroad
- Other resources
- Additional links
- National Organizations
- For more information on the benefits of Study Abroad see “Why should I…” on the student page.
- Though the following information may seem overwhelming, don’t let it discourage you. Your advanced planning will be worth the effort and your experience abroad may be the key to unlocking your full potential.
Get to know your destination. Explore GLBT travel guides and internet resources. Talk with other GLBT and allied people about their experiences in certain countries or regions to gather as much information as possible upon which to make your choices and decisions. Once in your host country, find out what local newspapers, e-magazines or online resources may be available. Some questions to ask include:
- How open will I be about my sexual orientation and gender identity with my teachers, peers, friends, host family and others?
- How important is it to me to find other sexual minority students and friends while abroad? How will I make connections with other sexual minority students, local residents, or community organizations and gathering places?
- What resources are available in my host country for sexual minority people?
- Are there any GLBT-friendly establishments nearby? How can I find them?
- What are my safety needs and perceptions, and how can they best be met? Is the program able to make special accommodations for students who request single rooms, private baths, or certain roommates?
- Will I need access to any medications, supplies, or services due to my transgender status? Are they available in my host country? If not, will I need any additional documentation to travel with my medication or supplies?
The following may be useful in your search:
- The U.S. Students Abroad link at NAFSA: Rainbow SIG contains useful information, advice and links to consider.
- The travel link at Gay.com contains helpful information on traveling and links to Ask the Expert.
- Gay Crawler, a Gay and Lesbian Travel Directory, contains helpful links to world destinations.
Understand the context, customs, and attitudes in your host country. Similar expressions or behaviors may have vastly different meanings in different places. In somelocations when you are outside distinct gay 'neighborhoods' or specificvacation or resort facilities, open expressions of your sexualorientation might be frowned upon.
In some other areas of the world,expressions of friendship (such as eye contact, a smile, touching, and physical proximity) may be quite different than those expressedamong your U.S. peers and cause you to experience confusion oruncertainty about who may or may not be GLBT. For example, in several Middle Eastern countries hand-holding among males is a custom of special friendship and respect and does not necessarily imply homosexuality. Some questions to ask include:
- What are the cultural and local attitudes towards Americans, tourists, and sexual orientation and gender identity in my host country?
- What are police attitudes towards local residents, tourists, GLBT visitors?
- What is considered typical male and female social behavior and customary gender relations and social patterns in the host country?
- What may make the coming out process different in the host country compared to the U.S.?
- What are the norms and behavioral expectations within the GLBT communities in my host country?
- What is the social perception of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people in my host country? How are GLBT people socially defined? What roles do transgender people play in the host culture?
For information on diversity, discrimination, and culture:
- See “Diversity in Study Abroad” in the student handbook.
- Search the library in room 115 of the International Center for a collection of travel guides which include cultural norms and information from around the world.
- Contact GLBT citizens from other societies which may be helpful in uncovering this knowledge. GLBT chatting websites such as Gay.com have international links.
Learn the laws of your host country regarding GLBT issues, same-sex sexual behavior and expressions of GLBT identity and community. You are required to follow the law in your host country.Once outside the United States you are no longer protected by U.S.laws. If same-sex acts are illegal in your host country and you arecaught engaging in them (or presumed to have engaged in them), youcould be arrested and imprisoned in that country. In some countries,the penalties are very severe and can even include deportation,corporal punishments, and execution.
Be familiar with local laws and customs so you can make informed andsafe choices about destinations and programs which will be the bestfit for you and your needs. Some questions to ask include:
- Are there “public decency” laws? Or “public indecency” laws?
- What is the age of consent? Does it differ for heterosexual versus same-sex couples?
- Does the law require having “proper documentation” at all times?
- What is the police attitude towards the local GLBT community?
- Will laws and attitudes be the same for different social classes or geographic areas?
Links for news and laws around the world:
Think about changes that may occur when you come home. A journey abroad is a time of personal growth and discovery. Many transformations in personal development and self-awareness can occur, prompted by the fact that the restrictions of the home culture have been removed. Returning home is therefore a time of transition that can be difficult at times.
- If you choose to come out while abroad, how will this affect your return to friends and family?
- Will you be able to re-integrate these relationships upon your return or will you need to find a different supportive community?
- Be aware before you come back home of the ways in which you may have changed both independent of and as a result of your coming out.
- Consider the implications of coming out when back home. Often family and friends may want to dismiss your sexual orientation as temporary due to the experience abroad, rather than acknowledge a lifelong identity.
- For more information:
- See Culture Shock Revisited
- Visit MSU’s Office of Lesbian-Bisexual-Gay and Transgender Concerns for resources.
Go Abroad! The world is waiting.
The following titles are available from most online book retailers.
The Damron Mens Travel Guide 2006 (Damron Men's Travel Guide)
Over 12,000 listings of gay-friendly businesses in the US, Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, the Caribbean, South America, and most European capitals.
Damron Women's Traveller 2006
Over 9,000 listings cover North America, Mexico, the Caribbean, and major capitals of Europe, noting women-run businesses, vegetarian menus, wheelchair access, multiracial clientele, and much more.
Gay Travel A to Z: The World of Gay and Lesbian Travel Options at your Fingertips 2001
The most complete gay and lesbian travel options available anywhere are detailed in this comprehensive guide produced by a gay publisher who has exclusively specialized in gay and lesbian travel since 1980.
Frommer's Gay and Lesbian Europe, Third Edition (2003)
Offers inside tips on the gay and lesbian scene in every locale, plus practical information on hotels, dining, and attractions-a must for the 74 percent of U.S. gays and lesbians who took an international trip in 2001
The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission contains country-specific online resources and information to secure the full enjoyment of the human rights of all people and communities subject to discrimination or abuse on the basis of sexual orientation or expression, gender identity or expression, and/or HIV status.
The Amnesty International: LGBT Network facilitates activism, discussion, and education around the world.
The International Lesbian and Gay Association is a world-wide network of national and local groups dedicated to achieving equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (GLBT) people everywhere.
This information has been adapted with the permission of the Office of International Programs, Ithaca College and the International Centre of Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada.Scholarships
MSU’s Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, and Transgender Resource Center provides scholarship opportunities for current and prospective students at MSU. The scholarships include the Pride Scholarship, LBGT Student of Color Scholarship, and Stephen P. Pougnet and Christopher J. Green Endowed Scholarship.