LGBTQ and Studying Abroad: Things to Think About

Cultures support, constrain, value or devalue public expressions of our sexual and gender identities variously, according to social norms, traditions, and values. That is to say, there is not global agreement about how much or how little sexual orientations matter, no universal standards for how freely one can express non-heteronormative identities in public, and no agreement across cultures about the human rights associated with sexual life. 

The study abroad experience can allow LGBTQ students the opportunity to view their sexual identity from a new cultural perspective. What LGBTQ means as a social identity is different depending on the country and, in fact, other cultures use language to describe non-heteronormative sexualities and genders that does not always accurately translate into English. Your host nation may be more tolerant of LGBTQ individuals than the U.S. In some cultures, open talk about non-heteronormative sexual life is forbidden and certain sexually-inflected behaviors may even be sanctionable. Some countries criminalize homosexuality and open hostility toward members of this population is acceptable behavior. State Sponsored Homophobia is a recent report that provides insight about this particular topic. In other cultures, talk of sexualities is welcomed. For information regarding such differences, please take a look at the NAFSA: Association for International Educators Rainbow Special Interest Group (SIG)

Before you travel abroad, be familiar with the laws, customs, and the attitudes towards the LGBTQ community for the country you will be in. Similar expressions or behaviors may have vastly different meanings and consequences abroad. Lastly, speak with past LGBTQ study abroad participants and your study abroad advisor, and continue to inform yourself as much as possible. The more you prepare, the better! 

Study abroad advisors are members of Safe Zone. We seek to create a supportive and confidential environment where you can discuss all aspects of your study abroad experience.

Source: Davidson College,