Presentation highlights study abroad concerns for LGBTQ students

Nick Hadjigeorge

It is important for LGBTQ students to learn about the history and culture of the country in which they will be studying abroad and to think about these facts in relation to their sexual identity, said Laurie Young, program coordinator for the UT International Office.

A presentation on the issues and realities of studying abroad as a LGBTQ student was given on Monday as a partnership between the UT International Office and the Gender and Sexuality Center.

“Knowing the culture will affect how you view your own sexual orientation abroad,” Young said. “Cultures vary in their definitions of sexual identity and it really helps to research this before you get there.”

Young said she noticed the lack of resources and information available for LGBTQ students who want to study abroad and organized the presentation as part of the internship requirement for her master’s program.

“I wanted to leave something behind for UT,” Young said. “The goal of this presentation is to keep the conversation going and to help these students become successful.”

Young said the first time she studied abroad as an undergraduate was difficult because there were no resources available at her university for LGBTQ students.

“The second time I studied abroad I did a lot of research and it was a much better experience,” Young said. “I was able to open my mind to different perspectives and world views.”

Creating a support network of friends and family is also important for adjusting to the challenges of studying abroad and returning home as an LGBTQ student, Young said.

“Sometimes you can go abroad and the environment is very open and accepting,” Young said. “Having a support network is helpful when you come back to the U.S. and find it to be less accepting [than the country you visited].”

Shane Whalley, education and outreach coordinator for the UT Gender and Sexuality Center, presented research on the legal status of homosexuality, anti-discrimination and other gender-related issues of other countries as a resource for students to learn the laws of their host country.

“It’s surprising for some people to actually see what the laws are,” Whalley said. “We want to make students think about these different issues when they make plans to study abroad.”

Whalley said the most challenging issue for LGBTQ students is knowing how to handle their sexuality while they are studying abroad.

“You need to figure out how ‘out’ you can be in the host country,” Whalley said. “There are places you can go where this is no issue but other places where it is.”

Madeline Hayhurst, international relations and global studies sophomore, said the presentation brought up many issues she never thought about and reinforced the ideas she already had in mind.

“I recently came out,” Hayhurst said. “This information is helpful because I want to go to a country that doesn’t force me back into the closet.”

Printed on Tuesday, November 15, 2011 as: Study abroad poses cultural, legal issues for LGBTQ students