Coming into my semester with Arcadia in Dublin, I was a bit wary of identifying as a transgender, non-binary student. Living abroad is often nerve-wracking enough without being away from your usual support systems and in an unfamiliar environment. Having lived abroad in Italy for a considerable part of my abroad experience, I was ready to be closeted in my new environment if needed for safety reasons, especially due to the Catholicism that I knew about in both Ireland and Italy. I can honestly say that I have been pleasantly surprised by the high levels of support from the Arcadia staff, the faculty at the Institute of Public Administration in Dublin, and my fellow students within the program.
But if you still are nervous as an LGBTQ+ identifying student going abroad, I think it's important to go in with a game plan before the madness ensues and your plane touches down. With that being said, here are a few tips and tricks I have picked up on my abroad adventures thus far.
1) Find small ways to connect with and engage with the local LGBTQ+ community to fight off that loneliness and isolation.
A big part of my positive memories and moments in which I felt most safe as an LGBTQ+ person has been due in large part to the friendships I have made with fellow LGBTQ+-identifying students from my program. Off the bat, I felt comfortable during the Arcadia orientation and in the Institute of Public Administration because the academic term introductions in both contexts offered the ability to put your pronouns down. While this may seem like a small inconsequential act, it's a vital signal of allyship from both the program and builds a level of trust from the get-go that you can draw upon in times of need.
I also have loved connecting with other students in my Irish parliament program on our shared LGBTQ+ identities, while of course exploring local LGBTQ+ sights, such as the Oscar Wilde Guided walking tour and the George (which has been the home of the LGBTQ community for over 30 years). I would suggest looking up places to go by following local LGBTQ+ bloggers or even local LGBTQ+ youth/student groups. So much of the research is often already done for you, so take advantage of it!
2) Bring up any concerns with the Arcadia staff. They are in fact there to help you succeed.
The Arcadia Staff are here to help you thrive and care about your well-being. You won’t always feel equally as comfortable with each of the staff, but I think it's vital to have a go-to point person in your local branch office who you feel you can go to for support or advice. Remind yourself that you are not a burden and you can go to that point person for support. From something as small as asking advice about local LGBTQ+ events or groups to attend to something as big as getting assistance to find gender-affirmative healthcare in the area, it can be a weight off your chest to know you have that support as an option if you need it.
I would also say that some of the biggest allies I have are my professors. My Irish society professor at the Institute of Public Administration is incredibly inclusive in her teaching style by using LGBTQ+ and trans-inclusive language as well as exploring the intersectionality of gender-based discrimination in topical issues of housing and healthcare policy. Never underestimate the relationships and allyship that can be found in your professors as you undertake your new semester abroad.
3) Go in with eyes wide open about the country you are going to live in.
It's important to have realistic expectations of the country in which you are about to study. So open that laptop and look up some of the local customs, laws, and norms of the country to assess how comfortable you feel being out while abroad. This is especially important if you are going to a place with a drastically different language or culture from your home country and or institution. Some basics to look up could include:
4) Remember to give yourself some extra self-love and care.
I won’t sugar coat it, sometimes being abroad can be a challenging experience, especially if you are from an already marginalized community, but that is why it's more important than ever to find small ways to practice self-care and to celebrate yourself. This looks different for everyone, but staying true to yourself is key here.
Now what are you waiting for? Hop on that plane. Your abroad adventure awaits.