When I first received the news that I could spend a semester abroad, I was absolutely overjoyed: After all, what young, twenty-something doesn’t love the idea of spending close to six months in a brand-new place? However, as a queer, female-presenting person, I was hesitant to leave my home and my community without ensuring that I would be safe and supported throughout the entirety of my time abroad. Luckily, Arcadia’s Granada program turned out to be the perfect fit, and their team provided me with all the necessary groundwork to have a safe, successful semester in Spain! That being said, it was - and still is - up to me to make the best of my time here, both as a student and a queer individual. If you are a queer youth that is studying abroad - or is considering studying abroad - here are some tips to help you navigate this brand-new, exciting chapter of your life!
1. Research. Research. Research. Before you select your program, make sure you know what kind of resources will be available to you throughout the course of your stay - both as an individual and as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. Arcadia University is known for its awesome study abroad programs, each of which has an awesome team of staff that can advocate for you and provide you with the resources and support should you need it. That being said, you should still do some research before officially committing to a program in order to ensure the best possible experience! If you are unsure of how to do this, here are some questions I asked myself when searching for programs to apply to:
a. In general, is this country known for being favorable towards members of the LGBT+ community? Is this somewhere I would feel safe living as a visibly queer person?
b. Does this country have laws in place to protect my individual rights as well as those of my community?
c. Will I have ways to connect with my community whilst abroad? Are there any LGBT(-inclusive) spaces or events in (or close to) my chosen locality?
d. Will I have access to inclusive and/or gender-affirming care whilst abroad, should I need it?
2. Remember that culture has a part to play. If you’ve never lived outside the United States, you may not realize how big a role culture plays in our overall perceptions of gender and sexuality. I am studying abroad in Spain, and before I arrived here, I exclusively used they/them pronouns when around friends and classmates. However, this is not a common practice here. Spanish is a very gendered language, and while many people have begun using gender-neutral pronouns (such as elle/elles), they are not used as frequently as they are in the United States. I have used ella/ellas pronouns while I am in Spain, but some of my classmates have opted for elle/elles and informed me that most, if not everyone, they met was more than happy to incorporate these pronouns into their speech. So, if you are uncomfortable using gendered pronouns, know that it is still an option, at least in Spain! Just keep in mind that you may have to explain your pronouns to some of your new friends and acquaintances - even those within the queer community.
3. Make some connections. This applies to anyone who is studying abroad! Whether you’re looking to date or make new friends, a semester abroad can be a great time to branch out and expand your circle. In Spain, the best way to do this is by visiting a bar or club: Even if you do not drink, these places are a huge part of most Spaniards’ social lives. In my city, there are at least a handful of bustling gay and lesbian bars that range from super hype to laid back and low-key. Apps like Tinder and Bumble can also be useful for meeting fellow queer people, even if you are not interested in romance. Just remember to be safe and exercise judgment when meeting anyone you do not know in real life - even if it’s just for coffee!
4. Remain true to yourself. A lot of young travelers make the mistake of assuming that they have to change their entire personality just to fit in. Whether you are queer or not, this simply isn’t true: You should bear in mind the customs and culture of your host country, but you should not lose sight of the parts of yourself that set you apart from your friends and loved ones. Be your proud, authentic self no matter what country you’re in!