IIE Networker - Fall 2006 - (Page 41)
Knowledge Network GLBT Issues Going Public: American Gay Students in an Overseas Program By Eero Jesurun While overseas, a student’s identity can change drastically. In terms of sexual orientation, it is not clear how a student will self-identify while abroad, if their behavior will change and whether they will come out or go back into the closet. Thus, when it comes to guiding American gay students through the study abroad experience, advisors must, in addition to finding a good academic program match, address a separate set of questions. How do we identify and address all of the student’s individual needs as they relate to sexual orientation and the host culture where they want to study? What is the best living situation for a gay student while overseas? What support is available for students while abroad to help them address gender issues? Though some students may experience homophobic attitudes, there have not been any reports at U.S. embassies of physical attacks related exclusively to sexual orientation. Most commonly, students are characterized by their nationality, not their sexuality, while abroad. In my experience, gay students studying abroad in Spain and in other Western European countries are tagged as Americans, rather than as homosexuals. It would be beneficial to hold a discussion with students on how to deal with cultural stereotypes as part of the learning experience. Advisors should warn students that the social acceptance of gays throughout a particular culture is not always clear. For instance, the Oscar-winning Ang Lee film, Brokeback Mountain, about homophobia in the rural United States, received mixed reactions in Spain, where gay marriage has been legalized by the national government. In large cities, the film was well-attended, especially by young Spaniards. However, it did very poorly in provincial areas where it had a short run and was condemned by some church leaders. Outraged students have sent ranting emails home rather than finding a local support network with the help of overseas staff. Students should also be aware that what is common conversation in some cultures is strictly private in others. In the U.S., for example, it has become commonplace to hear discussions in the U.S. media and on college campuses regarding gay marriage, gays who adopt children, gays who receive work benefits for their partners, gays who become church leaders, military personnel, football players, etc. But this type of discussion may be taboo in certain cultures. Advisers should discuss how much or how little about sexuality is appropriate to discuss openly. Gay students who are preparing to live with a local family in a prominent religious community will especially need to discuss the public/private customs of that particular culture with an adviser. American students who bring their own sexual politics (such as homophobia or equal gender rights) to their study program present another challenge for advisers to consider. What would you do if an American student does not want to share the same hotel room with their fellow study abroad participant because he or she is gay or because their peer is a homophobe? Administrators should consider non-discrimination clauses at the home university, host country legislation, U.S. student privacy laws, etc. and question whether they apply. Advisers should also consider how to deal with parents who may or may not know if their son or daughter is gay. As a general rule, university administrators should be honest about the challenges Tips for Advisers 1. Place a rainbow flag, hate free zone sign or sticker on your desk or office. Indirectly, you let students know that you are “open” to a frank discussion. 2. Place any gay or lesbian publication in your front office. 3. Have a university contact list with names of people to contact to discuss issues such as coming out. 4. Have an on-site staff member or psychologist to help advise students with coming out as necessary. 5. During orientation sessions, talk openly about sexual orientation. 6. Invite guest speakers from local GLBT groups in the host country. 7. Explain what the host country laws state regarding homosexuality and discuss local police attitude towards gays. 8. Discuss what public displays of affection are socially/legally acceptable in the host culture. 9. Is there a safe space at the overseas program location for GLBT support? (e.g. support group, welcoming home stay, on-site staff members, etc). 10.Explain if there are dress codes, hairstyles, jewelry that are indicators of local minority groups, including sexual minorities. More information is available at the NAFSA Rainbow Special Interest Group webpage: www.indiana.edu/~overseas/lesbigay/. studying abroad presents as related to issues of sexuality. It may be helpful to emphasize that the students’ time overseas is a learning process for everybody involved. Just as gay students may desire that others accept their sexuality, they will also have to realize that understanding may not exclusively fit the U.S. model. Eero Jesurun is Resident Director at the CIEE Study Center at Universidad Carlos III de Madrid in Spain.
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of IIE Networker - Fall 2006
IIE Networker - Fall 2006
Message from Allan E. Goodman
Up Front: The International Education Diary
Leading the Way Toward True Global Engagement: A Challenge to American Colleges and Universities
The Lincoln Commission and the Future of Study Abroad
Destination India: Opportunities and Challenges for Expanding Study Abroad in a Nontraditional Location
Heritage-Seeking and Study Abroad: A Case Study
State Department Resources
Central and Eastern Europe
Freshmen Study Abroad
The Browser: Index of Advertisers
IIE Networker - Fall 2006
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