Studying abroad is an incredible experience, but choosing the right location for your study abroad adventures can feel like a daunting task! Should you study art history in Italy or study political science in Argentina? Higher mathematics in Budapest, or philosophy in Beijing?
For LGBTQ students, the choice of a study abroad location can feel even more challenging. All the usual questions about foreign language immersion, academics, and subject areas of interest still apply, but there’s an added layer of wondering how LGBTQ-friendly your study abroad location will be and whether or not you’ll be able to find an accepting social group.
If you're an LGBTQ student who wants to study abroad but isn't sure where will be a great fit for you, we're here to help. Here are five questions to consider as you explore your options for locations to study abroad.
What is the Country's Overall Stance Toward the LGBTQ Community?
Every country is slightly different in terms of its attitudes towards the LGBTQ community.
In some countries, LGBTQ people are overtly welcomed, gay marriage is recognized, and Pride parades happen every summer. In other countries, the LGBTQ community is generally tolerated or accepted, and in still others, the LGBTQ community is actually persecuted.
Sometimes the level of acceptance can vary between different areas of the same country, particularly between urban and rural areas. LGBTQ people can and do study abroad in all kinds of different countries, regardless of their level of openness, but it’s important to ask this question in advance so that you know what to expect.
How Safe & Comfortable Will it be to be Out in that Country or City?
How comfortable you’ll feel being out in any given country will depend quite a bit on the answer to the previous question.
If you are considering studying abroad in a welcoming, LGBTQ-friendly country, you’ll probably feel pretty comfortable being out to just about everyone you meet. If the country is generally tolerant, you might feel comfortable being out to some people but not others. If it’s a country where homosexuality is illegal and/or socially not accepted, you might not feel comfortable being out at all.
How comfortable it is to be out is an important consideration, but how much weight you give to this question is personal. It may be easier to be out in Helsinki than in Cairo, but if your heart yearns for Cairo you should go there!
Are there Active LGBTQ Organizations You Can Contact Before Studying Abroad?
Local LGBTQ organizations can be an amazing resource for learning more about the LGBTQ community in the countries you’re hoping to visit. Look at the national and regional levels for nonprofit organizations, political advocacy groups, LGBTQ chambers of commerce, youth organizations, and any other category you can think of.
Once you’ve found a few organizations that look promising, send a quick email introducing yourself and asking one or two questions -- with any luck, you’ll get a response, and then you’ll know people from the LGBTQ community in your destination country before you even depart!
Is there an LGBTQ Scene in the Destination?
Most large cities in welcoming and tolerant countries will have some sort of LGBTQ scene. This may take the form of nightclubs, Pride parades, rainbow sports teams, drag brunches, or something else equally queer and glorious.
Some scenes are famous, like Berlin’s gay nightclub scene or the queer tango lessons available in Buenos Aires. Others can be harder to find, particularly in smaller cities or in places where the LGBTQ community has only recently become accepted. In these cases, the next question becomes even more important.
How Does All This Vary Whether You are L, G, B, T, or Q?
While all of the above questions are important to ask for all members of the LGBTQ community, the answers might not be universally applicable to every letter. The overall level of social acceptance can be quite different for gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, trans people, and queers.
In some cities, there’s a large scene for gay men but not much of a scene for lesbians (or vice versa in very rare cases). There’s usually not a separate bisexual scene, but maybe there is -- and you want to find that perfect study abroad destination with one. Trans and genderqueer students are likely to face the most difficulties both in terms of finding destinations that are socially accepting and in terms of finding their own spaces.
For answers to all of these questions, a Google search can be a good starting point, particularly if you have a long list of potential countries where you’d like to study.
Once you’ve figured out the basics, though, it’s a good idea to talk to other LGBTQ people about your destination, either online or in person. See if you can chat with someone who’s traveled or studied abroad recently in the country or countries that you’re most interested in, so that you can ask questions about their experiences. If you can find people to talk to who share your letter in the LGBTQ (+) smorgasbord, so much the better!
Once you’ve asked these questions and found the answers, you should have a good idea of which study abroad locations are likely to work the best for you. Once you’ve found your perfect location, do a happy dance and start planning the rest of your adventure!