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How to Decide: Tips for LGBTQ Students Studying Abroad

by Jake Walkinshaw
Prague Castle with rainbow at dusk

Studying abroad is often times a daunting yet exciting thing to think about. The task of figuring out where you want to go alone can cause someone a large amount of stress, and once you get to whatever destination you’ve chosen you are overwhelmed with every emotion possible. This is especially true if you’re a LGBTQ person trying to figure out where you want to go and how it will be where you end up going.

As a gay man, deciding where I wanted to spend my year abroad was a difficult challenge because I was juggling between choosing places that sounded fun and adventurous on top of making sure that country had positive attitudes towards people like me. When reading the AIFS alumni testimonials about Prague or any of the other locations, I so badly wanted one of them to mention how it was like being gay while studying abroad and if that location is a good fit for people like me.

Do your research.

Doing your own research is key to determining if a certain location is the right fit for you. This is advice that I will tell anyone who is looking to study abroad, whether they are gay, bi, trans* — everyone! Because I’m the type of person who likes knowing everything about the place before I even arrive, I did extensive research on the Czech Republic to make sure it was a place where I can be myself fully and had a thriving queer scene to partake in. I found out that the Czech Republic ranks high in having accepting attitudes towards LGBT people and Prague has a thriving queer community with dozens of cafes, bookstores, clubs, and film festivals all catering to queer people. I was lucky in having a study abroad destination like that, but not all destinations are the same.

Being adaptable.

When figuring out where you want to study abroad as a queer person, you need to think about how this location will affect your status as an out (or closeted) queer person and how you will need to adapt to where you will be going. You shouldn’t have to change who you are for the country you are staying in, but you still need to understand the culture of your host country, which is why doing your research is so important. If you really want to go to a certain country but you know it’s not the most accepting place for LGBTQ people, I say you should still go. You just have to be aware of the cultural expectations of that country and respect it while you are there. I know a girl who, as a proud and out lesbian, was able to have the time of her life in Saint Petersburg, even though many know Russia for having certain negative attitudes towards queer people. You shouldn’t also immediately gravitate towards countries that are widely known for their acceptance of queer people, because if you branch out and do your research you’ll find that some countries are more accepting of people’s difference then one would assume. Before I studied abroad, I would have never have expected Prague to have a large and thriving queer scene, but when I got there was more than surprised.

Exploring the queer scene.

When you finally get abroad and you want to start exploring the local queer scene, it may be difficult to figure out where to start. For me, I was able to join my host university’s LGBT student organization. Through that, I was able to explore gay life in Prague with people my own age and was able to make amazing friends along the way. Like everyone who studies abroad, it requires stepping outside of your comfort zone in order to start truly enjoying the county you are living in.

Being a queer student and studying abroad is a unique process: deciding where you want to go, researching to see if that country is accepting of people like you, and finally having the courage to go out and explore the local queer scene. But in the end the experience is well worth it and you’ll have the time of your life!

If you have any questions about what it’s like being LGBT and studying abroad or you yourself are a queer student trying to figure out their way through the study abroad process, feel free to reach out and message me!

This post was contributed by Jake Walkinshaw, an Alumni Ambassador who spent an academic year studying abroad with AIFS in Prague, Czech Republic.

How to Decide: Tips for LGBTQ Students Studying Abroad | AIFS Study Abroad | AIFS in Prague, Czech Republic
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