Even though I only got to attend one of the events of Global Engagement Day this year, I still call it a success!
The session I attended was a informal round-table panel of sorts, wherein several LGBT/Women/Minority students who studied abroad in rather conservative countries discussed their experiences.
I have personal experience as an LGBT person in a conservative country, Tanzania, and many things the panelists said reflected my own thoughts and feelings.
Their stories were personal, insightful, and wise.
The first speaker, a gay man and a friend of mine, spoke about his time living and studying in several conservative countries, wherein he had to take the journey back into the closet to keep himself safe. Personally, the closet is something that I am able to step into and out of fairly easily, but for many people, their LGBT status is more obvious than others. People who meet me don’t know about my status until I explicitly say something, and it is not free information that I am willing to share with everyone.
What’s important to do in a conservative country is to find a supportive community, if one exists, or find support from friends and family back home. I think it can be surprising to people, but even in the most conservative of countries, supportive communities can be found.
When one is not surrounded by that community, we must unfortunately hold back from our true selves. It isn’t fair, but we as LGBT Americans can’t afford to start a culture war if we want to appreciate and live in certain cultures. Unfortunately, in certain situations, the best way to avoid offending people and to avoid conflict in general is to hold back.
Other speakers spoke of race and ethnicity, gender, body size, and invisible disabilities. If I wrote down everything that I found to be thought-provoking, it would be far too long of a blog post.
Ultimately, I wrote down some short thoughts that thought were important–and seeing as I am a poor blogger, I will simply write them in bullets below.
-You will be tested in ways you can’t prepare for when studying abroad, even if you think you can’t be more prepared. Flexibility is key.
-Unfortunately, sexual harassment is a worldwide phenomenon, and it is worse in some countries than it is in others. Women often must protect themselves in ways that we wish we didn’t have to, but that is just the state of the world.
-Be bold in communicating your needs while abroad–safety and security are of utmost importance.
-When you become a representative of your country, you must be very careful to pick and choose what you think is most important, and what will be acceptable in that country.
-No culture is monolithic, and preconceived notions are not always true. Some people and some cultures will surprise you in the best of ways.
In conclusion, it was a great panel, and it made me think of a great many important topics and ideas.