International Studies Abroad

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Identity & Diversity Abroad

As you explore your study abroad options, you'll want to consider aspects of your identity and how these may be perceived and treated in the cultures you'll be spending time in. We encourage you to do some research into social norms, cultural mores, and local practices before your program begins. You'll want to participate as much as possible in the host culture and should be prepared for the experience, which can be both personally challenging and rewarding.

The following sections have been adapted with permission from Northwestern University Study Abroad: Identity and Diversity.

LGBTQ Students & Study Abroad

If you identify as LGBTQ and plan to study abroad, find ways to prepare yourself for a different culture and its ideas about gender and sexual identity.

You may already identify as a lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans*, or queer student, or you may still be exploring your identity. In either case, you will find that the social climate, laws, and personal interactions of other cultures will often differ from the U.S. (and California/San Diego in particular). While researching study abroad programs and preparing for departure, it is important to reflect on the culturally based ideas and definitions of gender and sexual identity. Consider carefully how your identity as a LGBTQ person may influence your relationships with host nationals, your cultural adjustment, and your overall education abroad experience.

Learn About Your Host Country Before You Go

In some cultures, Western understandings of "gay" and "straight" don't exist, or don't carry the same importance as they do in the U.S. People involved in same-sex relationships may not see this as an identity. In other cultures, there are active social movements for civil rights for sexual and gender minorities. In preparing for your study abroad experience, it is important for you to research the LGBTQ climate of the country you will be visiting.

If you are open about your gender, sexual identity and/or gender expression, consider the following as you research potential study abroad countries:

  • The culture of a country might make you feel like you are either "sent back into the closet" or, in countries that are more progressive than the US, freer to express yourself.
  • If your host country is NOT progressive or accepting of the LGBTQ community, make sure you understand the political climate and consider your personal safety before confronting this way of thinking.

If you are not open about your gender and/or sexual identity, along with the above, consider the following as you research potential study abroad countries:

  • Some countries will make it easier for you to come out; make sure that you have a support network during this time.
  • If you are not public about your identity, realize that finding that community will be a bit more difficult while abroad. Finding groups or organizations before you go is essential. Check out the links in the campus and international resources sections.

Questions to Ask

As part of your pre-departure preparations, ask these questions of yourself, your study abroad advisor, and your study abroad program.

  • Does your right to be LGBTQ in the United States conflict with your host country's religious or cultural values and traditions?
  • How will you reconcile your human rights with the cultural values of your host society?
  • Are there safety considerations that you should be aware of?
  • What are gender relations in the host culture?
  • What is considered typical male and female social behavior in the host culture?
  • What is the social perception of members of the LGBTQ community?
  • What roles do trans* people play in the host culture?
  • Does your study abroad program offer LGBTQ friendly housing?
  • Does your study abroad program discuss LGBTQ considerations during their orientation?

Legal Issues to Consider Before Going Abroad

The laws governing LGBTQ relationships and sexual activity differ from country to country. U.S. citizens must abide by the laws of a host country; knowing these laws may help you to decide what countries you might like to visit if you will be out abroad or if you will pursue relationships while abroad. Even if you do not plan to have a sexual relationship while away, you should be informed about specific laws pertaining to sexual behavior and sexual/gender identity. When doing your research, try to ascertain:

  • The legality of same-sex sexual behavior (sometimes male-male sexual behavior is illegal while female-female sexual behavior is not), including sodomy laws
  • The age of consent for sexual behavior (which may differ from the age of consent for opposite-sex sexual behavior)
  • Restrictions on freedom of association or expression for LGBTQ people
  • Anti-discrimination laws (these can be national laws or specific to local areas)

You may find that you can e more open about your identity in the U.S., or that you would need to hide your sexual or gender identity completely to avoid cultural ostracism or arrest. Understanding this will help you decide where you would, or would not, want to study.

For more information on laws in countries you may be visiting, please familiarize yourself with the information for each country available from the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association.

Campus Resources

USD LGBTQ Resources. Learn more and connect to various resources on campus, such as PRIDE (student organization), Rainbow Educators, Safe Space Allies and many more.

International Resources

International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association
This world-wide federation of national and local groups focuses public and government attention on cases of discrimination against lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people. Country specific information related to legal rights and social climates.

Amnesty International Human Rights
A global movement that campaigns to end human right abuses

Behind the Mask
A web magazine devoted to lesbian and gay affairs in Africa, this site includes the legal and social status of gay and lesbian communities in each country

Gay Lesbian Arabic Society
GLAS serves as a networking organization for Gays and Lesbian of Arab descent or those living in Arab countries

Journal website documenting the travels of LGBT persons throughout the countries and cities all over the world

International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission
IGLHRC protest and advance the human rights of all people and communities subject to discrimination or abuse on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV status

Rainbow SIG
Rainbow SIG goals include counseling international students and study abroad students who LGBT

Trans* and Traveling
This website focuses on trans discrimination during security procedures in airports

    Gender Abroad

    Whether you’ve traveled before or this is your first time abroad, it’s important to consider your host country’s cultural attitude towards gender identity and gender expression. Depending on where you are, you may find different gender roles and norms than you’re used to. It’s possible that you may be treated differently or be expected to treat others differently based on these factors. Everyone should consider possible issues, challenges, and changes they may face while abroad regarding societal perceptions of gender. When researching potential programs, consider your host country’s cultural differences and how these might impact your everyday life.

    Learn About Your Country

    Societal expectations based on gender can differ between countries and can influence interaction.

    Questions to Ask

    • What is the attitude towards gender in my host country?
    • What are considered typical gender roles in my host society?
    • What are the society’s perceptions and expectations for men, women and transgender individuals in my host country?
    • What are the gender stereotypes of Americans in my host country?
    • How do men treat women in my host country?
    • Are there differences in political and social power based on gender?
    • How do my personal values compare with my host country’s attitudes about socially accepted gender roles?

    Behavior and Relationships Abroad

    Your behavior in some situations may be viewed differently abroad than in the U.S. Consider your actions and inform yourself as best as possible about behavioral expectations, dating, and relationships in your host culture. Talk with peers who have studied in your host country before and locals your own age to gauge what’s typical. You may find that what is viewed as acceptable behavior in your host country is offensive to you or makes you uncomfortable. It’s important to check societal expectations with your own personal values.

    The “rules” of dating vary from culture to culture. For example, cultural differences can make male-female friendships more challenging. Consider the implicit messages that you are communicating, messages that you may not intend to send in your own cultural context. Evaluating societal differences when it comes to these relationships and modifying your behavior accordingly is part of learning and relating to another culture.

    Additionally, it’s important to educate yourself on the social norms and local laws regarding same-sex relationships. Read more on our LGBTQ Students and Study Abroad page.

    Though the thrill of traveling and excitement of a new culture may tempt you to let your guard down, your personal safety is as important while studying abroad as it is at home. While some of these suggestions may seem to communicate sexist undertones, they are based on the safety concerns and recommendations of returnees. Be aware of your safety and surroundings while you are traveling to ensure your memories of study abroad reflect a positive, once-in-a-lifetime learning experience. Learn more about what sexual assault is, definitions, myths and statistics.

    • Prioritize your personal safety over cultural sensitivity.
    • Pay attention to dressing in a culturally appropriate way.
    • Research the security situation and talk to other students who have traveled to the countries you plan to visit.
    • At night, travel in groups and never walk home alone.
    • For females, the presence of a male friend can deflect unwanted attention.
    • Make sure you know the local emergency phone number.
    • Locate the nearest U.S. embassies and consulates.
    • Try pairing up with another solo traveler.
    • Make sure someone knows where you are traveling and when you plan to return.
    • Learn basic phrases in the local language.
    • If you are being cat called, avoid eye contact since this can be seen as an invitation in some cultures.
    • Try to arrive at your destination during the day.
    • Engage in conversation with locals about their roles and how to deflect unwanted attention.

    Sexual Harassment and Assault

    Harassment may be particularly difficult to identify abroad, where cultural norms are often different than those in the U.S. However, cultural sensitivity does not mean that you need to submit to behaviors that invade your personal boundaries or make you feel unsafe or uncomfortable. Educating yourself about sexual harassment, violence and gender dynamics abroad can empower you and your peers to make safer choices.

    Campus Resources

    Your Study Abroad Advisor can help you find more information about the country you plan to go to and connect you with USD peers who have studied in that country before. Additionally, program evaluations available in the office are a good way to learn what former students have to say about your host country and what you may encounter abroad.

    The USD Women’s Center is a student-centered learning community that provides resources and engages women and men in educational dialogue around gender-related issues. The Women’s Center advocates for a safe, supportive environment that creates equity among all voices..

    Campus Assault Resources and Education (C.A.R.E.) is USD’s primary effort to provide support, resources and education to the student community pertaining to sexual assault and sexual exploitation. There are trained CARE Advocates on campus available to support students impacted by sexual assault. CARE Advocates are available to provide support to USD students who may have been impacted by sexual assault, sexual exploitation, harassment, and/or partner violence.

    USD LGBTQ Resources. Learn more and connect to various resources on campus, such as PRIDE (student organization), Rainbow Educators, Safe Space Allies and many more.

    Race and Ethnicity

    Racial and ethnic relations vary by culture, meaning that while you’re abroad, you may be part of an ethnic minority or majority for the first time in your life or have to think about your identity in a new way.

    For instance, if you’re visiting a country where you have ethnic or racial roots, you may have to consider the local norms and expectations in ways that other students with different backgrounds may not. Remember that in countries with pre-existing ethnic or racial conflicts, you may be inadvertently identified with one group or another simply based on your appearance. On the other hand, perhaps you’ll be considered American first, and your ethnic or racial identity will be secondary.

    You can prepare yourself for the situations you may encounter by researching the minority, majority, and plurality racial and ethnic composition of your host country and exploring its history of racial and ethnic relations.

    Questions to Ask

    • Where do people of my race/ethnicity fit into my host country’s society? Am I likely to be a target of racism/classism, or am I going to be treated the same way in my host country as I am in the US?
    • What are the cultural norms of my host country? Are there religious/cultural institutions or rituals that they adhere to?
    • What is the history of ethnic or racial tension in the country? Is the situation currently hostile to members of a minority race, majority race, or particular ethnicity or religion?
    • Are issues of racism/ethnic discrimination influenced by immigration in my host country? How do politicized immigration concerns fuel racial tensions? What is the character of immigrant communities?
    • Are there laws in the host country governing race relations? Ethnic relations? What protections are offered to ethnic or racial minorities?


    • Read information on the topic, if available, on the official government website of your host country.
    • Look at international news sources likeThe Economist to get a sense of current political and societal issues in your host country.
    • On the CIA World Factbook website, look for your host country’s page and research the “People and Society” section, where you can find the breakdown by ethnic group, religion, and race.
    • Visit the PLATO (Project for Learning Abroad, Training, and Outreach) resource page about diversity in study abroad, with information for African-American, Asian/Pacific Islander American, Hispanic-American, and Native American students preparing to study abroad.
    • Readstudent stories about experiences with race and ethnicity abroad.


    • What are the ethnic, racial, religious, gender identities that characterizeyou? Reflect and learn how you can expect to be treated in your host country based on these characteristics.
    • Social supports in your host country and at home will help you navigate a new culture that will likely include new race/ethnic relations. Know whom to contact when you feel like your race or ethnic background are discriminated against while abroad.
    • Look into these outside funding opportunities:
      Diversity Abroad Scholarship: Offers ten scholarships of $500 to US minorities studying abroad
      IIE Gilman Scholarship: Offers 2,300 scholarships of up to $5,000 to students eligible for Federal Pell Grants and seeks to support underrepresented students who study abroad.


      • Your Study Abroad Advisor can help you find more information about the country you plan to go to and connect you with USD peers who have studied in that country before. Additionally, program evaluations available in the office are a good way to learn what former students have to say about your host country and what you may encounter abroad.
      • Contact a Peer Advisor who can share their experiences abroad with you.
      • Other offices on-campus have resources and advising for students who are interested in learning more about race and ethnicity considerations abroad.

    Disability Abroad

    Students with disabilities participate in study abroad programs around the world; the key to a successful experience is planning. Understand, however, that attitudes, accessibility, and accommodation for students with emotional, mental, learning, or physical disabilities may vary at different program sites and locations.

    Think about how you will manage these differences and seek as much information as possible before you depart.

    Planning and Campus Resources

    If registered with USD Disability Services, consider discussing your study abroad plans with their office as well. Our offices will work with you to discuss reasonable accommodations abroad and assist you with the planning and pre-departure process.

    To better help you prepare, please contact us as early as possible.

    Online Resources

    • Access Abroad: Comprehensive guide for students with disabilities who want to study abroad.