Duke Immerse believes that off-campus experiential learning, domestically and internationally, should be accessible to everyone. We are committed to nurturing a richly diverse student cohort and study away community where all members feel empowered, heard, respected, and supported.
How sexual and gender identities are defined and understood varies between cultures, within the United States and abroad. This includes different interpretations of what is considered appropriate behavior in relationships: acquaintances, friendships, platonic and intimate relationships. If you identify as LGBTQIA+, you likely understand that openly living your sexual orientation and/or gender identity abroad might be different from what you are accustomed to at home. Some locations and cultures are open to LGBTQIA+ individuals, while others are less accepting or even hostile. Attitudes toward sexual orientation can also vary significantly within regions of the same country, or according to different social contexts. It will help you to be aware of individual idiosyncrasies and beliefs in your host community. Your experience may also vary based on other aspects of your identity, and how they intersect with your sexuality and gender identity.
Know that you are not alone on the travel portion of your Immerse program. If you find yourself feeling isolated due to your sexuality or gender expression, know that you have the support of Duke Immerse, DukeReach, CAPS, and Blue Devils United.
For more information, review the resources listed below, and/or reach out to the Duke Immerse Director or your Immerse faculty with specific questions or concerns.
Expression of Gender, Sexual Orientation, Relationships, and Safety
A new location may appear to provide a safe haven for exploring sexual and gender identities free from the judgments of friends and family. However, it’s important to note that support for LGBTQIA+ rights can vary widely based on your location. Some locations may be more supportive of LGBTQIA+ rights than your home community, while others stipulate punishments for same-sex sexual behavior and behaviors that transgress local gender norms. A new and potentially challenging environment does not necessarily mean you will have a negative experience abroad as long as you properly prepare yourself to navigate the local culture.
Before you leave, research the status of LGBTQIA+ rights in the location that will be hosting you, as well as others that you will be visiting. It is important to be aware of any applicable laws pertaining to the expression of sexual orientation/gender identity, as well as the general attitudes of the local population toward LGBTQIA+ individuals. Learn as much as possible about the culture-specific norms associated with friendships, dating, and gender. Be aware that behavioral signals that mean one thing in your home culture might mean something completely different in the host culture.
While studying on- and off-campus, you will most likely encounter different ideologies. At times, you may feel you need to adapt to different customs. This can be difficult. Some students have found it necessary to hide their sexual orientation and/or gender identity for safety reasons, while others find safe ways to express them openly. Becoming informed before you leave may support a safer and more rewarding experience on your program.
If you experience discrimination/bias while on a study away program, this is not something that you have to bear alone. Please consider the following action steps:
- Contact your on-site program faculty/support staff
- Report via Duke Office of Institutional Equity (anonymous option available)
- Submit your concern to Duke Immerse staff (not anonymous)
Questions to Consider
To prepare for your study away experience, it may be helpful to consider the following list of questions. If you need help finding answers to these questions, contact the Duke Immerse Director.
- What are the laws regarding non-heterosexual relationships in the host location?
- Is it safe for me to be out in my host location?
- Should I come out to my host family and peers on my program?
- Is there flexibility in the accommodations, if I need a single room and private bath?
- What LGBTQIA+ resources exist in my host location?
- What is the LGBTQIA+ population like in my host location?
- What are the cultural norms for dating and friendship?
- Whom can I turn to, in my Immerse program or back at Duke, if I need support?
- What is considered appropriate behavior for students of different genders in the local contexts in which I will find myself? How flexible are local gender norms?
- For transgender students: Will I have issues with my passport and visa while traveling? Will I require access to any medications or services? If so, will I need special documentation to transport them to or to acquire them in my host location?
- How will other aspects of my identity intersect with my gender identity and/or sexuality? How may this impact my experience studying away?
Tips for LGBTQIA+ Students Studying Off-Campus
Below are some tips to keep in mind as you begin to prepare for your program. Don’t hesitate to contact Duke Immerse for more specifics regarding your program location.
- Before you leave, familiarize yourself with the customs and laws of your host location.
- Research the terms and definitions used in your host location to talk about LGBTQ+ issues.
- Have a conversation with the Duke Immerse Director about your concerns, and for help developing a strategy to have a positive experience on your program.
- Talk to the Immerse faculty of your program about any concerns before or during your program as needed.
- Look for LGBTQIA+ community resources where you will be living/traveling.
- Always put your safety first, and seek out people who respect you as you are to listen, support, and care for you.
- Duke University Center for Gender and Sexual Diversity (CSGD)
- Duke LGBTQ+ students talk about their experiences studying away
- The NAFSA Rainbow Special Interest Group
- Michigan State University Office for Education Abroad Sexuality and Gender Resources
- LGBT Student Guide for Education Abroad
- International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association
- OutRight International
Resources for Transgender Students
- National Center for Transgender Equality
- TSA Guide for Transgender Travelers
- Schroth, L. (2014). Trans bodies, trans selves: a resource for the transgender community. Oxford University Press. (Available at Duke CSGD)
- Air Travel Tips for Transgender Students
- Being Nonbinary in Spain