Each week at CISabroad we watch our students and faculty depart their hometowns and venture off to explore new locations. They ask us for our advice and we proudly give it to them, reminding them to pack light, try local foods, and stay patient when a train or bus is in fact late. We let them know to stay flexible, so that when plans shift (which they will do) they are calm under pressure and go with the flow. But there is one piece of advice we love to give more than others; “Live like a local”.
For us encouraging our students to live like a local and respect their new “homes” abroad stems from our own community, headquartered in Western Massachusetts. We live and work in a small city we refer to as Noho, known to those outside of our area as Northampton, Massachusetts. For those who come to our New England community, they see a culture built on local farming, collegial opportunities (we are home to Smith College and in total have 5 colleges in our area) and LGBT activism.
Having the largest lesbian population in all of the U.S., the LGBT community is the core of our small town. We have community members and allies working in our office, consistently advocate for LGBT rights, and proudly march down Main Street in May during Gay Pride.
When Generation Study Abroad announced their plans to see institutions and providers double their enrollment we of course were up for the challenge, but simply doubling our numbers didn’t sound very romantic to us. We wanted to take a piece of our own local culture and try and merge that with the field of study abroad. Focusing on LGBT programming and international opportunities for students, faculty and LGBT centers was voted on at our annual meeting without any hesitation. Quickly CISabroad staff members starting signing up for various roles they could play: develop LGBT programming overseas, increase and enhance our educational resources for LGBT students, and design a site visit geared towards the LGBT international education community. These are just a few.
LGBT students are proud of their campus communities but often don’t go into their study abroad offices for fear their questions won’t be answered. For a transgender student, how will they be treated in customs or on a campus abroad? For a questioning student – what will it be like coming out overseas? For a gay student – what homestays are gay-friendly? Our goal leading up to 2020 is to answer these questions, make it easy for our students to locate housing and campuses abroad with gender neutral facilities, and connect our US groups heading overseas with those incredible groups also advocating in their local communities.
As a supporter each year of NAFSA Rainbow SIG we are excited to announce our LGBT Initiative within Generation Study Abroad. Questions or interest in our plans and goals? Contact us? Are you an academic advisor or faculty member attending the NAFSA 2015 Conference in Boston? Visit us at our booth in the expo hall or at the Rainbow SIG party!