As an asexual person, I live a very quiet life in the LGBTQ community. I identify as queer, so it’s hardly surprising that I have a lot of friends who also identify as queer. Well, I do back home that is. I didn’t regularly attend any LGBTQ clubs or groups or anything like that on my home campus, simply because I had no time, but when I looked around me, I realized I had a very diverse group of friends in Chicago and on campus.
Here in Edinburgh, I chose not to get involved much with BLOGS, the LGBT+ society on campus. Consequently, here I’ve noticed my friend group is more culturally diverse instead of sexually diverse. Naturally, neither one is better than the other; I’m just happy to be able learn things from all sorts of people. It allows me to see things from a new and different perspective.
That’s not at all to say I’m uncomfortable at the University of Edinburgh—Scotland is a remarkably open place (equal marriage was legalized at about the same time as same sex marriage in the U.S. and I just read this interesting article about the incredible diversity of the Scottish Parliament). But being surrounded by a different variety of people has led me to explore different parts of my identity, an essential part of studying abroad.
Traveling to a different country forces you to start all over again; as a junior, I feel like I’m reliving my freshman year. Figuring out classes, making new friends, joining new clubs—it’s all familiar, yet different, so I approach things from different angles. My real freshman year, I was just coming to understand my orientation, so it fed into my core identity at my home university. Now that I’m comfortable and aware of that part of me, I can focus on what else makes me, me. I know who I am as a queer person, but I’m still learning who I am as a global citizen.
Because of this, I focused primarily on the societies and opportunities that aren’t available back home and I’m glad for it. By surrounding myself with a new group of diverse people, I’ve come to realize things about myself that I never thought to explore before. I’ve learned who I am without my friends and family from back home, what I like to do in my free time now that I actually have free time, and more. Studying abroad helped me figure out these different aspects of myself.
Studying abroad is all about trying new things. It’s a semester—or year—of exploration. For me, that exploration has been mostly outside of the LGBTQ community, and I welcome that. It’s important to surround yourself with people who understand you, but it’s just as important to gain understanding of yourself. Changing your environment is the quickest way to do this, whether it’s a different city, country or just opening yourself up to new friends.