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Seeing Through A Different Lens: The Benefits of Studying Abroad as an LGBTQ Student

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As I prepared for my 4-month IFSA study abroad program in Buenos Aires over the summer of 2019, I had a lot of questions about what my semester in Argentina would be like. In addition to the usual concerns about academics, the language barrier and adjusting to social life in a different country, I had no idea what it was like to be gay in Buenos Aires. Luckily, I found that porteños, the residents of Buenos Aires, were incredibly accepting of gay people, often more than people I’ve interacted with in the United States. Whether talking with IFSA program staff, going on dates, or coming out to my host mom, I found that being gay wasn’t an obstacle to my enjoyment of the Argentine Universities Program. Instead, it allowed me to see Argentina through another lens.

Talking with IFSA Program Staff

One of the highlights of my semester abroad was getting to know the staff at the IFSA office. Mario, the Resident Director, was especially charismatic and easy to talk to. Shortly after the other students and I arrived for the Argentine Universities Program, Mario led a tour of Recoleta Cemetery, a Buenos Aires landmark. During the tour he succeeded in captivating not only the students in our program with his stories, but also a dozen tourists who thought he was a public tour guide and started following him around! When it came to questions about how identity intersects with a semester abroad, having an approachable program staff was incredibly helpful. A few weeks into the program, Mario invited students from marginalized identities to have a group dinner at his house and talk about their experiences. Daniel, Patricio, and other staff also provided guidance on navigating life in Argentina during our orientation, giving us advice specific to women, racial minorities, LGBTQ students, and students from countries other than the U.S. They also did a lot of work behind the scenes to make sure that we have positive experiences; when meeting with prospective home stay families, for example, they make sure that the families would have no issues hosting students from a variety of backgrounds.

Social Life and Dating in Buenos Aires

Getting to know people from other countries was one of the main reasons I chose to study abroad, and with both friends and dating, I had a great experience. Although I was initially worried about making new friends, spent plenty of time with U.S. students through events arranged by IFSA or hanging out on our own. One of the best memories I had was a trip to Tigre, a town north of Buenos Aires, where I went kayaking on the Paraná River with students and a guide from IFSA. I also met students from Europe and the Americas through activities planned by a nonprofit organization called Buenos Aires International Students (BAIS). Getting to know other international students was often easier than meeting Argentines because they were temporarily in Buenos Aires like me, but it was just as rewarding because I got to learn about the world beyond the United States. Having a network of friends from all over the world made it easier to meet people to go on dates while I was abroad. After I met a girl from France at one of the universities that I studied at, she invited me to hang out with a group of friends from Spain, Colombia, Germany, Peru, and several other countries. I got to know a guy through that friend group, and later we started dating. We had a great time visiting different parts of the city, and I got a chance to improve my Spanish while he practiced his English with me. I also found that holding hands in public, even with another guy, wasn’t a big deal in Buenos Aires. Before I left for Argentina, I assumed that it would be less tolerant than the places I’ve been in the US. Instead, I found that people in the neighborhoods I visited in Buenos Aires didn’t think twice about it! In contrast to what I was worried about when I decided to study abroad, not once did I feel unsafe or targeted.

Coming Out to My Host Mom

I had a wonderful home stay with Susana, an Argentine woman who’s hosted over 26 IFSA students over the years at her apartment in the Palermo Soho neighborhood of Buenos Aires. Beyond living in the best location in the city, Susana had a fantastic sense of humor and was always approachable, just like the IFSA staff and the friends that I got to know through my classes and at BAIS events. With Susana, I was comfortable talking about the excitement that came with living in another country, as well as the aspects I had trouble adjusting to and the friendships and family that I missed back at home. I never felt the need to come out to her as gay, but when it came up in a conversation about a week into my home stay, it helped us to become closer. When I told her about dating, she was interested and told me funny stories about dating abroad from students who she’d hosted in the past. It was rewarding to have these deep conversations with my host mom, and being able to build that relationship entirely in another language made me feel more confident in my Spanish. This was especially true when my mom came to visit during my last month. While I was able to translate between the two of them, many of the emotions they expressed didn’t need translating.

Making the Most of A Semester Abroad

In my interactions with program staff, my social life, and my home stay, being gay allowed me to experience Buenos Aires in a different way. Far from getting in the way of my study abroad experience, that aspect of my identity helped me make the most of my semester abroad. For LGBTQ students considering going abroad, I can’t recommend IFSA’s programs strongly enough. Bo Carlson is an Economics and Political Science major at Duke University and studied abroad with IFSA at the Argentine Universities Program in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in Fall 2018.