How I Misinterpreted the Phrase “Know the Climate of Your Host Country”
What I did (or didn’t do) before I went abroad
I thought I was ready to go abroad. I had done my research on the climate there. I knew what to pack in order to be prepared for the weather differences, and I had made sure that my hiking boots were clear of biological debris in order to preserve the wildlife in New Zealand. Little did I know that when I was told to research the climate of my host country, the weather wasn’t precisely what I was supposed to look up.
I think that at this point it is clear that I had not chosen to study in New Zealand because of their views and laws on gender and sexuality. I was too focused on other aspects of the country.
While I found New Zealand to be incredibly welcoming, there is a lot I could have and should have done to better prepare to go abroad: namely learning about the country’s laws and ideas regarding gender and sexuality. The point I want to make clear is that it is not difficult to do some basic research on your proposed host country in order to make a better-informed decision about your study abroad journey. This is a country that you will live in and you want to be sure that your time there will be wonderful, no matter the inevitable ups-and downs that occur in life.
What I learned while abroad
Studying abroad offered me many important opportunities that I would have never had otherwise; particularly in regard to my sexuality. Living in another country, without having parents a hop, skip, and a jump away allowed me to experience life as myself, without the influence of family hanging over my head. I grew into myself while abroad, and the confidence I gained there has been something that has continued throughout my time back in the states.
While I was abroad, I had the opportunity to learn quite a lot about New Zealand. I learned about everything from the importance they place on protecting the biodiversity of the New Zealand to their heavy focus on protecting the social-diversity of the country, and from these lessons, I grew to appreciate the focus on acceptance that is abundant throughout Auckland.
Though there is a large focus on acceptance, and while I did not experience any outward shows of hostility, I did have a few uncomfortable experiences in regard to my sexuality, mostly in regard to the way in which I dress and carry myself. Since all of these experiences were brief and between myself and a stranger, I was able to shrug it off and continue with my day. However, I wish that I had been more aware that these types of experiences, while not common, can occur with enough frequency that I ought to be prepared for them.
If I had done my research on the climate of New Zealand, I would have been able to mentally prepare myself for these experiences, so that the first time I encountered it, I would not have been so shaken initially, and would have been able to shake it off easier.
Reflecting on my time abroad
Though I learned a lot while I was abroad, it took reflecting on my experiences to truly realize how lucky I was. Despite my negligence in researching the climate of my host country, I ended up in a country that is accepting and open to homosexuality. I have realized how important it is to consider such aspects of your host country, and I sincerely hope that you learn from my mistakes and do your research on host countries before deciding where you want to go.
To help you figure out where you will best flourish, I encourage you to make a list: what opportunities or freedoms do you want to ensure you keep or improve upon from your home country, focus on the laws regarding sexuality and gender, as well as the resources available for you to access. I then recommend using this list as a guideline as you analyze the countries you are considering in order to determine the best fit for you.
Once you have your country of choice, I recommend preparing: no one ever suffered from being too prepared. Use the list you made to determine what type of, if any, support systems you want to have access to in your host country. If you do identify specific systems that you want to have access to while abroad, reach out to IFSA before going abroad. They can help you better prepare.
I have included some helpful links below that will help make this process a bit easier:
Studying abroad has helped me to grow into myself as well as provided me with opportunities to expand my horizons. Had it not been for my time abroad, I would not have the confidence in myself or the understanding to take calculated risks and pursue my passion in graduate school in multiple countries outside of the US. I also would not have the confidence to put my story and advice in a blog post.
Stasia Kuske is an Astrophysics student at Franklin & Marshall College and studied abroad with IFSA at the University of Auckland in New Zealand in Fall 2017.