Exploring and Expressing Sexuality While Away

Studying at UC Santa Cruz and living in California, it is common to see people openly exploring and expressing their sexualities. Our campus is very fortunate to be one with a legacy of acceptance and promotion of equal rights and respect for folks of diverse sexualities. However, other places around the country or the world might not be so. Before we dive into the topic of exploring and expressing sexuality while away or abroad, it’s important to first distinguish gender identity and gender expression from sexual orientation. 

Gender identity is a person’s sense of being masculine, feminine, in-between, androgynous, non-binary, or another sense of self. This sense of gender identity is independent of biological sex and usually manifests itself by the age of three or four. 

Gender expression is the way you communicate your gender to others. This is while sexual orientation refers to a person’s emotional, physical, and/or sexual attraction and the expression of that attraction—which does not manifest itself until much later in life, usually after puberty and often not until adulthood. This sexual orientation, or sexuality, and what that might mean when studying away or abroad, is what we will be discussing here. 

Understanding how the expression of your gender and sexuality might impact your experience away or abroad is an important part of the preparation and pre-departure process. Cultures around the world and in the country can vary greatly in their perspectives, social expectations, and opinions relating to the complex concepts of gender and sexual identities. When you venture out in the world, you carry your identity with you even if it is not readily apparent to those around you. Going away or abroad can represent an ongoing series of “coming outs”, and you will need to make decisions about how and when to express your Queer identity. It is important to think about what kind of support may be available to you in your new environment, especially since contact with your current community of supportive friends and/or family may be limited. 

UCSC Global Learning aspires to support the study abroad goals of all UCSC students and, to accomplish this, works directly with the Cantú Queer Center at UC Santa Cruz to provide advising tailored to the needs of individual students. 

A Word About Location

Being away from UC Santa Cruz will present opportunities to think about identity in a whole new cultural context, which can be a rewarding learning experience that challenges your preconceived notions of what it means to be Queer. Concepts of identity and the way Queer individuals are perceived vary from location to location, even between regions within the same country. US students away or abroad may find themselves visiting places that are more affirming of Queer identity than where they’re from in the United States, and this difference may be reflected in laws that extend equal access and protection. Other places might have laws that criminalize homosexuality and an accompanying social hostility toward any public expression of Queer identity.

Equaldex has an interactive map showing Queer specific information for countries around the world. It highlights some stark truths, such as the countries that still have discriminatory policies towards homosexuals, but it also shows vividly the positive progress being made across the planet to ensure that Queer people everywhere are treated with respect and appreciated for the contribution that they make to the world.

However, national laws and public opinion do not always tell the full story of what a Queer student can expect. Just as there are Californians who strongly oppose the legalization of same-sex marriage, there are individuals who support the Queer communities from countries that demonstrate legal intolerance. It can be helpful to consult with several different sources when gathering information in order to assess the relative standing of Queer individuals in any place you plan to visit.

Program Selection

Just as the level of support from the local community may vary, some programs may be better equipped to address the needs of Queer students than others. Any study away or abroad program available to UCSC students is a possibility. The key is to identify your expectations and clarify what kind of support the programs you consider are able to offer. Careful program selection and solid pre-departure planning will help you identify opportunities that will allow your Queer identity to be an asset, not a barrier, to your cross-cultural learning.

How ready is your program provider to offer support or address needs related to your Queer identity, like arranging a queer-friendly host family? How able will in-country staff be to help answer questions about local attitudes and concepts of Queer identity?

Global Learning Advising and Queer Identity

Your UCSC Global Learning Advisor will be able to offer insight or recommend resources to learn more about the attitudes toward Queer individuals in your potential location. Concerns about your sexual orientation or gender identity should not be a barrier to participating in global learning.

You will be encouraged to consider all program options, and to address any concerns related to identity with the staff of potential programs. Note that some programs may offer coursework addressing Queer issues, while others may specifically offer Queer friendly housing options or other student services support. Your Global Learning Advisor can help you decide how best to address the issue with program staff if you are in need of advice or assistance.

Programs Addressing Queer Issues

Here are a few examples of specialized programs that address gender and sexuality issues in the academic curriculum. This is not a definitive list, so your program search should not be limited to the following. We welcome further submissions for posting.

Tips for UCEAP: You can use the UCEAP course catalog to search for classes that focus on gender and sexuality (try searching UC Subject: Women and Gender Studies or Keyword: sex/sexuality).  

Some countries with a high number of courses that other UC students have taken include AustraliaBarbadosChileDenmarkFranceGermanyHong KongIrelandMexicoNetherlandsSingaporeSouth Africa, and the UK (England or  Scotland). Please be aware that even though a program in a certain country offers classes focusing on Queer or LGBTQ studies, it does not mean it always reflects the attitude of the local community. Make sure to thoroughly research your program before making a choice. 

Here are some other Independent Programs you can also consider: 

Student Perspectives

Additional Web Resources

The internal links below are relevant resources for Queer students on the UCSC campus. The external links include organizations, articles, success stories, and tips for Queer students preparing to go abroad.

Internal Links

External Links

Last modified: May 13, 2024