Somewhere Over the Rainbow Conference 2019: Empowering the LGBTQ+ Community in International Education

June 5, 2019

In the effort to investigate new resources and strategies to engage and support students who identify with the LGBTQ+ community, I was able to participate in the Somewhere Over the Rainbow Conference on Saturday, June 1 at University of Maryland, College Park. On the heels of a busy NAFSA Conference week, the UMD LGBT Equity Center teamed up with the UMD International Admissions office to create a professional development space focused on sexual orientation and gender identity in international education.

As this year’s theme was LGBTQ+ Borderlands: Migration, Race, and Refuge, the conference’s attendees came together in seminar-style sessions to contrast the “coming out” process for LGBTQ+ students across cultural contexts, analyze the influential power of nationalist rhetoric, and discuss the specialized coping and resiliency skills that studying abroad teaches students.

To highlight this last topic, I attended a session lead by three PhD candidates from UMD who synthesized their research suggesting that study abroad experiences for LGBTQ+ students can arm students with important advocacy skills that transfer to the workplace. For example, when a student goes abroad, they sharpen empathetic skills in assimilation; particularly when it comes to choosing whether to come out to their homestay families, international classmates, or their eventual employers.

Lastly, as I advise for regions that are politically conservative, I discussed best practices in advising and compiling country-specific resources for LGBTQ+ students interested in studying in these regions. As we move forward through June, National Pride Month in the U.S., I congratulate the Somewhere Over the Rainbow committee on creating a safe, brave space that was created by queer people for queer people to help us advise and empower the community.

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