Study abroad – incoming and outgoing – and LGBT matters

On Monday 27 April, members of the respective LGBT(I+) staff networks of the University of York and York St John University met to discuss issues relating to studying abroad and LGBT identities (both UK students going abroad and international students coming to the UK). The event was opened with an address by Geoff Smith, Director of International Development at York St John University.


One attendee had observed that students who come to the UK from very socially-restrictive countries often struggle the most to adapt to the relatively socially-liberal UK environment. The struggle is even greater when they have to go back. It was suggested, however, that we can provide exposure to positive ideology and practice (whilst being conscious that the UK is by no means perfect in this area) and potentially contribute to the slow process of effecting change in other countries.

Two points of cultural awareness were raised:

  • that students coming to the UK are likely to be already familiar with its mainstream social attitudes and may have chosen to come here for that reason;
  • that we must be wary of promoting a singular way of being LGBT – avoiding the tendency to indoctrinate international LGBT students into a stereotypical club and pub-focused culture, which might not be the way they wish to live their identity.

Suggestions for easing the transition to UK life included:

  • covering the topic in induction information, perhaps via a video providing the basics of UK life (with the student voice at the forefront);
  • an introductory e-module on the law and cultural norms of the UK;
  • identification of support channels through student services staff, academic tutors and LGBT networks (and the latter to be identified in marketing materials);
  • staff development on global equality matters, and consideration in staff induction.


It was noted that students go abroad for a variety of different reasons (including cultural education), and that these reasons may be a factor in students’ decisions on whether to go to a country with more restrictive laws or cultural attitudes, as well as in the ways of supporting students who do decide to go.

Suggestions for easing the transition to non-UK life included:

  • consideration of cultural and legal equality in student support pre-departure preparations;
  • a compulsory pre-departure briefing on cultural awareness, tailored to the destination (this could also cover matters such as differing ages of majority and pre-21-year-old legal restrictions in the USA);
  • a network of support (including LGBT people) in the UK for those struggling abroad, perhaps in the forms of informal buddies;
  • a designated welfare contact in the UK institution;
  • identification of LGBT contacts at the host institution.

It was also noted that these initiatives were not restricted to LGBT issues or students and could be extended to cover all who choose to travel here or abroad for study.

Ynda Jas

Founding Secretary of the LGBT Staff Network and former Equality Champion for Registry, where I was based in the Academic Quality Support team. Also founder of York LGBTQ+ History and Non-binary London, and DJ coordinator at Bar Wotever, an iconic weekly queer cabaret event. They/them.

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