Today I attended my very last Global Engagement Day, and it was a wonderful way to end my time as a GEF. Every year, fellows get together to lead panels on all sorts of things, from what to pack, to where to study abroad, to telling stories (a panel I participated in last year), to the talk I attended today: women, minorities, and LGBTQ+ students abroad.
As a straight, white woman, 1/3 of these descriptors apply to me, but I found it so valuable to hear the perspectives from everyone on the panel. It was fascinating, and times heartbreaking, and often empowering to hear fellow students tell the stories of how they lived and were treated in places outside the U.S. It’s no secret that our own country often doesn’t treat anyone in these three groups with kindness, but the fact remains that the United States is a fairly liberal country, while some that GEFs travel to (Morocco and Uganda were mentioned in the talks) are not.
It was interesting to hear where these students drew the line between standing up for themselves when they were being oppressed (overtly or covertly) and between staying quiet to avoid making too many waves. As one of them stated, “you’re not there to cause a culture war.” The idea of dressing much more conservatively, or of hiding homosexuality, in a country that basically requires it has always been interesting to me. On the one hand, it’s important to respect cultures you are a guest in. But on the other, shouldn’t you say something if you’re being catcalled, or you are admonished for your homosexuality or your style of dressing? Here in the U.S., we very much have a culture of speaking up (if you feel safe doing so) when you are not being respected. But the dynamic changes significantly when you study abroad.
Ultimately, I have the utmost respect for these students. To hear comments about yourself that make you bristle and to stay calm and respectful is a really admirable course of action. I think they all served as excellent cultural ambassadors for the United States, and I am proud to be a Global Engagement Fellow with them.
It was an excellent panel, and it made my last Global Engagement Day one for the books!