Examining the Challenges and Unique Issues of San Francisco Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Undergraduate Students in Study Abroad Programs

Naoko Sakata, School for International Training


This research paper explores the challenges and unique issues of San Francisco Bay Area gay, lesbian and bisexual (GLB) undergraduate students who have participated in study abroad programs. It examines how the sexual orientation of students and the level of acceptance found in their home culture impact their experiences abroad. Furthermore, this paper discusses how these students negotiate the host culture’s perceptions and attitudes towards diverse sexual orientations. In-depth interviews were conducted with nine returned Bay Area GLB students on their prior knowledge of the host culture’s views and perceptions towards diverse sexual orientations, the ways they handled their sexuality, challenges and unique issues that they faced, and advice for future GLB study abroad participants and educational exchange professionals. Findings indicate that GLB students experienced challenges and unique issues in personal relationships, school related activities, accommodation, health and safety, and reentry. Discrepancies in the tolerance level between host and home cultures considerably affected participant’s reactions to cultural differences and experiences in the host culture. Interviews concluded that the availability of pre-departure information, specific to local GLB resources, as well as information regarding local tolerance and treatment towards GLB persons would have helped participants to be better prepared for studying abroad.