LGBTQ+ & Proud: The Community on Erasmus
Going on Erasmus can be all about rediscovering yourself. But being part of the LGBTQ+ community can be tricky. Here are some testimonials from people in the community who went abroad.
Struggling with your identity when you’re on Erasmus is something completely normal. But struggling with your gender and/or sexual identity can be even more difficult. You have to ‘come out’ again and that can be very hard, especially if you want to rediscover yourself. On Erasmus, you can be whoever you want to be: from a cool hipster to a nerd hitting the books, it’s your opportunity to find the real you. But what if the real you is gay? Or transgender? Or asexual?
Erasmus helped me discover other cultures and especially people with whom I was able to be honest about my emotions. As a young man, it was very difficult to be part of the LGBT community in Romania, as most of my colleagues and friends were homophobic. I am very grateful for being able to study abroad through the Erasmus programme. It helped me professionally, but most of all it helped me discover myself as a person. - Anonymous from Romania, Erasmus in Riga, Latvia and Lisbon, Portugal
I came out when I was 16, so it was a lot to handle. I received judgement from my family, society, and my friends. Eventually, I gained some peace. When I went abroad, I didn't want to repeat that experience. My group of friends were from very different cultures to mine: one was Spanish, another Romanian and the other two from Georgia, and were probably more conservative (so I thought). I didn't want my sexuality to define how they saw me and our relationship. It was so wrong to do that because I came out to them after my mobility as if they would be disappointed. They were not. And that's when I realised that, despite cultural differences, they were my friends and they loved me. Most importantly, I realised that the problem was within me - I didn't accept me. Erasmus helped me out with that, to be okay and understand it's okay to love who we love, despite cultural differences. - Anonymous from Portugal, Erasmus in Brno, Czech Republic
Everyone’s experience of sexuality and gender is different. For most of us, it takes a lot of time to figure out who we are. Coming out is always very difficult, but what if you figure out that you’re part of the LGBTQ+ community on Erasmus? Karlijn from the Netherlands did just that when she was in Oslo, Norway:
I used my Erasmus to figure out if I was a member of the LGBTQ+ community (lesbian/bisexual) and how it was to be one. Until then, I only told my best friends that I was into girls, however, I never acted on it (I just ignored it). In Norway, I told my new friends. It was totally accepted by everyone (as I had expected already). It was totally safe and it felt really good. I experienced my Erasmus as a good way and time to figure out what I wanted and how I would like to present myself. I realised that all the Erasmus members are open and willing to help you with your struggles. I definitely became more open and fine with my sexuality.
But sometimes the country that you go to is either not as accepting as you wish or as your home country is. How do you deal with the discrimination?
I knew the city in Poland where I stayed was a bit more conservative, but I never lied about my sexuality. I just wasn’t totally open because I did not know how the adults around me would react. At the end of the year, I was a bit more open. I ended up going to a mini pride protest/parade and I was the only non-Polish person I observed from a distance. But I guess people knew because of the clothes I was wearing. But, at the end of the year, I was more sure about my sexuality so it actually helped me to be really out. - Anonymous from Belgium, Erasmus in Bialystok, Poland
I didn’t feel unwelcome, but I also did not feel entirely comfortable with sharing my identity. I met a few other LGBT students, and felt comfortable being myself around them, but not the general student population. There were a few students who made jokes about gay people, which made me uncomfortable with sharing my identity. (...) Following my Erasmus, I realised that I am privileged to be able to express my sexuality openly in my home country since I felt uncomfortable sharing it with my peers in the Czech Republic. - Anonymous from the United States, Erasmus in Hradec Králové, Czech Republic
I really cannot say that I personally felt any discrimination, or that I did not feel safe about my orientation. In a few cases, I openly declared that I was a lesbian. The response from my Russian "friends" was never really directly offensive, but it always raised a smile/laugh on people’s faces, as if I was saying something that they really did not expect, or as if they were not used to it. (...) In general, during my experience in Russia, I felt more comfortable about my sexual orientation when I was with international people, rather than when I was with Russian people. - Valentina from Italy, Erasmus in Saint Petersburg, Russia
But it’s not always bad. Sometimes you find yourself in a country that accepts you and your identity. Nico from Italy shared his experience while in Strasbourg, France:
I think Erasmus was one of the best experiences of my life. It was a very important time period for my identity and well-being. Maybe I was a little lucky because my Erasmus group was made up of a lot of LGBT people and it always felt so good to stay with them. So, I experienced a very inclusive atmosphere, something I don't usually perceive in my country, particularly in my city. Although I'm not able to easily come out yet, Erasmus gave me the chance to better express my sexual identity. (...) Erasmus creates relationships in which you can feel safe to communicate your inner self to others, thus I had also the chance to come out with regards to some delicate issues regarding my lifetime. It's an experience I suggest to anyone who wishes to grow intellectually and live with positive emotions, and I hope I'll have another chance to live it in the future.
I went on exchange together with my girlfriend, so we were very open about it. Spain is probably one of the most LGBTQ+ friendly countries, so we never experienced any discrimination. We even managed to find a group of people to go to Benidorm pride with and felt a lot of support during the whole trip. Some people from ESN Alicante also identified themselves as belonging to the community, so we never felt alone. - Inna from Russia, Erasmus in Alicante, Spain
I have not experienced any kind of discrimination and I have felt very welcome. Mostly because there were queer societies that I could join and even some queer socials as well. I also saw some of the professors wearing a rainbow strap around their neck for their Aber IDs which was really cool! It was completely safe to open up about my sexuality, no one was rude. Usually, people just shrugged their shoulders and that was it. It was a bit different from my country because I instantly felt more free - people in the UK are just more open and used to queer people I think… (...) And in fact, I started to think about encouraging the creation of a queer society at home similiar to the ones that they have in the UK, although we don't really have the best environment for that kind of socialisation at our university. - Kateřina from the Czech Republic, Erasmus in Aberystwyth, Wales
Whether you choose to talk about your sexuality and/or gender orientation when you go abroad or you prefer to keep it lowkey and see how things go, one thing I’m completely sure of is:
love is love is love. It doesn’t matter who you love, as long as you’re happy.
For resources regarding the LGBTQ+ community in Europe, visit the Rainbow Map from ILGA Europe, a website that ranks all 49 European countries according to LGBTQ+ equality. For extra resources regarding the community in general, visit the ILGA-Europe website.
Daphne Scherer is another example of a person who has used her volunteer work for ESN to her benefit. Today, she works for the European Commission.
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