Staff Persepectives on LGBT Identity Abroad

Photo by Tom Jorgensen, UI Office of University Relations

Autumn Tallman, Study Abroad office

Autumn Tallman’s experiences abroad inform the work she does today. She remembers the challenge of deciding whether or not to come out while participating in a high school study abroad program in Israel at age 15.

“Being far from family and friends without my usual support system was harder than I imagined it would be,” says Tallman, who has served as a study abroad advisor and program coordinator in the University of Iowa Study Abroad office since 2002.

She adds, “The program was religious in focus, and negative attitudes about homosexuality were the norm.”

Tallman says that had she considered the implications of being gay in another country and received advising prior to departure, she might have looked for a program more responsive to her needs. When planning a subsequent study abroad experience, Tallman did some homework first and selected a program in Cuernavaca, Mexico, that offered gay- and lesbian-friendly home stays.

“I learned that the program providers I chose, rather than the program locations, had the biggest impact on how comfortable I was simply being myself abroad. Finally, I was able to focus my attention and energy on an international experience without being preoccupied with my identity,” Tallman says. “The experience led to my mastery of Spanish, years of working in Mexico, and ultimately my decision to make international education a career.”

Now Tallman uses both her education and her own study abroad experiences to daily counsel all UI students who wish to study abroad. She provides expertise for programs in Italy, Greece, and the Czech Republic. Tallman also administers study abroad programs, primarily in Latin America and Europe, for UI and for the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC). She serves on the executive board of the UI Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Staff and Faculty Association (LGBT SFA).

fyi recently caught up with Tallman to learn more about the work she does, the growing importance of study abroad for all UI students, and how she and her partner, Sherri, juggle their busy lives, including raising 5-year-old twins and a 1-year-old.

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