I studied abroad during the spring 2022 semester in Madrid, Spain. I was abroad for nearly five months learning the Spanish language and geopolitical dynamics of the European Union. While in Europe, I visited seven countries and eight Spanish cities. These travel opportunities gave me the chance to experience a vast range of cultures and I left the continent with a permanently altered worldview.
My expectations prior to arrival in Spain varied greatly compared to my expectations after leaving. Since this was my first trip abroad, I had limited understanding of what it was like to live in another county. Through my travels, I discovered how the LGBTQ+ community and related traditions vary from region to region.
I arrived in Spain thinking that gay culture would be like that of America. While this was true in some respects, such as annual pride month in June and use of the progress flag, there were key differences that I didn’t expect. For one, it was normal and expected of people to accept the LGBTQ+ community, even across political parties. When paired with the protections implemented by the European Union, people in Europe seemed more comfortable showing public affection and discussing their sexuality in public. This was especially true in Spain, where I found it was incredibly common for college students of all backgrounds to have discussions on the topic of sexuality. I was able to participate in these intercultural conversations with Spanish students and better understand local queer culture.
"Now reflecting on my time in Madrid, I can confidently say that studying abroad had a profound impact on my identity. I feel more in touch with myself, my community, and global LGBTQ+ culture."
In Europe, I also learned more about myself and my identity. Being in an environment with a language barrier and new friends, I had to re-navigate the “coming-out” process all over again. Initially, I was careful in revealing my sexuality. It took time to become comfortable sharing this with others, but I eventually found courage in expressing myself.
Although seemingly small, Europe’s expectation of style had a heavy impact on my identity. In the United States, I was often considered overdressed, an outdated cliché used by straight people to predict someone is gay. In Europe, it was not only normal, but expected that all people dress sensibly in public. I found that when meeting Europeans, I wasn’t read as gay for my dressy fashion. This completely changed how people approached me. Usually, I am wary about how others perceive me and the impact their assumptions could have on our conversations. Being free of this burden in Spain, I had the space to examine my gayness in other ways.
One of the challenges I faced assimilating into a new culture and community was the language barrier. I sometimes had trouble building relationships with other people when I couldn’t communicate using my personality. This was also complicated by the fact that queer slang in the United States is very different than that of Spain. In the moments when I was able to communicate using my typical quips, my phrasing was frequently misunderstood by friends. I had to spend extra time explaining the meaning behind my words, so others understood what I meant. This limitation led me to better understand what I found important in sharing and showing myself.
Now reflecting on my time in Madrid, I can confidently say that studying abroad had a profound impact on my identity. I feel more in touch with myself, my community, and global LGBTQ+ culture. Assimilating to European norms was both easy and difficult in unexpected ways. I'm grateful to have had five months sharing and learning about myself, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the University of Iowa Diversity Ambassador Scholarship and the International Programs team.
Kevin Drahos (political science major), a Diversity Ambassador Scholarship recipient, participated in the USAC Madrid program in spring 2022.
The Diversity Ambassador Scholarship program provides awards to study abroad for a summer, semester, or academic year. The scholarships are intended to support the diversification of students who study abroad. Upon completion of the study abroad program and return to UI, award recipients are asked to submit a photo and an open letter to prospective students or suggest an alternate means of sharing with prospective students.
Please note that the opinions and views expressed by diversity ambassadors are solely those of the students and do not reflect or represent the views of International Programs or the University of Iowa.
International Programs (IP) at the University of Iowa (UI) is committed to enriching the global experience of UI students, faculty, staff, and the general public by leading efforts to promote internationally oriented teaching, research, creative work, and community engagement. IP provides support for international students and scholars, administers scholarships and assistance for students who study, intern, or do research abroad, and provides funding opportunities and grant-writing assistance for faculty engaged in international research. IP shares their stories through various media, and by hosting multiple public engagement activities each year.