LGBTQ Identity Abroad: 'Identity neither defines nor confines'

Robin Stark, originally from Center Point, Iowa, is a sophomore studying psychology and Spanish at the University of Iowa. In this letter he wrote as a Diversity Ambassador for UI Study Abroad, Robin reflects upon how his sexual identity impacted his experiences in Peru - and ultimately, broadened his view of the world around him.

My name is Robin Stark. I am a sophomore in the International Relations and Spanish program. I am from Center Point, Iowa.  I chose to go to Lima, Peru and never once regretted it. I traveled through a company called International Studies Abroad (ISA) and they were amazing in every way. Going from a town the size of Center Point – approximately 2,500 to a city that has over 9 million people, was intimidating to say the least. I found life in Lima perfect for me, fast paced, and on the coast even though I come from small town rural Iowa. It included trips to the Amazon Rain Forest, Machu Picchu & Cuzco, and the Atacama Desert. I lived in Peru for about 10 weeks, and it was nowhere near enough time. I wanted to go back the day I returned to the States.

My sexual identity has never been an easy subject with me. I like to say it is similar to having your worst fear tattooed on your forehead. So, I was branded with “GAY” on my forehead. There were nights where I hated every part of myself because of this one little section of my being, but there were also nights that I felt amazing because of my differences. Going to a nation that the majority of popular opinion is opposed to gay marriage was daunting and it made me think about more than just my sexual identity.

Living in Peru, however, proved differently. I only received homophobia or rude comments or actions on a single occasion. I was waiting to sandboard down a 200-foot sand dune, and I was recording the other students (I was the photographer for the trip, or at least it seemed that way).

It was nearing my turn and I heard the guides say “ay, el es una mariposa,” which roughly translates to “He’s a fag.”

This didn't affect me much in that moment because I was too excited to go sandboarding. Later, however, it really started to eat at me, and I got really down about it and the whole experience in Peru, myself as a person, and my identity.

Then, I thought, “I don't let my identity confine or define me in the States, why should I let it confine and define me anywhere else?” It shouldn't, it is who I am, but it is not all of me- it's just a part of me. I love who I am and would not change it, even if I could.

I also had a very open conversation with my host mom near the end of my stay. After coming out on Facebook due to the legalization of gay marriage in the states, she saw and asked me directly. I was completely honest and she, along with the rest of my family was more than accepting, which made me feel like it truly was home.

I do not wish to scare you into not studying abroad- actually, quite the opposite! Studying abroad was the most amazing time of my life. I made so many amazing friends, and had so many amazing experiences. If you take one thing from my letter it would be this – GO. Just do it. Do not think about, and just go.

Don't think about any of the negative things that MIGHT happen, and only think about the positive things that WILL happen.

I want to scare you into doing something that you are scared of doing – I want you to do things that scare you because the majority of the time, it will bring out the best in you, and you will become so much wiser because of it.

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” – Nelson Mandela

​Learn more about the Diversity Ambassador Scholarship for study abroad, or read more reflections from our Diversity Ambassadors.

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