LGBTQ Identity and Race and Ethnicity Abroad: Crossing cultural boundaries

Jeno Singson graduated from the University of Iowa this spring with a degree in marketing. He was a recipient of the Diversity Ambassador Scholarship for Study Abroad, which applied toward a yearlong program at Bond University in Gold Coast, Australia. Identifying as not only Asian but also a member of the LGBT community, Jeno made it his personal goal to be a role model for other Asian LGBT minorities as well as people of color. The following is a reflection by Jeno on his time abroad:

Dear Prospective Mate,

Have you ever tried to surf? It’s quite difficult.  You see, there are two components when it comes to mastering the art of surfing: catching the wave and riding the wave. You need both to successfully glide through the water. If you don’t practice these fundamentals of surfing, you’re more than likely to perpetually fall off the board and never triumph the aquatic sport. Like surfing, I have two identities that are unique to the human society. Through my study abroad experience in Gold Coast, Australia, I worked with my identities to enhance my self-confidence in an evolving world.

I knew what kind of foreign land I was heading into before I left the U.S. of A.  Australia’s racial demographics are 92% Caucasian, 7% Asian and 1% Aboriginal. Upon arrival, I felt more marginalized than expected. My study abroad program consisted of 115 people. Out of all the males, I was the only person of color. My Filipino identity made me feel as if I was a brown horse amongst a herd of zebras. Additionally, my LGBT identity intensified my marginalization. I had no knowledge of any other LGBT individuals, so I was now a brown horse with wings and a horn attached to my head; a unicorn amongst a pack of zebras. Overall, I felt extremely out of place.

During the beginning of my abroad experience, I focused primarily on how different I was from my fellow Americans and the native Australians. Later, my attitude shifted from this state of isolation to determination. I viewed myself as a pioneer. The students at Bond University were not receiving an accurate representation of America which is full of color and diversity. I originally went to Australia to see the natural beauty that it has to offer. When I got there, I decided my mission should also include being a role model for people of different backgrounds.

This change of attitude strengthened my relationships with the American students and Australian locals. One of my fondest memories abroad is when an Australian classmate asked me about my LGBT history. Questions such as “When did you come out? How did your mom and dad take it? Do you have a boyfriend? If so, is he cute?” This moment was special to me because this Australian classmate recognized the struggles of being an LGBT individual. Furthermore, I viewed this as a global phenomenon because I witnessed that other countries outside of the United States are becoming more gay-friendly. I believe that with more encounters like this I will expose more people to create an LGBT norm and be open-minded. Hopefully, even though they are small encounters, I will be able change mind-sets for future individuals that I meet.

Overall, my time abroad has empowered my own sense of self and developed my attitude as a role model for under-represented groups. I learned, as the Australians say, HEAPS about myself . Your time abroad is not about finding yourself, it’s about creating a better you. Now go out there! Go see the Great Barrier Reef, The Outback, the Sydney Opera house and more.  While you’re visiting these places make sure to create cultural understanding between you and your small encounters. It may be hard to get adjusted at first, but remember: get back on the surfboard and ride the wave.

Your Mate,

Jeno

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

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