Tag: study abroad

Waving a Rainbow Flag in Spain: What Should Study Abroad Students Know?

Waving a Rainbow Flag in Spain: What Should Study Abroad Students Know?

Waving a Rainbow Flag in Spain: What Should Study Abroad Students Know?
By: Eero Jesurun | Director of CIEE Global Institute – Madrid

Every year in June, Gay Pride festival starts up in Madrid and infinite rainbow flags are waving in the hands of most revelers who celebrate the hard-won rights of gays and lesbians. This year, due to Covid-19 restrictions, the annual Gay Pride in many parts of Spain was canceled or celebrated online. Amid this new reality, the public display of the rainbow flag became an unexpected target of cultural strife in Spain. 

While the country emerged out of lockdown, the Spanish postal service announced its historical decision to print rainbow flag stamps in honor of LGBT pride. The post office also spent 10,000 euros (12,000 US dollars) on its pride campaign to brand several mailboxes and delivery vans with the rainbow flag. There is nothing unusual about the display of rainbow banners since they remind everyone that the LGBT community is an essential part of our modern society. Yet there was public criticism for the post office´s “frivolous” marketing expenses during a global health pandemic. This was fueled by ongoing allegations from rightwing Spanish politicians that the rainbow flag is a symbol of a leftwing political lobby. And then the Spanish Supreme Court ruling of June 1, 2020, stated that unofficial flags cannot be placed on the exterior of public buildings. This invigorated many conservative leaders who refused to hang the rainbow flag at their townhall this year. In one terrible incident, someone even burned the rainbow flag that was on public display at a Toledo province mayor´s office.

Why did this Pride icon come under attack in a Western European country that has been hailed for one of the first to enact marriage equality laws and many other civil rights protections of its LGBT citizens?

The response of many Spaniards, and especially the youth, to these events, was an immediate reaction on social media in favor of the rainbow flag and the LGBT community. The postal office made nearly 500.000 euros profit on their stamp sales. Despite the commercial success and community support, the public debate did not quiet down in Spain. Any study abroad student coming to Spain, and possibly many other locations, will need to be open-minded and brave to hear talk and disagreements about politics, religion, sexuality, and the origins of people. This requires that our participants get support in developing intercultural skills, local language learning, and ongoing orientation or access to local resources. One example may be an onsite LGBT buddy peer system.

But I want to come back to the display of the rainbow flag. Students should actively look out for this colorful symbol printed with the rainbow colors. Restaurants, bars, shops, study abroad offices, etc. that have the rainbow flag on their window, door entrance, or indoor walls show support for others with different sexualities, if not a demonstration of full acceptance of these differences. Unfortunately, in some study locations, the rainbow flag is under social scrutiny and faces ongoing censorship. Whereas most in the Western world embrace rainbow flags as a sign of support it is also increasingly seen as a sign of a safety risk, especially and perhaps strangely for minors in certain countries. In Turkey, for example, most children are not allowed to draw rainbows out of a public fear it may “make” them gay.

Spain´s LGBT organizations, fortunately, rallied to embrace the rainbow flag and garnered support with lower regional court rulings that banners or posters of the rainbow-colored flag are part of an immemorial practice in Spain of hanging confectioners. These judges recognized that the rainbow flag identifies certain social groups and, therefore, it does not compete with the official flag of Spain. They also cited a custom in most Spanish towns where flags or banners are hung when remembering important social or civic causes (for example, banners against gender violence or ALS awareness).

In summary, despite the ongoing resistance by several conservative groups and hardline objections by some politicians, the rainbow flag has a renewed meaning of compassion and solidarity in Spain. Albeit Spain is often listed in the top 10 countries in the world for LGBT freedoms, it is not perfect. Hence, I also recognize that this is only one component regarding diversity and inclusion support in study abroad, but I believe that these recent occurrences in Spain cannot be overlooked when Covid-19 dominates world news and we have students preparing participants for study abroad.

J. Scott Van Der Meid | Tribute

J. Scott Van Der Meid | Tribute

In Memoriam: J. Scott Van Der Meid
Rainbow SIG Tribute

Although the year 2020 has unfolded with unimaginable scenarios impacting our personal and professional lives, none of us could have prepared for the loss of our beloved colleague and former Rainbow co-chair—J. Scott Van Der Meid.  He had only confided in a few friends and colleagues about his unexpected health challenge that emerged last winter so most of the field was caught off guard when news of his death came on July 31.  And, in true Scott fashion, he was bravely present until the end, thinking of his husband, Shinji, and his parents while sharing his last thoughts with friends.  In his farewell statement he wanted us to know that “networking and connecting people have been my passion and I was fortunate to be able to live my passion all around the world.  My belief that we are enriched by these relationships has been paramount in my personal life as well as my professional world.”

Former SIG co-chairs:  Left to Right,
Peter Kerrigan, Mark Lenhart, Kathleen Sideli, Kevin Morrison, J. Scott Van Der Meid, BJ Titus and Mark Beirn

So, today his Rainbow colleagues take this moment to remember his joy, his luminosity, his love of people, his dedication to students and his commitment to international education.  It was through his profession that he was able to share who he was with as many individuals in the world as he could reach—and there were many.  The statement put out by Brandeis University, where he served as associate dean of study abroad, recounts in detail how he successfully dedicated his career to helping get underrepresented students abroad.

For us in the Rainbow SIG, he arrived at his first SIG meeting in Washington, DC in 1998 with a refreshingly “out and proud” philosophy which was not necessarily the experience of older SIG members, particularly in their career and conference environments.  Who did not gravitate immediately towards his twinkling smile and cheerful laugh?  The SIG was still evolving in 1998 and our reception that year was in a bar that forgot we made a reservation and then served us chips and tuna salad!  It would take another five years until the SIG came of age and had a ‘real’ reception that became known as the place to be during the NAFSA conference.  Scott was actively involved in supporting then co-chair Kevin Morrison’s plan for hosting a big reception with sponsors, and open beyond SIG members, in order to celebrate the SIG’s 10th anniversary in 2003 in Salt Lake City.  Feather boas were happily part of the joyous occasion.

Scott became the co-chair of the SIG in 2005 and was interviewed on that occasion by Thomas Lavenir for the SIG newsletter.  He served alongside Jan Kieling, now retired from UC Berkeley, in 2005-06.  Jan remembers getting to know Scott during a study abroad site visit to Costa Rica and Cuba in 2002.  She fondly remembers being invited in recent years to dinner in Boston at the home he shared with his husband, Shinji Sato, who put out a delicious spread.  As she recounts, “Good food was a big deal for Scott, and I always got a kick out of his frequent Facebook “portraits” of epic meals from around the globe.”  She also commented that she and Scott “were from different generations, but he never made me feel like a geezette. Scott had a way of making everyone comfortable.”  Upon his death she also posted that “we shared our deepest secrets, cheered each other’s successes.  Scott was wise beyond his years.”  A newsletter from Jan’s and Scott’s co-chair year is available on-line, showing what the GLBT issues in international education were back then.  

Mark Lenhart, executive director of CET, who served as co-chair with Scott in 2006-07, said, “When I think back on the days when Scott and I were co-chairs of the Rainbow SIG, what I remember most was how welcoming Scott was. Not only to me, but also to all new members. I had only been “out” for about five years, and I was still getting used to wearing my new identity in professional settings. Scott instantly made me feel at home. He was encouraging, kind, welcoming, and funny. He often offered helpful suggestions over breakfast meetings, sharing his experience in ways that helped me navigate big NAFSA conferences. Over the years, his advice also helped CET evolve and become a better organization and partner to Brandeis. I learned so much from him.”  

Mark further commented, “From those early years until 2020, Scott was a dependable friend and partner who never once let me down. I’ll miss his friendship, his commitment to our field and the SIG, and the twinkle in his eye. Charles Shulz said, “In life, it’s not where you go, it’s who you travel with.” It was truly an honor to travel these roads with Scott, and I’m so grateful for our time together.”

Thomas Lavenir, Assistant Director at CGE at James Madison University and longtime SIG advisory board member, fondly remembers Scott with a few special photographs taken by Scott who considered photography more than just a hobby. He feels that this photo, taken at the National University of Singapore, communicates and reveals what Scott’s professional and personal philosophy was all about. 

In Thomas’ words, “He was a true global and people ambassador who was always on the go to better and strengthen the field of international education and promote inclusion… to the point where he did not take enough time for himself.”

Thomas thanks Scott for being a good friend, a strong role model and leader in the field of international education, and for inspiring us to come and work together to respect our world and planet. He also included this photo taken by Scott in Japan since he had a special attention for details, a skill he used to bring individuals together and to ensure that no one was left alone.

Former co-chair Peter Kerrigan wrote that, “Scott enjoyed nurturing and mentoring the next generation of international education professionals. Many of our colleagues benefited greatly from his knowledge and help.”  

Other SIG members, particularly those with fond memories of Scott, can join us in honoring his memory by donating to either of the scholarships established in his name—one at Brandeis and one established by his friends and colleagues for GLBTQ students, hosted by The Fund for Education Abroad. https://fundforeducationabroad.org/the-j-scott-van-der-meid-memorial-scholarship/ 

During this time when many of our global citizens are experiencing painful losses, Scott’s full and impactful life reminds us that we are never too young to leave behind an enduring legacy.  May we honor his memory by doing all that we can to generously embrace life, each other and the young generation that follows us.

To Stay In or Come Out of the Closet During a Job Search?

To Stay In or Come Out of the Closet During a Job Search?

To Stay In or Come Out of the Closet During a Job Search?
By: Kyle Rausch (he/him) | Executive Director
Study Abroad Office at the University of Illinois, Chicago

Growing up in the rural southeast in the early 2000s, hiding my identity as a gay man was just something I had come to accept. The unspoken norms of the conservative region in which I grew up had instilled within me the belief that I had to keep that side of me locked away in most settings. When I got to college, although I began to meet others in the LGBTQ+ community, I still felt as if I had to present a certain way in class and other professional settings. When I decided to study abroad, my advisors in the Study Abroad Office were helpful in assisting me with my application and preparing me for program logistics, but at no point were my identities discussed, let alone questions I felt on the inside related to what life as a gay man abroad might be like. And I thought this was normal. 

When I returned from my time abroad, I began working as a student worker in my alma mater’s study abroad office.  I was part of a team of about 15 student recruiters.  With my peers, my identities were almost a non-issue; there was no need for me to come out as gay as I just was who I was and conversations about my boyfriend seemed safe and natural to share with that group.  However, when I interacted with the professional staff of the office, I always felt like I had to keep a wall up between the professional me and the personal me.  Whereas others in the office frequently talked about their interests, significant others, and weekend plans, I constantly self-edited what I shared, mostly because I had not encountered another LGBTQ+ person in the workplace and because of the years of growing up in a part of the country which conditioned me to believe that that part of my life was not acceptable in the workplace. To be fair, no one ever overtly expressed negative attitudes towards LGBTQ+ individuals in the office, but I also was never asked about those aspects of my life as my straight counterparts were. This was very much the era of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

My student role soon turned into my first professional role in the office, and after a few years of receiving excellent training and mentorship at that institution, I decided it was time to move on from my alma mater and seek experiences elsewhere.  I received an interview for a position out-of-state at an institution where I did not know anyone. I remember thinking about the opportunity to start anew in much the same way as I did my study abroad experiences.  Here was an opportunity for me to decide which version of me I wanted to be. I vowed to myself that I would be authentically me from the very onset, no matter the risk of potentially costing me a job opportunity. My time in college and abroad had helped me to understand who I was and who I wanted to be and I realized that I did not want to work for an organization that did not value who I was in totality. 

I happily was invited to an on-campus interview. As my then boyfriend drove me to campus for the interview, I remember the familiar anxious feeling that us LGBTQ+ individuals can feel when we know we’ll likely be asked personal questions and do not know how our answers will be received. In my case, it was almost assured that I’d have to share information about this part of my life because a big reason why I was moving to this state was due to my boyfriend obtaining a job at the same university. Sure enough, when I was asked about my reasons for applying to the job at the beginning of the interview I felt the nervous side of me that had always been trained to keep my identity as a gay man at bay, but I quickly reminded myself of my vow to be authentically me. With a calm and matter-of-fact tone, I shared that I was looking to relocate due to my boyfriend getting a job at the university, almost as if it were the most normal thing in the world. And would you know that it was received as such?  Whether or not my future colleagues had any misgivings about LGBTQ+ people, that was not made evident. Instead, my choice to be genuine and true to who I was, paving the way for more conversation stemming from a place of genuine interest. I left feeling confident that the team knew exactly who I was…and as I would find out in a few weeks, with a new job. The following years at that institution were my best professional years to date, in large part because I knew I could show up to work 100% who I was and be accepted by my colleagues. I was able to participate in watercooler talk about what my boyfriend and I were doing on the weekend or about our travel plans. I was able to advocate for LGBTQ+ resources for students. I was able to form genuine bonds of friendship with colleagues across the institution and learned how many allies there actually were. I realized that because of the conservative environment I had grown up in, I had been conditioned to think my identity as a gay male was something to be hidden away in most settings instead of celebrated.  Once I freed myself from this lie, I knew there was no going back and I have made it a point to be unabashedly me in all future job searches.  

The fact that we are in a field that, overall, endeavors to accept people from many diverse backgrounds is not lost on me. I know that for many, being one’s authentic self during a job search still may not be advisable in certain industries. Moreover, there are still identities that are not as readily accepted or understood, even in the higher education space. I hope that as more people from underrepresented backgrounds make it further in the field their visibility will help encourage those newcomers who were like me and from a restrictive background to not settle for repression of one’s authentic self. Our ability to welcome individuals to the field as they are allows them to dedicate their energies and skills fully to the many challenges that we face, rather than expending it towards hiding who they really are.