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How Being LGBTQ+ Can Be A Superpower When Going Abroad

May 03, 2021
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Pride Month Event Encourages LGBTQ+ Students To Have Global Experiences

What is it like to study, work, or travel abroad as a LGBTQ+ individual? During the Pride in the Global Workplace virtual event hosted by the Center for Global Business (CGB), the Queer Leadership Accelerator (QLA), and the Smith Pride Alliance (SPA), two LGBTQ+ leaders discussed their experiences working and studying internationally. The event was held during Campus Pride month, part of a nationwide push each April to support and celebrate LGBTQ+ students on college campuses.

Moderator and CGB Assistant Director Greg Rafal was joined by Mark Lenhart, MBA ’00, the executive director for Washington, D.C.-based study abroad provider CET Academic Programs, and Jason Wang, a PhD student in counseling psychology at the University of Maryland, who shared their thoughts in a candid Zoom discussion with Maryland Smith students, faculty and staff.

Lenhart and Wang say international experiences can be life-changing, and the resiliency they’ve built with their gay identities helps shape those experiences.

“I like to think of our LGBTQ+ identity as our superpower,” said Lenhart. “We are more resilient and we can handle more than a lot of people.”

Lenhart began working for CET in 1990, where he took a post that had him move back to China. He has been with the company ever since, helping students have a transformational study abroad experience like he had.

“It’s a great way to build new skills, shape your world view and learn a lot about yourself and your own identity,” he said.

Wang studied abroad in China in 2006 as an undergraduate student. “It was really important for me and gratifying for me to explore what my Chinese heritage meant to me and how it intersected with my gay identity,” said Wang. “It also shaped my career.” He worked for CET for eight years, including four years running programs in China, before now studying counseling psychology and training to be a therapist. His research focuses on the well-being of study abroad students and their career development.

Wang and Lenhart shared personal stories and advice for how students and others traveling abroad could get the most out of their experiences and gain benefits that translate to other situations.

“Studying abroad, particularly in a country that is a little more challenging, builds so much resiliency that is directly usable in other contexts, such as being LGBTQ+ in the workplace in the U.S. in situations that might not be as friendly, or where you have to navigate your identity,” said Wang.

Lenhart and Wang also talked about how people can support advocacy efforts abroad while being mindful of their role as a guest, resources for LGBTQ+ people abroad, and how to find opportunities to connect with similar local people with shared identity to learn about a new culture.

The event was the first of many sponsored by CGB to promote diversity and inclusion in global experiences. The Center for Global Business is committed to diversity and inclusion and showcasing the experience of minorities and different identities in global business.

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