What I Learned About Keeping an Open Mind as an LGBTQ+ Student in China
By Ben Schuster, BBA '21
Attending Michigan these past two years, I’ve been the most accepted I’ve ever been in my life.
There are LGBTQ+ organizations on campus (like Out For Business; check it out!), LGBTQ+ friendly clubs and bars in the area, and accepting students and staff who want to see you succeed. I can’t say that was always the case for me growing up in Ohio, but I’m grateful for the opportunities available at Michigan that have allowed me to feel comfortable being myself.
In China on the Ross Corporate Strategy Global Immersion Program, I didn’t experience much gay culture. But I didn’t experience any extreme forms of homophobia, either. Isolated to Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen, I was exposed to professionals and students with a curiosity for Western culture and an interest in understanding U.S. government and business dynamics. In short, because of the focus on business, there was little attention paid to my identity as being gay, though that may have been due in part to a language barrier or cultural expectations of Americans in China.
What I did experience, however, was the willingness of everyone to learn from one another. You only travel to the other side of the globe every so often, so the students (and our hosts in China) took the experience as an opportunity to learn about different perspectives socialized in a completely different geopolitical climate. During a conversation in which I shared the history of marriage equality in the United States with our volunteers in Beijing, I was surprised to hear about friends they had who were out and open about their gender identities and sexual orientations. Despite a lack of acceptance among traditional families and older Chinese, I was encouraged by how those in my generation and younger have come to accept the community, something I would have never known had I not kept an open mind or pushed myself to learn.
By the end of the trip, I learned something extremely valuable: Don’t assume you know about China (or any other country, for that matter) simply based on stories or anecdotes from someone else; experience it for yourself if you’re able to.
Before going, I read about how unaccepting Chinese culture is regarding LGBTQ+ diversity and didn’t bother asking those around me for guidance. After having been there for two unforgettable weeks, I wish I’d recognized more fully the value of keeping an open mind and navigating the environment abroad without any preconceptions. I hope those in the future will recognize the same; it’s an incredible world we live in, with so much diversity to offer. Take advantage of it.
My advice: Keep an open mind and remember you’re not alone. When going abroad and immersing yourself in another culture, it’s always important to understand that what’s normal where you’re from isn’t always guaranteed to be normal where you’ve traveled. And unfortunately, that includes acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community.