As an international student from France, I am fortunate enough to come from a country where being LGBTQ+ is broadly accepted and normalised.
This doesn’t mean I was entirely comfortable with my sexuality when I got to university – far from it – but it did mean I came from an environment that didn’t make me feel like an outcast for being queer. Many other international students don’t have this privilege.
That said, moving to the UK at the age of 18 to attend the University of Cambridge was daunting to say the least. Adapting to a new culture remarkably different from my own was one challenge. The other challenge was gauging how welcome I would feel as a gay woman – I wondered what kind of community I would find, if any.
Looking back at my first year, I can now acknowledge how incredibly lucky I was to have been told from the very beginning that the University of Cambridge was a queer-friendly place.
In my first week at university, I was introduced to my LGBTQ+ student representative through an informal social they had organised. This immediately created, at least in my mind, a space where I could feel comfortable and express myself free of judgement. This was huge for me.
I was a long way from accepting my sexuality and even further from being able to publicly discuss it. Yet knowing there were people who had experienced similar things and were there to support me in my own journey helped me let go of the resentment I had built up towards myself.
The absolute freedom that I felt after a few months at university was a real revelation. I wanted every single queer student to have that same feeling, especially if they came to university feeling insecure or uncertain about themselves. I wanted to be that friendly face that LGBTQ+ first-year students see and want to talk to, so I ended up running for the LGBTQ+ student representative role myself.
One of the most gratifying moments I had in the job was when I organised a social event for new students. After the event, a student came up to me and thanked me for the evening. He said he came from a country where homosexuality was severely punished by the government and that he was grateful to have a space that was so accepting and open. It was a moment I’ll always remember, and which made the time and effort of the role absolutely worth it.
Being an international LGBTQ+ student was a phenomenal experience for me. This is mostly thanks to what I learned from other people. The sharing of experiences and struggles gave me perspective. It taught me compassion and made me unlearn a lot of the preconceptions I previously held. France, despite being a liberal country, continues to hold a lot of taboos around queerness, many of which were deeply ingrained in me.
Most importantly, I learned that being queer doesn’t need to look or feel a specific way. It’s an entirely personal journey that every individual navigates in their own way. I was extremely lucky that my journey was shaped by the supportive community I found at Cambridge, and I can only hope that other students have as positive an experience as I did.
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