Ohio State’s Younkin Student Success Center provides career and academic support as well as the university’s Counseling and Consultation Services office. Counseling and Consutation is now home to the International Exploration program. Credit: Ris Twigg | Assistant Photo Editor

International students at Ohio State who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer now have the opportunity to take part in a group specifically made to discuss their sexual orientation.

The group, called International Exploration, was introduced this week at Counseling and Consultation Services. It was created to provide students the support they might need while away from home.

For students to participate, a 20-minute screening with psychologist Chiaothong Yong is required to confirm their qualification and ensure confidentiality. Following the screening, students can then join a group of five to eight to talk about personal issues related to their identities, Yong said.

“Such issues could be romantic issues, the coming-out process, issues with family members or even going back home and legal concerns,” Yong said. “The idea is really to have a social support and let them know that they are not alone.”

Yong said international students face additional challenges when coming out in a different country and while dating because of different cultural values.

“It might be harder for someone coming from a culture where family values are highly valued to say ‘I want to come out of the closet and forget what my parents may think of me,’” Yong said. “Versus in America, autonomy is more valued.”

She said the screening process is very important when creating a safe group environment for each participant.

“We are making sure students are respectful and understanding of the privacy of the other students, and be OK to protect other members’ confidentiality,” Yong said.

The inconsistencies between their experiences in the U.S. and the cultures they grow up in can also make it more difficult for international students to identify with the rest of the LGBTQ community, she added.

“Some researchers called it ‘living in a dual reality’ that, on one hand, ‘I am someone with different culture,’” Yong said. “On the other hand, ‘I feel more related to this progressive society where LGBTQ is more accepted, but my cultural background and my values can be very different from this society.’”

In addition to English, CCS offers services in Mandarin, Hindi, Korean, Cantonese and Spanish.

“To be able to communicate the struggles and emotions in English, which is their second language, may be very difficult,” Yong said. “To be able to process the emotions and then to express that in English may be other issues for them.”

Creating a social support group for LGBTQ international students also is essential because they could also be experiencing intense loneliness and isolation while away from home, she said.

“You don’t have your usual family support system; you don’t have your close friends with you. You are new to this country,” Yong said. “Where are you supposed to get help?”

The meetings are held every Monday at Counseling and Consultation Service from 6:15 to 7:30 p.m. in the Younkin Success Center.