When deciding to immerse yourself in a new culture, it only makes sense to prepare yourself for exposure to new and different experiences that will come along with the change in scenery. During the length of my Education Abroad program I was enrolled in a Gender Studies class in which my professor wanted to share her countries acceptance of social scene with my classmates and myself. Coming from a small, rural, Midwestern farm town my experiences with the gay and lesbian community were very little before moving to Lexington. My interest in gender studies began with a class I was enrolled in my freshmen year at the University of Kentucky and since then I have had eye-opening experiences to issues that are often taken for granted and overlooked.
Continuing my interest in this unfamiliar subject, I decided to take part in the Gender Studies of Central Europe class at Charles University while studying in Prague. Learning about the gender differences that surrounded me in my own country was mind-blowing, but to be able to see the same issues were being dealt with in a country more than 4500 miles away made me step back and look at it with a new world perspective. My professor brought my classmates and I to the Queer Film Festival, Mezipatra, to give us a firsthand look at the progression the Czech culture has made within the LGBTQ community. Through the film screenings I was exposed to issues centered on sexual identity and the prejudice that our fellow community members deal with daily. One film, Fake Orgasm, follows a Female to Male (FTM) transgendered individual, Lazlo Pearlman, and the stereotypes he has faced throughout his life for his sexual orientation. Lazlo brings the attention to the societal norms and the impacts that the ideas of others have on how we perceive our own lives. The main focus of this documentary was to challenge the ideal views of masculinity, open up the audiences’ perspectives and remind them that things aren’t always how they appear.
The concepts of the films I encountered at this broadened my mind and helped me become more understanding of those whose lifestyles differ from my own. Without Education Abroad, I would not have gotten this incredibly unique exposure to these issues that have sparked an interest for me to further my education into the Gender and Women’s Studies field and I’m extremely grateful to have had a professor saw the importance of educating us on these important matters. The film pushed me outside of my comfort zone but brought forward many valid points and forced me to think with a new perspective – I strongly suggest giving the documentary a chance if you’re interested in challenging in gender issues and how politics help form our opinions about perceived sexual identities.
Courtney Henning is a senior at the University of Kentucky majoring in International Studies and Gender and Women’s Studies. She studied in the Czech Republic in the Fall of 2013 though an International Studies Abroad (ISA) program.