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Study Abroad Spotlight: Douglas Mulford

Douglas Mulford stands in a field of crops at Lake Atitlan in Guatemala
Douglas Mulford at Lake Atitlan in Guatemala.

Program and Location:

Summer, Guatemala: Ethnographic Field School in Lake Atitlan; San Pedro de La Laguna, Guatemala

Why did you choose to study abroad?

I wanted to experience a part of the world that I had never been to and that was a bit off the beaten path. Having traveled and been abroad in Europe and South America, Guatemala was the perfect destination for me to discover a new and less known part of the world that many westerners know less about.

What did you learn about yourself?

I learned that no matter how uncomfortable or difficult the situation, I can adjust and adapt myself to ensure that I still enjoy wherever I end up.

What was one of your favorite parts of your program?

The class trip to Antigua was absolutely fantastic-not only did we get to visit a UNESCO world heritage site but we also learned so much about Guatemala’s history and its beautiful culture.

What advice do you have to future study abroad students?

To experience an effective study abroad, you have to be open minded to different world views and ways of living. No culture does one thing the same, and differences can prove to be frustrating at times, but understanding that there is more than one way to live, and that no one way is the “right” or “wrong” way will make your experience so much better.

How did your study abroad experience prepare you for your future career?

Because I am hoping to enter the field of diplomacy or international education, this experience provided me with a greater, first hand experience in a part of the world that I wasn’t very familiar with before. This will play well into either career path, as having a more varied global understanding of the world will provide me with better abilities in both fields.

Would you do it again?

I never plan to stop!

In what ways did your identity have an impact on your experience abroad?

Because Guatemala, like many parts of Latin America, is quite conservative especially in terms of LGBTQ+ people, at times I did unfortunately feel that I had to not be as open with my host family and the community about my orientation as I would at home with my friends and family.

Is there any advice you would give to other students who share your identity?

I would say that for LGBTQ+ students need to understand that there still are areas of the world where it can be dangerous or simply not accepting of who we are, and although this is unfortunate it is still a sad truth. Still, changes are being made all around the world in terms of LGBTQ+ rights, and just because it isn’t accepted doesn’t mean we have to hide who we are. Just because an area isn’t so open to our lifestyles shouldn’t keep us from going to these places, and if we, as LGBTQ+ can speak and make connections with people of these communities, then perhaps we can act as the change to improve their understanding of who we are.

Where did you find support to navigate any challenges you faced abroad?

My fellow study abroad students and friends and family back home.

This post was originally published in Study Abroad.