Preparing yourself for a new culture can cause a range of feelings from excitement to nervousness. An important topic to consider when going abroad is learning about gender in your host country. Every location has different gender roles and norms, dress expectations, and many more. Some study abroad locations may present more of a challenge when adjusting due to cultural differences that may lend more weight to traditional gender roles. Researching these differences can help you feel more adjusted when you go abroad.
While abroad, you may find that there are differences in interactions between men and women that vary culture to culture, city to city. In some countries, it is more culturally accepted or common to receive catcalls, stares, or attention as a foreign tourist. There may be actions or interactions that are more common in the United States which due to cultural differences are seen as more of an invitation for interaction between men and women. You may become frustrated with differences in culture, attitudes towards women, and more.
Despite these differences, we encourage you to research your host country and not let cultural differences stop you from exploring unique locations. Talk to local women and learn how to avoid unwanted attention and how to receive resources in-country. Below, you can find a compilation of resources for being a woman abroad.
Preparing ahead of time will help you feel less culture shock and, remember, do not let the fear of difference stop you from exploring a new location.
Some questions to help you prepare may be:
- What are my host country’s cultural norms regarding friendships and dating?
- What is the common personal space bubble in my host country? In some countries, it is more common to stand very close to someone which may be uncomfortable for people from the U.S. where we have a larger personal bubble.
- Do many local women walk alone at night? If so, what areas are considered safe by locals?
- Are there any stereotypes about women from the United States?
- What are the cultural norms for women in my host country? Is there any clothing locals do not wear?
- How should I react if I find something offensive?
- Who will I contact if I do face uncomfortable incidents?
Some tips we recommend for students are:
- Dress and act like locals to avoid standing out.
- Do research on cultural norms, gender roles, and body language in your host country
- Talk to other women who have studied abroad in this location to prepare
- Do not let strangers know you are traveling alone
- Build a support system in-country that you can rely on including providers, the Marymount Title IX Office which deals with sexual harassment and assault, and The Center for Global Education. We are here to support you.
- If somebody says or does something that is offensive to you, try to distinguish between a person who is genuinely curious about you or someone who has bad intentions.
- If something does not feel right, listen to your intuition.
- if a situation makes you uncomfortable, remove yourself from the situation. Always make your own safety your priority.
Regardless of cultural differences, know that unwanted attention is not your fault. We at the CGE are here to support you.
- Diversity Abroad’s Women Abroad page
- “Health for Women on the Road”
- “Sexual Harassment And Prevention In College Students Studying Abroad”
- “Study Abroad Safety Tips for Female Students”
- “Her Own Way – A Woman’s Safe-Travel Guide”
- Wanderful: A website for women to connect while traveling
- “Handling Catcalls and Street Harassment Abroad”
Resources for Transgender students can be found at our LGBTQ+ section.