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Office of International Programs

Men & Women Abroad

No matter where you study, you may experience a shift in the ways gender identities, roles, and norms are perceived than you’re used to at home. It’s possible that you may be treated differently or be expected to treat others differently based on these factors, and your behavior in some situations may be viewed differently abroad than in the U.S. Consider your actions and inform yourself as best as possible about behavioral expectations, dating, and relationships in your host culture. You may find that what is viewed as acceptable behavior in your host country is offensive to you or makes you uncomfortable. It’s important to check societal expectations with your own personal values. Additionally, it’s important to educate yourself on the social norms and local laws regarding men and women socializing and dating and regarding same-sex relationships (read more on our LGBTQ+ Students page.)

Things to Consider

(adapted from Northwestern University Study Abroad)

While abroad, men might be expected to adopt a more "traditional," machismo attitude toward life and women. For instance, men in some cultures consider people-watching and "catcalling" to women an acceptable pastime. This may be offensive to a student and may be a difficult role to assume. On the other hand, men may find more discomfort with the open affection between men in many cultures. In some countries, it is not uncommon for heterosexual male friends to hold hands while walking down the street, or to greet each other with kisses on the cheek. Keep an open mind and do your best to respect the cultural differences, but also trust your instincts.  You should never feel forced to act in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable. You may be asked by other participants, especially females, to accompany them when going out to crowded places or cultural events.  Be considerate of your fellow participants and help each other to feel safe and comfortable abroad.

Treatment and expectations of women vary greatly from culture to culture and you may encounter restrictions in dress, behavior, and activities. While it is impossible to generalize about the experience of women traveling in all places in the world, you may experience some gender-specific challenges when you live or travel abroad. Language and cultural differences might mean what you consider appropriate behavior for a woman in the U.S. will be interpreted much differently by the men-- and women--of your host country, and even moreso in the context of how women are often portrayed in US mass media and popular culture. 

For Women Travelers

See our Health and Safety page for general travel tips. Here are additional steps you can take to minimize risk while still enjoying your semester abroad:  

  • Follow the example of women from your host country; dress according to local culture and interact with men according to local customs.  
  • Be aware of cultural differences, including body language, that may be misinterpreted in your host culture. 
  • Trust your instincts. If you do not feel safe or if someone's behavior is making you uncomfortable, remove yourself from the situation.
  • Travel in groups of at least two, especially when you are unfamiliar with a city or town. Walk with purpose and avoid eye contact with strangers.
  • Firmly say "no" to any invitation you do not want and turn away. Ignore persistent overtures.
  • Stay in control. Don't drink alcohol in excess; staying sober allows you to be alert and aware of your surroundings.

Sexual Harassment and Assault

Harassment may be particularly difficult to identify abroad, where cultural norms are often different than those in the U.S.  However, cultural sensitivity does not mean that you need to submit to behaviors that invade your personal boundaries or make you feel unsafe or uncomfortable. Educating yourself about sexual harassment, violence and gender dynamics abroad can empower you and your peers to make safer choices. See our Health and Safety section for more information.  

Resources

Why do more U.S. women study abroad than men? - article from The Washington Post.

 Diversity Abroad: This website provides tips for first generation students on how to best prepare for studying abroad; includes advice, scholarship information, student testimonials, and more.

University of Michigan International Center Women Abroad Guide provides suggestions for women to be informed, prepared, and safe abroad, with student comments, tips, and written resources.

Her Own Way is filled with practical tips specifically of interest to the female traveler (from the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade).

JourneyWoman - Travel tips geared toward women, including everything from personal travel stories to what to wear.

What Women Need to Know Abroad from the Council on International Education Exchange/CIEE. 

Gender Abroad from the Study Abroad Office at Northwestern University.


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