Being a woman abroad can be an eye-opening experience, because every culture has a different attitude towards women. Before and during your trip, find out about your host country’s cultural values and behaviors regarding women.
Across many countries, traditional gender roles often inform how women are expected to act, dress, and even speak to others. What might be perceived as common behavior for women in the U.S. may be misinterpreted in other countries.
For example, how does religion play a role in how women are expected to dress? Can smiling or making direct eye contact with strangers imply something more than just a friendly gesture? If men stare and catcall while you walk down the street, how do you react?
Sometimes, what is considered "acceptable behavior" for women in the U.S. has sexual connotations in other cultures, so it's important to talk with other women who have been to your host country to know what type of behavior is most culturally appropriate.
You will also want to find out what the local attitudes are towards American women. There is a preconception abroad that American women are “easy” or “loose.” If you are thinking about being sexually active abroad, inform yourself about STD prevention, birth control, and safe sex practices in that country. In addition, how is sex outside of marriage perceived? Do the locals shun women who have sex outside of marriage?
You may become frustrated with local behaviors and attitudes towards women, especially if you feel it prevents you from being yourself. This is understandable when experiencing another culture. To avoid unwanted attention, dress and act like the local women. This can be a great opportunity to befriend local women to learn directly from them about ways to dress or act as they do.
Throughout your trip, remember to put your safety first and always be aware of your surroundings. By observing the locals, you’ll learn about gender roles in another culture. You can also use resources like our Diversity Abroad Destination Guides to help you prepare for your experience abroad.
Must Ask Questions for Women:
- Is it safe for me to go out alone? at night? Are there areas or places I should avoid?
- How are women expected to behave?
- How do men treat women?
- What are the cultural norms regarding friendship and dating?
- Do people in my host country have stereotypes of American women?
Tips for Women:
- Do research on gender roles and their history beforehand.
- Put your safety first and be aware of your surroundings.
- Dress and act like the local women to avoid standing out.
- Be aware of cultural differences, including body language, that may be misinterpreted in your host culture.
- Talk with other women who have studied abroad to find out more about their experiences.
Author: Diversity Abroad Community