Despite our personal beliefs about what women should have the right to do around the world, we need to reach a balance of maintaining our identity and respecting the culture we are visiting. Women face unique challenges as we travel abroad. While we are excited to meet new people, we also have to think about our personal safety. Understanding cultural differences in the areas of sex roles, verbal and non-verbal communication and the reputation of foreign women can empower us as we go abroad.”
- from American Women Abroad by Holly Wilkinson-Ray
Many American women traveling abroad are adventurous, independent and eager to meet new people. Make the most of your time overseas and become involved in a variety of activities. In the United States, women are used to being active: talking with people they don't know, making friends quickly, and going out at night. Yet, in some parts of the world the role of women is to stay at home. Friends are made through family ties, not at night in a bar. There are often strong differences between how women are expected to act in public and in private. Dress, behavior, activity, eye contact, and topics of conversation are shaped by spoken and unspoken cultural norms.
Traveling alone, frequenting bars at night, and making eye contact with men is sometimes dangerous. The non-verbal messages that we send in a different cultural context may surprise us all. Media images of female celebrities and students on spring break have created powerful, lingering stereotypes of American women. As American women jog in the streets of Cairo, wear shorts in Kenya, and smile at people in the Paris metro, they may unintentionally reinforce stereotypes.
Being culturally sensitive is one step towards understanding and integrating into your host culture. Be observant of gender-specific roles, customs, and norms. Getting to know women in the host culture can help explain what you observe and how to navigate the norms and expectations.
StudyAbroad.com – A website that includes valuable information and study abroad safety tips for female students
DiversityAbroad.com – Includes more information on Diversity & Inclusion Abroad: Women Abroad