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Gender identity abroad

Whether you’ve traveled before or this is your first time abroad, it’s important to consider your host country’s cultural attitude towards gender identity. Depending on where you are, you may find different gender roles and norms than you’re used to. It’s possible that you may be treated differently or be expected to treat others differently based on these factors. Everyone should consider possible issues, challenges and changes they may face while abroad regarding societal perceptions of gender. When researching potential programs, consider your host country’s cultural differences and how these might impact your everyday life.

Expectations based on gender can differ between countries. You should do some research to become familiar with local laws and customs so that you can make informed and safe choices about destinations and programs which will be the best fit for you and your needs. Explore travel guides and internet resources. Talk with other people about their experiences in certain countries or regions. Once in your host country, find out what local newspapers, e-magazines or online resources may be available.

Questions to consider:

  • What is the attitude towards gender in my host country?
  • What are considered typical gender roles in my host society?
  • What are the society’s perceptions and expectations for men, women and transgender individuals in my host country?
  • What are the gender stereotypes of Americans in my host country?
  • How do men treat women in my host country?
  • Are there differences in political and social power based on gender?
  • How do my personal values compare with my host country’s attitudes about socially-accepted gender roles?

Your behavior in some situations may be viewed differently abroad than in the U.S. Inform yourself as best as possible about behavioral expectations, dating and relationships in your host culture. Talk with peers who have studied in your host country before and locals your own age to gauge what’s typical. You may find that what is viewed as acceptable behavior in your host country is offensive to you or makes you uncomfortable. Conversely, behavior that is acceptable in the U.S. may be viewed as unacceptable or offensive in your host country.

The “rules” of dating vary from culture to culture. For example, cultural differences can make male-female friendships more challenging. Consider the implicit messages that you are communicating, messages that you may not intend to send in your own cultural context. Evaluating societal differences when it comes to these relationships and modifying your behavior accordingly is part of learning and relating to another culture.

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.

If you identify as a member of the LGBTQIA community, it’s also important to educate yourself on the social norms and local laws regarding same-sex relationships. Read more on our LGBTQIA Students page.

Though going on a Global Education program in a new culture can be a thrilling adventure, your personal safety is as important while abroad as it is at home. While some of these tips may seem to communicate sexist undertones, they are based on the safety concerns and recommendations of students who have been abroad before you.

Consider the following:

  • Prioritize your personal safety over cultural sensitivity.
  • Pay attention to dressing in a culturally appropriate way.
  • Research the security situation in your destination and talk to other students who have traveled to the countries you plan to visit.
  • At night, travel in groups and never walk home alone.
  • For females, the presence of a male friend can deflect unwanted attention.
  • Make sure you know the local emergency phone number.
  • Locate the nearest U.S. embassies and consulates.
  • Consider taking a self-defense class before going abroad.
  • If traveling alone, try pairing up with another solo traveler. Make sure someone knows where you are traveling and when you plan to return.
  • If you are being cat called, avoid eye contact since this can be seen as an invitation in some cultures.
  • Engage in conversation with locals about their roles and how to deflect unwanted attention.

Explore more tips for safe travel.