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Women

When deciding where to study abroad, it is important to consider how gender norms vary depending on the location and culture of the host country.  Women make up the majority of study abroad students coming from American institutions and most of these students have successful study abroad experiences.  It is necessary, however, to understand that perceptions of women can differ greatly abroad when compared to the United States.  In some locations, you may not notice any differences in the treatment and reception of women in public spaces from in the United States.  In other locations, appropriate behavior for women may diverge greatly from what you are used to; you may be segregated from men in public or receive unwanted attention.   It is important to research the role gender plays in your host country and reflect on how the differences may affect your experience.

Things to consider

  • Research the attitude towards gender and the expectations for men and women in your host society:
    • Understand that in some locations, there is a stereotype that American women are hyper-sexualized.  Certain behaviors or gestures that you consider to be non-sexual such as visiting bars or restaurants unaccompanied by a man, looking at a man directly, and smiling openly, can be perceived in other cultures as a signal that one is open to sexual advances. It is important that you research how these types of gestures may be perceived in your host country.
    • You may receive unwanted attention abroad.   Staring at women and making catcalls may be considered the norm in your host society.  Ask yourself how you would react if you encountered this behavior. 
  • Protecting yourself and safety should be your first priority
    • You should exercise the same safety precautions that you would at home. In addition, you need to be mindful that it may be difficult to conceal that you are a foreigner and this may make you more vulnerable.  Please refer to the Personal Safety and Crime section on the AU Abroad website.
    • Consider dressing like a local woman, in a culturally appropriate way.   Local women are also good resources to better understand the gender norms of the society.
    • If you plan to date, consider doing so in group situations at first.
    • If you choose to be sexually active, practice safe sex and protect yourself and your partners from unintended pregnancy, and STIs. Cultural norms, laws and attitudes relating to sex, relationships, and contraception differ from country to country and culture to culture and you need to be aware of these differences.  Please refer to the Sexual Health section on the AU Abroad website for further information.
    • Cultural and social attitudes toward sexual harassment, sexual assault, rape and sexual assault victims vary greatly in different countries. However, respecting and adapting to cultural difference does not mean that you need to submit to behaviors that invade your personal boundaries or that makes you feel unsafe or uncomfortable.  For more information about sexual assault, please see the Sexual Assault section on the AU Abroad website for further information.
  • Understand that feminine products and their availability may vary from what you are used to in the United States.  If you plan to study abroad in some locations, you may wish to bring some feminine hygiene products with you from the United States.

Resources

The AU Abroad Office can advise you on your study abroad options and help you find the right program for your major and personal goals.  The AU Abroad office is located in the Rockwood building (to the left of Public Safety by the south side shuttle stop). Tel: 202-885-1320 or auabroad@american.edu

The Center for Diversity and Inclusion at AU can help you get ready to study abroad. Please visit their office to ask questions and to seek advice about living abroad. Their office is located in the Mary Graydon Center Room 201. Tel: 1-202-885-3651 or cdi@american.edu

Diversity Abroad is an organization dedicated to increasing participation and better serving the needs of diverse and underrepresented students in international education. They have a diversity and inclusion abroad guide on their website. 

The State Department’s Information for Women Travelers provides basic information about travelling abroad as a woman. 

Journeywoman.com is a website devoted to women travelers.  It has resources for what to wear, how to pack and how to stay safe abroad.

Lipglossandabackpack.com includes a list of feminine hygiene product availability throughout the world.