UW-Stout sends many students abroad each semester, and many of them find that living abroad helps them see the world through new eyes. One issue with which students engage daily is the role of gender in a new cultural context. People of all genders may find that their identity, role, and expected behavior in their host country are different from what it is at home.*
It is helpful to remember that understanding cultural differences relating to gender and learning how to interact in that context is a valuable part of the study-abroad experience. We are here to assist you in working through these important issues as you prepare to go abroad. Pre-departure orientation sessions address gender issues abroad, while individual meetings with a Study Abroad Advisor, faculty leader, or Qube staff can allow you to discuss expectations and concerns privately.
We encourage all students to conduct research into social norms and cultural practices of the host country before leaving to study abroad. OIE staff members are available to answer questions about the study-abroad process and to help you understand how gender issues may be experienced and understood differently abroad.
Here are a few questions you may want to explore:
- What is the attitude towards gender in the host country?
- What are the typical gender roles in the host country?
- What are the host country’s views on trans and non-binary gender identities? Is it culturally accepted or safe to be out?
- What are the cultural expectations for each gender role in the host country?
- What are the gender stereotypes of Americans in the host country?
- How do men treat women in the host country?
- What are the cultural norms regarding friendship and dating?
- How do my personal values compare with my host country’s attitudes about socially accepted gender roles?
It is important to remember that your words and actions may be perceived in a different manner than you intend due to cultural differences. When you are unsure about how to behave in a certain circumstance, you are encouraged to take cues from locals. This cultural understanding is particularly important in terms of male-female relationships. In many cultures, a friendly smile and eye contact that would be appropriate in the United States, may unintentionally draw unwanted attention in the host country.
Because of the considerations of navigating different gender roles while studying abroad, it is vital to prioritize your own safety at all times. While harassment may be more difficult to verify abroad because of differing cultural norms, cultural sensitivity does not mean that you need to submit to behaviors that make you feel uncomfortable or unsafe.
Common-sense safety precautions such as traveling in pairs or groups, dressing in a culturally appropriate manner, and educating yourself about sexual harassment are integral to maintaining your sense of safety. Be sure to familiarize yourself with emergency procedures and take your gut feelings seriously. Here are some additional recommendations:
- Prioritize your personal safety over cultural sensitivity.
- Pay attention to dressing in a culturally appropriate way.
- At night, travel in groups and never walk home alone.
- Locate the nearest United States embassies and consulates.
- Take a self-defense class before going abroad.
- Use caution when choosing to drink alcohol and avoid all illicit drugs.
- Learn basic phrases in the local language.
- Talk with locals about how to deflect unwanted attention.
U.S. State Department Travel Tips for Women
UW-Stout student organizations - Gender and Sexuality Alliance and The Qube
*This page was prepared in collaboration with The Qube, UW-Stout's headquarters for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning/Queer, Intersex, Asexual/Aromantic, and more (LGBTQIA+) students and allies, as well in consultation with faculty of the Women and Gender Studies Minor. The Study Abroad Team wishes to express its gratitude for the collaboration, input, and support.