A female student may or may not have thought about what it might mean to live as a woman in the country in which she will be studying abroad, but we encourage each one to do so. While it is impossible to generalize about the experience of women traveling in all places in the world, they may experience some gender-specific challenges when living or traveling abroad. This is not to say that it is more dangerous to be a woman in countries other than the US. In fact, the incidence of violent crime against women is higher in the U.S. than in many other countries. Language and cultural differences however might mean that what a woman considers appropriate behavior in the U.S. will be interpreted much differently by the men-- and women--of her host country. This is further compounded by the fact that the people in some other countries may have distorted or stereotyped notions about American women, based on images acquired through American films and advertising. The very characteristics of U.S. women such as independence and strength may be perceived differently in other countries.
A smile, eye contact, certain clothing, or the way a woman carries herself can connote different things in different cultures. While we will supply your female student with what information we can, she is her own best resource. She should read travel guides or articles and talk to women who have been to the host country. The more familiar she is with the customs and traditions of the host country, the more understanding she will have for why they exist and the safer she will feel while abroad.
Some safety suggestions women on past programs have made include:
- Follow the example of women from your host country, in terms of culturally appropriate dress and demeanor.
- Trust your instincts. If you do not feel safe in a situation or someone's behavior is making you uncomfortable, get out of the situation immediately.
- Travel in groups of at least two, especially when you are unfamiliar with a city or town.
- Lock hotel rooms when traveling. Do not stay in hotels without adequate locks. It is not worth the savings to put yourself at risk.
- Walk with purpose and avoid eye contact with strangers.
- Firmly say "no" to any invitation you do not want and turn away. Ignore persistent overtures.
- Do not drink alcohol in excess.