Being a Woman Abroad

A woman traveling on her own may encounter more difficulties than a man by himself. Some of the best ways to avoid problems are to try to fit in, spend time with other women from the host country, and understand the roles of the sexes in the culture in which you are living. Observe how the host country’s women dress and behave and follow their example. What may be appropriate or friendly behavior in the U.S. may bring you unwanted, even dangerous, attention in another culture. Try not to take offense at whistles and other similar gestures, regardless of whether they are compliments, invitations, or insults. Realize that, in many countries, these gestures are as much a part of the culture as is the food, history, and language.   You should, however, report to the School Abroad Director any conduct or statements by program-affiliated individuals that you believe may violate the program’s policy against harassment and discrimination.

Gender is a socially defined characteristic that can affect your experience abroad. Women are often particularly aware of gender-based treatment in a foreign culture. It’s good to talk with someone who has spent time in your host country about these differences before you go. For women, as well as men who would like to inform themselves about sexual harassment, safety, or social expectations, there are a number of books devoted to these issues:

  • Gutsy Women: More Travel Tips and Wisdom from the Road (Marybeth Bond, 2001)
  • A Journey of One’s Own: Uncommon Advice for the Independent Woman Traveler (Thalia Zepatos, 1996)
  • The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women, and How All Men Can Help (Jackson Katz, 2006)
  • Safety and Security for Women Who Travel (Travelers’ Tales Guides; Sheila Swan and Peter Laufer, 1998)


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