In this section, we refer primarily, but not exclusively, to cisgender-identified women and men, as transgender-identified individuals or gender-queer individuals may have additional considerations—see the LGBTQ Students Abroad section for additional resources.
Commonly held cultural attitudes regarding gender roles vary from culture to culture, and they may not always align with your own values or experience. In certain locations, women in particular may feel significantly different about what their gender identity means abroad than at home, and this may affect decisions about behavior, relationships, dress, safety, travel plans, and everyday routines.
There is no “right or wrong” way to behave as a woman abroad; all choices about personal expression are valid. At the same time, it is important to recognize that in some locations and cultures, women’s actions and personal expression can send different cultural signals that may not be understood in the same way as they are at home, and they may have unintended consequences. These consequences can range from feeling uncomfortable or awkward in an unfamiliar situation to, in the worst (and rarest) cases, being put in danger of physical or emotional harm. When making decisions about behavior, actions, and relationships abroad, all students are urged to put their safety first. You are also encouraged to inform yourself, before departure and during your program, of local cultural cues and gender roles in order to help make the best decisions for you.
It is just as important for men to understand the prevailing gender roles in their program location, and to be sensitive to the challenges that women in the program may face that men may not. Men are encouraged to be supportive of their friends on the program by recognizing situations in which men can, by their own behavior and actions, meaningfully reduce women’s exposure to risk and harassment.
The University of Chicago Policy on Harassment, Discrimination, and Sexual Misconduct applies while you are participating in a University study abroad program. You are encouraged to familiarize yourself with this policy and to let us know if you have questions about this information in the context of study abroad. If you are the victim of sexual harassment and/or sexual assault, inform on-site staff as soon as possible. They will provide support and can connect you with the appropriate resources.
Questions you should consider include:
- What are considered typical gender roles in my host society? What are society’s perceptions and expectations for men and women 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 citizens’ attitudes about socially accepted gender roles? Are there aspects of my personal values that I am willing to compromise on in order to make safe and culturally informed choices?
- How are relationships (both platonic and romantic) between men and women expressed in my host culture?
- How are issues such as gender-based violence, sexual harassment, or sexual assault understood and treated in my host society?
Additional Resources about Gender Abroad:
- The Department of State Students Abroad website has a section dedicated to women travelers.
- Diversity Abroad offers tips, student profiles, and information about diversity and inclusion overseas. See especially their page on women abroad.
- Journeywoman is a travel resource written by and for solo female travelers.
- Transitions Abroad also has a wide selection of firsthand articles for female travelers.