The Diversity Abroad blog is a great resource for all students looking to deepen their education abroad experiences. It contains articles covering many perspectives, including students of color and LGBTQA students. Additionally, you may always speak with your study abroad advisor about any questions or concerns you may have. We have some reading materials available in the office, and are happy to help you find other resources should you wish to dig deeper into your experience.
Appropriate behavior for women varies from country to country, and even within countries. Some countries have well-defined gender roles. Others restrict certain activities for women. You may find that behavior and dress that are acceptable in major cities are inappropriate in rural areas.
Some women students have a difficult time adjusting to attitudes encountered, in both public and private interactions between men and women. Men in some countries may openly demonstrate their appraisal of women in ways that many American women find offensive.
It is not uncommon to be honked at, stared at, verbally and loudly appraised and to be actively noticed simply for being a foreign woman. Sometimes the attention can be flattering. However, it may become very annoying, and potentially even angering. It is important to learn the unwritten rules about what you can and cannot do abroad. American women are seen as liberated in many ways and sometimes the cultural misunderstandings that come out of this image can lead to difficult and unpleasant experiences.
You can minimize unwanted attention by:
- Talking with women who have spent time in the culture about what does and does not work for dealing with unwanted attention.
- Dress modestly, avoiding sleeveless tops and short skirts.
- Avoid eye contact with men on the street. What may seem like simple friendliness might be interpreted as flirtation to a man from a country where women keep their eyes down.
- Watch local women; see how they avoid unwanted attention. Follow their behavior.
Be careful about the implicit messages you may be unintentionally communicating. Above all, try to maintain the perspective that these experiences are part of the growth of cultural understanding which is one of the important reasons to study abroad. Prepare yourself by trying to understand in advance not only the gender roles and assumptions which may prevail elsewhere, but also the uniqueness of American gender politics, which may or may not be understood in other countries.
Sexual Harassment and Study Abroad
Cultural differences in interactions on romantic or sexual levels can be a problem area: some behaviors might be very inappropriate in the U.S., but considered perfectly acceptable in the culture in which you are living, and vice-versa. Some of the new behaviors will be relatively easy to adjust to, but others pose more of a problem.
Sexual harassment is a particularly difficult area because of the extreme variance in acceptable behavior between cultures. Combined with the different social and legal responses to such behavior, sexual harassment when abroad can be a difficult scenario to deal with; fortunately there are ways to present or lessen the negative consequences.
Harassment normally falls into one of two categories; the first being when a person in a position of power or influence requests sexual favors, or verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. It often includes a trade relationship such as “you do this for me, and I’ll do this for you.” This type of harassment is quite serious, and even one incident should be reported immediately.
The second category consists of unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature directed toward a person because of her or his gender. This type of harassment usually takes place repeatedly over a period of time and creates an intimidating, hostile and offensive environment, and may interfere with a person’s academic performance.
The most important thing to remember is to stay safe. If you do not feel safe in a particular situation remove yourself or distance yourself from that situation immediately. Go to the in-country program director or foreign student advisor, or go stay with a friend you can trust. If the adviser or director cannot or will not help you, call your program office and the Office of International Programs at NMSU for assistance. Do not wait to contact someone in the hope that the situation will improve. Maybe you can work things out, but do it with the assistance of the program director and someone in the Office of Education Abroad.
Racial and Ethnic Diversity
No two students studying abroad have quite the same experience, even in the same program and country. This also is true for students of color. Reports from past participants vary from those who felt exhilarated by being free of the American context of race relations, to those who experienced different degrees of curiosity about their ethnicity, to those who felt they met both familiar and new types of ostracism and prejudice. Very few students of color conclude that racial or ethnic problems which can be encountered in other countries represent sufficient reasons for not going. However, it is advised to prepare yourself for the new culture. Students who have returned from your study abroad destination are the most knowledgeable about the racial/ethnic climate in that country (ies).
KAHAL: Your Jewish Home Abroad — Connect with the local Jewish community where you are studying!
While Scandinavian countries are known for their wide acceptance of homosexuality, the intolerance of gays, lesbians, bisexual, intersex and trans-gendered students may be extreme in other locations around the world. Please take time to understand the cultural views held towards sexual differences before you leave the U.S. and consider how you will address this challenge. In some countries, it may be dangerous to be “out” –even criminal.
A bibliography of resources may be found at http://overseas.iu.edu/living/glbt.shtml In addition, we’ve compiled the following list of sites for LGBTQA traveling: