Students may or may not have thought about what it might mean to be female in the country in which they will be studying, but LSA Travel encourages students to do so. While it is impossible to generalize about the experience of women traveling in all places in the world, women may experience some gender-specific challenges when they live or travel abroad.
It is a fact that the incidence of violent crime against women is higher in the US than in many other countries. However, due to language and cultural differences, what a student considers to be appropriate behavior for a woman in the US may be interpreted very differently by the men—and women—of their host country. This is further compounded by the fact that people in some other countries may have distorted or stereotyped notions about American women, based on images acquired through American media. Be aware that behavior that is considered incorrect in many parts of the US may not be viewed in this way abroad (for example, whistling, catcalls, or personal comments).
Similarly, a smile, eye contact, certain clothing, or the way students carry themselves can have different connotations in other cultures, so students should read destination-specific travel guides, forums, or articles and talk to women who have been to the host country. The more familiar students are with the customs and traditions of their host country, the more understanding they will have and the safer they will feel while abroad.
On past programs, female students have been asked to complete CGIS’s Women Abroad Questionnaire. Suggestions they have made include:
- Follow the example of women from the host country in terms of culturally appropriate dress and demeanor.
- Trust your instincts. If you don’t feel safe in a situation or someone’s behavior is making you uncomfortable, get out of the situation.
- Travel in groups of at least two.
- Lock hotel rooms when traveling, and do not stay in hotels without adequate locks, even if that means staying where room rates are higher.
- Walk with purpose.
- Be aware that drinking blunts your ability to interpret social and behavioral cues and thus increases your vulnerability to assault.
- Ignore unwanted overtures, or firmly say "no" to any unwanted invitation and turn away.
If a situation arises in which students are sexually harassed or assaulted, experience discrimination, violence, and aggression, or if students feel that particular situations are unsafe, students should contact their program director or another staff member on the program or at the university with whom students feel comfortable.
The University of Michigan’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center (SAPAC)has a 24-hour hotline students may use: 734.936.3333. The regular office number is 734.998.9368.
More Women Travel: Adventures and Advice from More Than 60 Countries, ed. Natania Jansz and Miranda Davies (New York: Penguin, 1995).
A Journey of One’s Own: Uncommon Advice for the Independent Woman Traveler, 3rd ed., Thalia Zepatos (Portland: Eighth Mountain, 2003).