In some study abroad locations, students will find significant cultural differences in attitudes towards women. Women may not be viewed as equals to men and may experience different treatment than in the U.S. Men in other cultures may demonstrate their appraisal of a female student by staring, making verbal comments, following a woman on the street, or honking a car horn, for example. At first, some women feel flattered, but for many women, the attention comes to be annoying. Ignoring such attentions helps discourage them, and there are other ways students can reduce them.
In a different area, there are different social rules for women’s behavior. Be careful not to send signals you don’t mean to send! In the U.S., acting friendly towards a man is frequently a part of common courtesy, but may be misinterpreted abroad. Be aware of the fact that in many countries, American women have the reputation of being “loose” or “easy.” While Americans usually smile and make eye contact with strangers on the street and in other public settings, such behavior may bring unwanted invitations in other countries. Accepting a drink in a bar could also mean something different than what you think it does. In addition, you may want to dress more conservatively than you would in the U.S. – the tank tops you frequently wear in Manhattan may bring you increased attention. In general, watch the behavior of local women and take your cues from them.
Women should also practice the safety precautions they frequently take at home. It is wise in both the U.S. and abroad to avoid walking alone late at night, or in certain neighborhoods. It may be a good idea to team up with a friend when going to a party or bar where you may be consuming alcohol. As in Manhattan, avoid drinking beverages that you haven’t opened yourself or gotten directly from a bartender or waiter. If you put your drink down and leave it unattended, do not drink from it again! If meeting someone you do not know well, always meet in a public place.
If an incident should occur, go to the hospital for medical attention and call the police. If you chose not to go to the police you can still receive help from the Women’s Center at K-State and Counseling Services. We encourage you to seek help through all avenues.
When you arrive in your host country ask the study abroad staff for tips on ways to minimize risk.