When considering how gender may impact your experience, it is important to consider not just the host country’s gender roles and dress norms, but also how interactions between individuals of the same gender and of those between individuals of different genders vary.
Be aware of the attitude toward/stereotypes in the host country for Americans* of your gender. For example, in many parts of the world, it is believed that American women* are more promiscuous. Due to this, it may be assumed by host country nationals that certain behaviors may be acceptable when directed toward an American woman, as opposed to any other woman. Additionally, host country nationals may have what they consider normal behaviors, such as catcalling and staring, that may be viewed as offensive in the U.S.
Learning about the cultural dynamics regarding gender ahead of time and preparing for potential situations will best equip you to respond appropriately. Remember, despite the fact that sexual harassment or assault may be defined differently (or not at all) in a host country, Indiana University is committed to the safety and well-being of students and will provide support should a student experience sexual harassment or assault abroad.
*As a student attending an “American university” program, even if you are not a U.S. citizen or identify with a different nationality, you may still be perceived as an “American.” On that same note, even if you do not identify as a “woman” this example might apply to any one host country nationals perceive to be a “woman.”
While abroad, your physical appearance may generate different stereotypes and expectations than it would in the U.S. It is possible that you will experience being a member of the minority or the majority for the first time. Or perhaps you will discover what it means to be viewed solely as an “American” without any connection to your race or ethnicity.
Experiencing this mindset, outside of the context of American race and ethnicity, may be anything from extremely liberating to very uncomfortable.
Many countries are less “politically correct” than the U.S. Host country nationals may be curious, stare, ask questions, or make comments that may seem rude or offensive. Should something such as this happen, do your best to discern if the offense was with ill intent or possibly due to ignorance, a language barrier, or purely by accident, especially when it comes to interactions with children. Consider your safety, the intent, and the context before engaging in dialogue or responding.
Learning about the cultural context ahead of time and preparing for these potential situations will best equip you to respond appropriately. You should be aware of how your race or ethnic group is perceived in the host country and think about how to respond if something offensive is said. The Director of the O’Neill Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Brian Richardson, and staff from the O’Neill International Office are happy to speak with you if you are unsure of what to expect or how to respond in various situations.
Remember, if you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation where ill intent is meant, it is vital to put your personal safety first.
Faith and religion can have a major effect on a country’s laws and culture. No matter if you are actively religious or not, it is important to consider how the dominate religion(s), or lack thereof, in your host country shape the customs and expectations and if that will influence how you are perceived.
Prior to travel, spend some time researching religion in your host country. Becoming familiar with the world you are stepping into will do a great deal to help you understand what you will be encountering. Keep in mind practices in your host country may differ from your own and remember that your faith and practices (or the absence of them) may seem just as confusing or odd to host country nationals as theirs does to you.
During your time abroad, you may find that there are cultural norms that go against your personal beliefs. Being prepared for these encounters will help you to be able to respond appropriately to these situations. Please keep in mind that although you may experience a different response to your religious practices or not having religious practices, in your host country than you would in the U.S., Indiana University is committed to the safety and well-being of all of our students and will provide support to students who experience harassment or assault abroad.