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Most Memorable Moment

The people I've met here are great. I've learned so much from them and I feel like I've made lifetime friends. Almost every conversation is shared over food and drinks, and because of that, I feel really connected to the culture here (food smells will always remind me of Korea).

Mai Chou Her

East Asian Studies Certificate/Undecided major
IAP Seoul, South Korea

Women Travelers


IAP sends hundreds of students abroad each semester and many of these students find that living abroad helps them see the world through new eyes. One issue that students engage daily is the role of gender in a new cultural context. Both men and women may find that their identity, role and expected behavior in their host country are different than what it had been at home.

It's helpful to remember that understanding cultural differences relating to gender and learning how to interact in that context is a valuable part of the study abroad experience. IAP seeks to assist students in working through these important issues as they prepare to go abroad. Special pre-departure orientation sessions regarding gender abroad are available to students, as well as meetings with Study Abroad Advisors to discuss expectations and concerns.

Gender Norms Abroad

At IAP we encourage all students to do research into social norms and cultural practices of the host country before leaving to study abroad. IAP staff members are available to answer questions about the study abroad process and to help you to understand how gender issues may be experienced and understood differently abroad.

Here are a few questions you may want to explore to help you think about gender abroad:

When preparing to study abroad, it can be helpful to familiarize yourself with the host country's cultural attitude toward gender, keeping in mind that the local norms there might be different from your personal values. Talking with other women who have studied abroad in that location is a great starting point for learning more about what to expect. Students may find that there are significant differences in the norms for dress, behavior, and relationships.

It's important to remember that your words and actions may be perceived in a different manner than you intended them due to cultural differences. When you are unsure about how to behave in a certain circumstance, you are encouraged to take cues from local women. This cultural understanding is particularly important in terms of male-female relationships. In many cultures, a friendly smile and eye contact that would be appropriate in the United States, may unintentionally draw unwanted attention from men in your host country.

Because of the challenges of navigating different gender roles while studying abroad, it's vital to prioritize your own safety at all times. While harassment may be more difficult to verify abroad because of differing cultural norms, cultural sensitivity does not mean that you need to submit to behaviors that make you feel uncomfortable or unsafe.

Common-sense safety precautions such as traveling in pairs or groups, dressing in a culturally appropriate manner, and educating yourself about sexual harassment are integral to maintaining your sense of safety. Be sure to familiarize yourself with emergency procedures, and take your gut feelings seriously. Here are some additional recommendations:

Check out these resources for additional information

  1. UW University Health Services – Information on Sexual Assault
  2. State Department Travel Tips for Women
  3. Diversity Abroad – Information on Women Abroad