Studying abroad is a great opportunity for personal growth, learning about a different culture, and experiencing life outside of Amherst. It is a transformative experience for many students and there is no substitute for the wealth of knowledge you can gain from that. However, the cultural attitude of the country you choose to study abroad in can impact your experience of your own gender identity. You may find different gender roles and norms about the perception of women than what you’re accustomed to. It is important to consider these potential challenges and learn about the cultural differences regarding gender in your host country beforehand to prepare for how this may affect your experience abroad. Some questions to think about are:
- What is the attitude towards gender in my host country?
- What are the gender stereotypes about people from the US in my host country?
- How do men treat women in my host country? How do women treat men in my host country?
- How do cisgender people treat trans and nonbinary people in my host country?
- What are my personal values about my gender identity and gender roles and how does this differ from that of my host country?
It is important to recognize these differences to minimize cultural misunderstanding, avoid harassment, and also help you adjust to the culture of your host country.
Some cultures around the world, including some in the U.S., associate style of clothing with specific social characteristics and behavioral norms. Style of clothing can have an impact on the way women are viewed and therefore treated abroad. Take some time to find out what dress and norms of modesty are acceptable for women in your host country. In some countries Western-style clothing is considered inappropriate, but in other countries it is perfectly acceptable. Many women find it helpful to dress in a style similar to that of local women to reduce unwanted attention. Some social gestures and behaviors that you are used to may be interpreted differently in other cultures. For example, some cultures view eye contact as an essential part of social interactions, but in others it is seen as signaling interest in romantic or sexual engagement, or even interpreted as impolite behavior. The local laws relating to the treatment of women may also vary. Research these differences beforehand and be aware of them during your time abroad. Find out what strategies local women use to stay safe or talk to students who have returned from studying abroad in your host country.
Sexual harassment may include unwanted attention you may receive in a public or private place and, frankly put, a form of violence. It can include yelling, hissing, whistling, and following. It may also include touching you or themselves. Anyone can be a victim of sexual harassment but women, trans, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming people, people of color, and people with disabilities are targeted far more often. Sexual harassment unfortunately happens in many countries, including the US, but it is important to recognize the different ways in which a country defines and responds to it. For information on the College’s official definition of sexual harassment, please visit the Title IX website or the Student Code of Conduct.
Street harassment is a form of sexual harassment. Below are some points to consider that may help you respond to any sexual harassment you may encounter.
What do I do if I experience street harassment?
- It is common to feel nervous, scared, angry, or annoyed, but if you experience street harassment, your safety is most important. Do whatever you can do to get out of the situation. Try finding a “safe spot” like a store or a café. If you have a phone, call a friend or a member of your host family so you have someone that can provide emotional support. Check in with a local women or trans/nonbinary folks for local tips on reducing street harassment.
- Check out the hashtags #endSH or #YouOkSis to find solidarity online for people who have dealt with and are dealing with street harassment.
- Another resource is Stop Street Harassment.
How can I be a good bystander if I witness street harassment?
- Assess the situation and your safety!
- Recognize your level of privilege in the situation. Identities that traditionally grant you greater advantages in society—e.g., being of a larger stature, white, cisgender, able-bodied—will make you more likely to be listened to and respected by a harasser. Likewise, do not feel guilty if your identities would risk your safety by intervening.
- Indirect Intervention
- Make eye contact with the person and mouth the question, “Are you okay?”
- Drop something you have, like a bag, to distract the harasser
- Direct Intervention
- Walk up to the person being harassed and ask if they are okay
- Speak loudly to the harasser and tell them to leave the person they are targeting alone
- Inform the harasser that you are contacting the police
- Physically block the harasser from the victim
- Delayed Intervention
- Check in with the person who was harassed to see if they are okay
- Offer to call a friend or walk with them
Check the ‘Dress and Customs’ section for more on how it is related to street harassment. Though dressing in a culturally appropriate way may reduce street harassment, dress by no means prevents harassment and in no way does your clothing preferences warrant harassment.
Amherst College’s policy on sexual misconduct applies to all students, even when abroad. If you experience sexual misconduct while you were abroad, what happened to you was not your fault. If you are abroad on a US-based program, one valuable resource you should consider is your host program.
They likely can support you through your process and assist you in accessing local resources (e.g. health, law enforcement, legal services). Please note, all programs are different and laws and resources vary from country to country. Further, the services host programs provide are varied. The resources of the Amherst Title IXoffice and Amherst Study Abroad Office are available to you while abroad, so feel free to reach out with anything you may need and Amherst can work to support you in finding the local resources that you may need.
We urge all people to be aware of your surroundings and safety while travelling. Your personal safety is the top priority at all times. Here are some recommendations for staying safe while abroad:
- At night, travel in groups and avoid walking anywhere alone. It is sometimes helpful to be accompanied by a friend who identifies as a man that can deflect unwanted attentionBe aware of your surroundings when walking by yourself, keeping your eyes up, your hands out of your pocket, and avoid distractions
- Program emergency numbers, including law enforcement, your host program, and other relevant resources, programmed into your phone or on a piece of paper that you carry with you
- Whether it is on your phone or on paper, try to have access to a map at all times when traveling
- Keep your money separated and in less obvious places
- Take some time to learn about the civilian relationship with the police
- Know where the embassy and/or consulate are that are relevant to you are located
- If you take trips while abroad, make sure at least one person knows where you are traveling to and when you plan to return
- Learn the basic phrases of the local language and basic body language
- Always keep your visa and passport in a safe place
- Avoid letting strangers use your cellphone
- If you have to use public transportation, avoid sitting in empty areas alone
- Use only legal and reputable taxi services
- Try to arrive at your destination during the day
- Be mindful of local events that are taking place in your host country
Please remember: Do not sacrifice yourself or your sense of safety for the sake of cultural sensitivity.
Your study abroad program or host university can be helpful in providing city or town-specific safety knowledge. There are also international resources available to victims of crimes. Also, when you return to campus, know your resources on campus. The Annual Security Report, published by the Amherst College Police Department in compliance with the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics, compiles all the resources on campus for drug and alcohol education, stalking, domestic violence, and sexual violence resources.
Given the current political climate, it may be helpful to check out web pages that have been set up with resources about immigration, executive order, and international travel. See the Resources at the bottom of the page.
Plan B (Morning after pill)
The morning after pill is an emergency contraception pill that can prevent pregnancy up to 120 hours after unprotected sex. Depending on where you are in your cycle, it will delay ovulation, prevent fertilization of an egg, or inhibit an already fertilized egg. The pill will not cause an abortion.
It might be good to get Plan B before you leave, because it may not be available at your destination. Many countries will require an in-country prescription to obtain emergency contraceptives, and foreign health care systems can be confusing and expensive to navigate. The Health Center on campus can provide a prescription, and it can be picked up here or at a local pharmacy. Plan B typically has a shelf life of 1-2 years, so check the date!
If you are on the pill, note that the availability of oral contraception varies considerably by country and will almost always require an in-country prescription, so it is better to make sure that you have enough to last the full duration of your stay and some extra just in case you lose any pills. You may need a waiver form your insurance company to get an extended prescription for your birth control. With the Amherst College insurance you only need to do this if you are abroad for more than six months. Just like with any prescription medication, keep your birth control in its original container showing your name and the name of the medication. Be mindful of time zone changes throughout your travels that would affect when you have to take the pill.
Alternatively, you may want to consider having an IUD inserted here if you intend on being abroad for an extended period of time. Most hormonal IUDs last between 3-6 years, and non-hormonal options can work for up to 10-12 years. If you wanted to get an IUD put in while abroad, this would depend on your host country and insurance coverage so we suggest considering this option beforehand. In the rare case of an IUD expulsion while studying abroad, given the culture of your host country, you may find a health care provider than can assist you with this. Just be sure to use a backup contraceptive method in the meantime to prevent an unplanned pregnancy.
When engaging in sexual intercourse, it is important to use condoms since this is the only type of birth control that can also protect against STI’s. Most countries sell condoms, although social stigma may affect their accessibility. Keep in mind that you may have trouble getting the exact type of condom that you prefer and quality may differ compared to what you’re used to. If these are concerns for you, consider packing condoms. Condoms need to stored properly to retain their effectiveness so keep them at room temperature throughout your transport and be mindful of not placing them near anything sharp in your suitcase.
If you are thinking of starting a birth control method, you can make an appointment with the Health Center or your medical provider prior to departure to discuss the different types of birth control. Be sure to leave yourself with enough time for this because it can sometimes to take a while for follow-up appointments and insurance concerns. There are benefits and disadvantages to each different type of birth control so it is important to find the method that would be best for you.
Make sure to check what sort of feminine products are available in the country you are traveling to. Tampons are not as frequently used outside of the United States/Canada, and they may not be available in some places. Most tampons sold in Europe are the non-applicator kind, so it may be a good idea to familiarize yourself with those before you leave. The major brands available in the US are O.B. and Veeda, which can be found in most drug stores. Plastic applicator tampons are also rarely used in Asia. They will most likely be stocked only in "Foreign" or "Western" markets, which are both much more expensive and can be difficult to locate. Disposable sanitary pads are easily accessible in most major cities, but if you are traveling to a more remote location, you may need to rely on reusable pads.
Menstrual cups may be a good option to consider, because they are reusable and can be easily obtained in the U.S. Just make sure to familiarize yourself with how to use them before you leave because there is a bit of a learning curve.
Do some research beforehand and if there is a product you prefer that will not be available in your host country, consider bringing it with you.
- Study Abroad - Be sure to stop by and access student evaluations to read more on how specific identifiers influenced your peers’ experience in their chosen host country!
- Office and Diversity and Inclusion
- International Student Office
- Study Abroad Resources
- How to Deal with Street Harassment Abroad, by GoOverseas.com
- Journey Woman, an online travel resources for women
- SASHAA, Sexual Assault Support and Help for Americans Abroad
- Transitions Abroad, a general online travel resources with resources for women
- UGoGurl.com, an e-zine to showcase African American travel writing
- Her Own Way, a woman's safe guide to travel
- SAFETI article on sexual harassment and prevention
- Stop Street Harassment, a non-profit organization dedicated to stopping street harassment worldwide
- Solo Female Travel: Lessons Learned by 33 Expert Women Travelers
- U.S. Government
- U.S. State Department country profiles
- U.S. State Department travel alerts and warnings