Study Abroad Student Handbook
Worldwide Worldwide
Center for Global Education

Special Issues

1. Women

Unwanted attention can range from a mild nuisance to a serious threat of danger. Acceptable treatment of women may vary by country or region. Also, the way women interact with men in the United States may not be as socially acceptable in other countries. What's considered "being friendly" in the United States can be considered flirting or a sexual invitation in other countries. Even reacting (positively or negatively) to un–wanted attention can serve to egg–on the other person. Personal space and boundaries may also be different in other countries, so make sure to clearly establish behavior that shows you're not interested.Women Symbol

In television and movies, the media tends to portray U.S. women as promiscuous. Simply smiling or saying hello to the opposite sex in the country of your choice may be all that is needed to confirm this unflattering stereotype in their minds. To avoid trouble and unwanted attention, ask local women you meet and your program's administrators about what is considered "appropriate" behavior and dress for women. Dressing conservatively and traveling in groups are always safe bets. Although it is important to learn to adapt to a foreign culture, that doesn't mean you should have to compromise your own sense of security and dignity. If you feel you can't adapt, you may have to be more selective about the location of your program.

2. Minorities (Ethnic and Religious)

You may not be considered an ethnic, or religious majority in the United States, but by going to the country of your choice you become, in a sense, a minority. There probably aren't a lot of U.S. students studying in the area you will be, so, in that sense, you are a novelty–someone new and different who stands out from the locals. In some cases, your outward appearance can also make you stand out, especially if the country's population is very homogeneous. Sometimes the locals' curiosity, interest, ignorance or misunderstanding of you can be unpleasant.


Political issues or lack of tolerance can make some groups of people a target for mistreatment or even violence in some countries around the world. Political rallies and certain dates like anniversaries of historic events often spur ethnic and religious conflicts in many countries. Certain hate crimes may not even be considered crimes in different countries. Particularly with regard to religion, the risk you assume depends on your level of religious involvement abroad. Sometimes, signs of your religious affiliation may put you at risk as well.

That having been said, ethnic or religious issues shouldn't be a negative factor of your study abroad experience in the country of your choice; that's why it's important to do a little research ahead of time to survey the national sentiment and current events of the country of your choice. For more information on the current events going on in the country of your choice, please see "Media" in the Resources section of this Handbook. Also, ask your program administrators if you should be aware of anything in particular related to ethnic or religious conflict in the country of your choice.

3. LGBT Students

LGBT FlagIt is important for gay, lesbian, bi–sexual, and transgender (LGBT) students to be aware that the way sexual identities are defined and understood will vary by country and culture. In some countries, even modern ones, homosexual sex itself can result in severe state–sanctioned punishment up to and including the death penalty. It is usually not homosexuality that brings about such punishments, but rather the sex act. You might want to consider how a possible threat of discrimination or punishment might affect your experience or activities in your host country. Generally, acceptance and tolerance of LGBT issues is increasing in some parts of the world, but some countries and individuals remain intolerant. Make sure to research the prevailing sentiment toward LGBT issues abroad, as well as the laws related to them. If you don't want to compromise on your lifestyle or if you are concerned that your sexual orientation may be an issue, then you may have to be selective in where you travel.

4. Students with Disabilities

Disabled logo signStudents with disabilities abroad can also be the victims of prejudice and stereotyping. The disabled report being stared at, ignored, un–assisted, and/ or talked down to more frequently abroad than they tend to be in the United States. In many countries, there are no standards or requirements for providing access for the disabled. Wheelchair ramps, handicapped parking spaces, Braille signs, and other aides may be non–existent in parts of the host country, especially rural areas. In addition to a lack of services provided to the physically disabled, there may also be a lack of services provided to those with a learning disability, those with a psychological or emotional need, or those who are mentally challenged. If you need to make special arrangements abroad, it is a good idea to inquire far in advance. Your program's staff abroad may require some time in order to facilitate your needs. Even though you request that your special needs be met, it may be impossible for your program's staff abroad to assist you.

5. Americans

American flagThe foreign policy of the United States does not always sit well with citizens of foreign countries. In some cases, Americans living abroad can be targets of the frustrations of these individuals. Consider the nature of the political climate and relations between the United States and the country of your choice, as well as the other countries you plan to visit. There are some steps you can take to avoid being targeted for politically motivated crime or anti–U.S. crime in general. Try to assimilate your style of dress and mannerisms as much as possible into the local norms. "Dressing like a U.S. citizen" (or any way conspicuously different from the local look) makes it easier to identify you as "the other" or an "outsider" and can make you a target. Some common stereotypes about Americans portray Americans as: loud, inconsiderate, ignorant, rude, rich, arrogant, cheap, greedy, lazy, promiscuous, overweight, English–only speakers, etc. To avoid reinforcing such stereotypes, remember you are like an ambassador of the United States and its culture; as an ambassador abroad, it is your job to respect others and to act responsibly.

6. Relevant Questions

  • How can you prepare yourself to deal with any prejudice you may face?
  • Does it matter that your cultural background, race, religion, skin color, disability, sex, or sexual orientation, etc. may place you in the minority or the majority in countries to which you will be traveling?

7. Checklist

  • I am aware of the prevailing local sentiment towards people of my cultural background, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, etc.
  • I am aware of how past and current U.S. policy has affected/affects the countries where I will visit.
  • I know how to avoid confrontations over politics/religion, and how to avoid provoking unwanted attention by not flaunting my "American–ness".
  • I am aware of the prevailing national sentiment towards the U.S. and U.S. citizens in the countries I will visit.

8. Resources

Country Specific
Student Handbooks
CEA Global Education
Center for Global Education
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