Even in the context of your native culture, identity, gender, and sexual expression and health are complex issues that are connected with gender roles and identity, intimacy and relationships, sexual orientation and behaviors, and much more. Since perspectives regarding these terms and identities are often culturally influenced, your personal identity and sexual health becomes even more complex in the context of traveling internationally.
Gender Roles and Identity
Gender roles and identity are socially constructed terms that are unique to each country and/or culture, and even within a single country or culture, the perspectives will vary. The differences in gender roles and identities between cultures span a range from minor and unnoticeable to major and life-altering. It is important to reflect on your native culture's views on the subject to get a sense of where your own thoughts on the subject may be originating. It is equally important to research - before you go - perspectives and ideas in your destination country so that you will have an idea of what to expect.
Tips While Abroad
- Note the clothing styles worn by men and women in your age group and, as much as possible, dress in similar styles if you wish to “blend in.”
- Watch how locals of the same age group interact with one another - both with the same sex and opposite sex - as this could provide insight into local perspectives on gender roles.
- Ask on-site staff members or trusted local friends for advice on social interactions, especially with the opposite sex.
- Pay attention to verbal and non-verbal communication.
- Be aware that friendly interactions can be misinterpreted as sexual interest in certain cultures.
- Use language that is direct, assertive and culturally appropriate, especially in response to unwanted attention.
Dating and Friendship
Social interactions of all kinds, including friendships and dating, are largely determined by cultural perspectives and will likely require you to make adjustments from what you are used to in the U.S. The best way to prepare is to research these topics with regard to your destination country before you go. Cultural norms regarding public displays of affection, dating rituals, expectations of friends and partners and acceptable dating/friendship behavior may vary greatly from U.S. norms. While in your host country, talk to locals in your age group about these topics and clarify any questions or concerns.
Students, faculty, and staff of any sexual orientation should do research on their destination before leaving the U.S. Be aware of the legal restrictions regarding same-sex relationships in other countries, as well as the general attitudes of the population in the country where you plan to travel. Other countries may be more, or less, tolerant than the United States. For more information please review the following resources:
- The Penn State LGBTQA Student Resource Center is available to all Penn State students
- The NAFSA Rainbow SIG for LGBTQ students abroad is an international interest group that explores issues related to LGBT individuals in various cultures and countries
- The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association is a very useful resource for information and support.
- US State Department LGBT Travel Information