by Greta Flaig
Traveling abroad can be intimidating for anyone. It is an exhilarating and special experience for even the most confident individuals, since with each foreign country comes an unfamiliar culture. Women have restricted rights all over the world, so as a woman traveling to another country, the risks and social norms are much different than what a man might experience.
While everyone must respect varying cultures, women in particular are forced to be acutely aware of what they wear, say, and do in order to ensure personal safety. Three female professors gathered with a group of students this past week to talk about the dangers and advantages of traveling as a woman. Dr. Amy Patterson of the politics department, visiting professor Dr. Jessica Mecellem, and Dr. Jody Allen of the history department had much to say regarding their own beliefs and what they have learned from their own time abroad.
The professors spoke of sacrificing identity in order to respect cultural norms that lie outside the experience a typical American citizen will find at home. Changing one’s lifestyle to conform to foreign social norms can feel like a loss of identity; however, there is a point in time when women must understand that the freedom women have in America is not present all over the world, and it does not follow them from country to country.
A loss of independence is one of these aspects women face when abroad, because it is not always safe to walk around unfamiliar cities alone. There is a sense of pride and empowerment that comes from being unaccompanied in a foreign city. Patterson mentioned that “respect and understanding is not selling out…it’s okay to be safe.”
Mecellem, Allen and Patterson wished to convey that travelers need to stop and look around. Forget gender, race, sexual orientation, and anything that may stop one from traveling. After looking up at the Eiffel Tower, walking through the crowded streets of a Moroccan market, or sitting in a little Italian cafe, look around.
Realize where you are and how lucky you must be to experience something so amazing. Just keep your wits about you and stay conscious of your surroundings. Immersing yourself in a new culture can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life.