Many students who study abroad try to make the most of their experience by traveling to different places throughout the course of the semester. In fact, as the end of our time abroad draws closer and closer, I cannot name a single exchange student I met who hasn’t traveled at least once throughout the past few months. I was so excited at the thought of traveling, but I didn’t know if I was prepared to do it alone. Not because I wouldn’t enjoy it, or that I might get lost, or in trouble, or hurt, but because I thought going solo as a woman in a foreign country would present a brand new set of risks I wasn’t prepared for. The fact is that women traveling abroad face different concerns than our male counterparts.
The first trip I took this semester was to visit a friend in Bristol. While waiting for the shuttle to the airport, I met an American student who said that he was going to visit Paris. He was alone and I asked him if he was visiting someone, or meeting his friends there. “No,” he responded, “I’m going by myself.”
“By yourself?” I asked him, “aren’t you scared?” And he wasn’t, because what was there to be afraid of? Men rarely have to worry about safety to the same degree that women do, especially when traveling. In fact, it seems that every one of my friends that are women, have some story about how she’s been in a situation abroad feeling threatened, even in hostels or airbnbs. In Nice, for example, my friend was on the verge of falling asleep in our 16-bed hostel room, when a middle-aged man who had been staring at her the entire night approached me and asked me how old she was. When another friend arrived at her mixed-gender hostel in Amsterdam in the middle of the night, a man in the same room got out of bed to greet her with a hug. A third friend was asked out for a drink by her tour guide in Prague, and a fourth had to run back to her room in Bratislava after a man’s relentless and persistent demands to walk her there.
When you hear stories like this, especially coming from close friends, it’s so easy to feel scared. However, the idea of women traveling abroad isn’t the problem; we must remember that women experience threatening situations all the time, regardless of where they are, and it’s so important not to let that dissuade you from traveling. My friends, despite having experienced feeling scared in these kinds of situations, have loved their time spent traveling while abroad, and agree that the benefits almost always outweigh the risks. There will always be risks, no matter where you are or who you’re with, which is why the most sincere advice I can give is not letting that stop you from making wonderful memories you otherwise wouldn’t have. Be aware, be cautious, and take every precaution you find necessary, but do not let yourself be afraid to form these new experiences, whether you are with friends or on your own.
Julia Woodruff is a psychology major at Purdue University and is studying abroad with IFSA at University College Dublin in Dublin, Ireland in spring 2019. She is an International Correspondent for IFSA through the Work-To-Study Program.