Dating, Relationships, and Sexual Boundaries
Entering into a personal relationship overseas should be approached with the same precautions as at home. It is tempting to be charmed by a once-in-a-lifetime-romance, but you should consider a relationship carefully, particularly when you are overseas. Proceed cautiously, realizing that you are only in the country for a short time and although your language skills might improve, the end of your experience will face complications. Like culture shock, knowing this before getting involved will save you the pain of dealing with it later. Evaluate your reasons for entering the relationship and those of the other person. There may be different cultural values and rules regarding dating and relationships that you need to consider.
The following are things that you should think about with regard to relationships as it could easily affect your happiness in one.
- Are there separate societal roles for men and women?
- If not, are women and men considered equal in your host country?
- What are the rules/norms for “romantic” relationships in the country?
- Do young people date? If so, do they date in groups, in couples?
- What are the rules/norms for romantic relationships?
- Is it okay to hold hands, touch and/or kiss in public?
- In what types of social activities do couples participate in together?
Think about some of the following questions before you depart and then discuss the same questions with your program director and/or local friends once you are in your study abroad country:
- What are your own boundaries regarding sexual behavior?
- How do you know when someone is being friendly? Being “too friendly”?
- How does it feel for you when someone challenges your boundaries?
- What are your thoughts and feelings when someone comes on to you?
- How do you communicate your boundaries to others?
- How do locals of your gender communicate their boundaries?
In addition to the concerns about sexual exploration for all students, female students in particular should be aware of the common stereotypes of American women, who are often viewed throughout the rest of the world as being sexually available. American women should recognize that these stereotypes are applied to them, simply because they are American, no matter how much they may think their own demeanor, dress or attitudes provide other signals. You should be aware of how you dress, act, and communicate in your host country to ensure that your personal sexual boundaries are not crossed.
Two very common examples of one’s sexual boundaries being violated are sexual harassment and sexual assault. While these situations may sound extreme, they are far too common among college age students. Individuals victimized by sexual harassment or sexual assault experience a wide range of emotional responses. Some typical responses include guilt, shame, confusion, anger, mood swings, sleeplessness, fear, and several other emotions that could have a significant impact on the student’s daily life.