Office of Study Abroad

Dating, Relationships and Sexual Boundaries

holding hands

"Oftentimes the meanings of the Spanish and Chilean words I came to know and use did not exactly align with their English equivalents — the issue of amar vs. querer, for instance, or the difference between pinchando, saliendo and pololeando. I remember chatting with my host sister in her room one night when our conversation turned to the topic of guys, specifically one whom I had recently started dating. She said, 'If he tells you te quiero, that's cute, that's fine... If he says te amo, RUN.' We laughed, but it touched on aspects of cross-cultural communication and language that would remain salient over the remainder of my time in Santiago." — Leah Hastings ’16

Dating and Relationships

  • Motives: Evaluate carefully your motives for entering into a relationship and those of the other(s) involved. The cultural norms and standards surrounding romantic relationships are often nuanced and more implicit than explicit — just think of how complicated it would be to try to explain dating in the United States! Whether you are considering entering into a relationship with a student from the U.S. or someone from your host country, it is important to consider the cultural implications of dating in the place where you are studying.
  • Time: Your time abroad has a definitive start and end date, which can be a difficult frame within which to develop and solidify a relationship. While this is not necessarily a bad limitation, it is one that you should be sure all parties involved are aware of and in ongoing communication about, whatever this may lead to for your particular situation.
  • Communication: Expectations and intentions can be easily distorted across cultures, and even more so when navigating a different language. It can also be difficult to articulate what your expectations are until they are in some way contradicted. Be prepared to respond to this with patience and as a learning process for all parties.
The following are some questions to consider in the context of your own observations and host culture:
  • What are the rules/norms for romantic relationships in the country?
  • Do young people date? If so, do they date in groups or in couples?
  • Is it okay to hold hands, touch and/or kiss in public?
  • What types of social activities do couples participate in together?

Sexual Boundaries

  • Pre-departure: Taking some time evaluate your own boundaries, comfort levels and expectations before you leave will make it that much easier to articulate or re-visit them once abroad. Think about what products you may want to pack related to your sexual health.
  • Gender roles: Some cultures rely on gender as a primary way to define identity, which may influence the way you are perceived in and out of the context of a formal relationship. Standards of behavior for people of all genders can vary widely from culture to culture, and you may encounter unwanted attention based on how your gender is interpreted. Know that what is normalized behavior in one place may be inappropriate or even illegal in another. Researching the culture of your host country before you go will help you to be prepared for what to expect.
  • Boundaries: A sexual boundary is the point between what is consensual and what is not for an individual. Think about some of the following questions before you depart, and then again within the social context of your host country:
    • How do you know when someone is being friendly? Being "too friendly?"
    • How do you know when someone challenges your boundaries?
    • How do you communicate your boundaries to others? How do locals who share your gender and/or sexual orientation do so? Do you know language with which to communicate?
  • Stereotypes: It is important to be aware of local cultural norms and how you are or are not fitting into them based on your behavior or dress; for instance, even something so simple as direct eye contact or a smile could be read as flirtation in some contexts.
  • Harassment or assault: Sexual harassment and sexual assault are violations of one's sexual boundaries. In the wake of such an incident an individual may feel guilt, shame, confusion, anger, mood swings, sleeplessness, and/or fear, all of which may have a significant impact on one's day-to-day life. Visit the Sexual Harassment and Assault page for more information, resources, and emergency contact information.


If you would like support, more information or access to useful resources while abroad, please contact any of the following: