Students share experiences as women studying abroad

On May 5, Portland State’s Women’s Resource Center and the Education Abroad Office co-hosted a panel titled “Perspectives Abroad” that explored the experiences of being a woman and United States citizen when studying abroad through PSU. The panel, which featured four PSU female-identifying students, served as a space for the panelists to share personal experiences and allow people interested in study abroad to ask questions to individuals who have already gone.

According to Hannah Latimer-Snell, an Education Abroad peer adviser and one of the event organizers, this panel was something she has hoped to do since she studied abroad in Santiago, Chile last year.

“While abroad, I had the opportunity to work for a nonprofit feminist organization that was working to support women in Chile,” Latimer-Snell said. “Mostly, I was just trying to create space for students of all backgrounds to feel like they have a place studying abroad, no matter gender, race, economic background or experiences.”

Each panelist proceeded to share their own experience with education abroad, each story proving to be as unique as the next. While each panelist viewed their overall education abroad experience as a positive one, they pointed to a few hardships along the way that made their time abroad harder than they expected. From juggling long-distance relationships, to the different cultural norms about American women or women in general in other cultures, the panelists pointed out many struggles unique to female-identifying students abroad.

These experiences were part of Latimer-Snell’s motivation for planning the panel. With the help of Sheena Ino, assistant director at the Women’s Resource Center, Latimer-Snell hoped to shed light on how gender impacts the experience of study abroad and empower female-identifying individuals to feel capable of going.

“[Ino] and I worked together to create an event that would allow female-identifying students the chance to ask experienced students what it was like being a woman abroad,” Latimer-Snell said. “I tried to find students that had gone to diverse, nontraditional countries and had unique stories of getting there.”

Another thing that both the panelists and the event organizers hoped to get out of the panel was a discussion about culture shock, both when entering a new country and returning to the states after being abroad.

“Coming back to the states was a hard transition,” Latimer-Snell said. “I loved living abroad, and Portland is nothing like what I experienced in South America.”

However, like everything else about the experience of traveling abroad, culture shock is different for everyone. One of the panelists, Casey Jackson, studied abroad in Ghana and felt the culture shock of arriving was much harder for her than returning home.

“I felt culture shock [there], but not from African culture.” Jackson said. “More from the impact of colonization. I was more scared of reverse culture shock, but I came back and was just thankful to see my bed.”

After the panel officially ended, the group stayed to provide space for one-on-one questions with panelists.