Info for Religious and Non-Religious Students Abroad
Religion is an important part of many cultures around the world. Learning about the beliefs and practices of the people where you are studying can give you new insights into their way of life. Religion can also affect the way you are perceived by people around you while studying or traveling. Students should research the predominate religious beliefs in the area where they are going to be studying, as well as attitudes towards differing belief systems.
Before going abroad, students should consider the role of the history of the culture and the history of the country they will be visiting. It can be helpful to investigate topics such as the dominant or majority religion, tolerance towards various beliefs, and the laws concerning religion of their prospective regions of study. The U.S. Department of State issues an annual report on international religious freedom. Students looking for further information can also access the Human Rights Report, as well as the Advancing Freedom and Democracy Report.
Once you have determined the dominant religion for a country, you can familiarize yourself with it's practices and history using the BBC World Religions page.
For some students, studying abroad may be their first experience as a member of the religious majority or minority. This change in perspective can be educational, but it is important to consider how that affects daily practice of your religion. Students should consider whether it will be appropriate to wear religious symbols or clothing, as well as the availability of places of worship or worship services. This may be difficult to research online, but students can contact a Study Abroad Advisor to discuss this further.
- This article from Diversity Abroad shares the experience of a Muslim woman who studied abroad in South Korea.
Tips for Religious Identity Abroad
Students of all backgrounds should strive to keep an open mind about the new beliefs they encounter while abroad.
Although some students may face criticism or even anger related to their beliefs, it is important to approach local customs without judgment or prejudice. Religion is an integral part of culture, and learning about the beliefs of the people you are studying alongside can provide unique insights into their lives.
However, students should place their own safety above everything else.
Patience and acceptance are useful when you are faced with innocent curiosity or even criticism, but students who feel threatened should immediately remove themselves from the situation and seek help from the appropriate officials. No one should be made to feel unsafe for their beliefs, so if you feel that you are being harassed or placed in a dangerous situation you should address it immediately. Once you have identified the state of religion in the country you will be visiting, you may need to consider a plan of action should this situation arise. The Study Abroad Office does not maintain programs in places that put students at risk, but religion is a divisive issue that may make some students more vulnerable than others.
Students with dietary restrictions should discuss them with advisors to ensure that they will have access to appropriate food options.
It is very likely that every program will be able to accommodate your needs, but discussing it with advisors will prevent possible discomfort or inconvenience later.