Religious Diversity Abroad
When thinking about going abroad, you may be nervous as to how your faith (or lack of faith) may be treated. Like in the United States, attitudes on faith vary widely from country to country. Before going abroad, we recommend doing some research on your prospective host country to see how religion, religious freedom, and religious diversity is addressed.
There may be people who infer things about you based on your religion and what they have heard in the media about it. Many people may be interested in learning more about your faith with sincere interest, but there may also be instances where some behaviors and questions may make you uncomfortable. Although you should be prepared if a situation arises, you should not go abroad expecting discrimination. Study abroad is a life-changing experience for students of diverse backgrounds where you will learn much about others and yourself, so do not let these limit your experiences.
Some questions to ask yourself to help you prepare for going abroad are:
- What role does religion play in my host country?
- What are some perceptions about my faith that people in my host country may have?
- What are some (if any) religious holidays in my host country and how are they celebrated? If my faith’s religious holidays are not observed, how do I plan to observe my holidays?
- Are there any laws regarding religion I should be aware of?
- What is the national or dominant religion in my host country? Will I be a part of the religious majority or minority?
- How tolerant is the country about other religions? How tolerant is the country about atheism or agnosticism?
- Will my religious dietary restrictions be accessible in my host country?
- Is there any religious conflict or tensions I should be aware of in my host country?
- Can I wear religious symbols or clothing in my host country?
- Where can I practice my faith in my host country?
- What are ways I can respect, learn, and participate in cultural or religious events of my host country even if I am of another faith?
Some tips we recommend for going abroad are:
- Do some research about your host country’s relationship with religion and their laws regarding tolerance, acceptance, practice, and more. The questions above should guide some of your research.
- Remember that cultural norms are different in your host country so they may be less politically correct than people in the U.S. You can use these moments as teaching moments if you wish.
- Do some research on your own faith in your host country to see where you can practice your faith, if there are any connections you can make while abroad, etc. Think of ways you would be willing to adapt your religious practices to make your stay in your host country or academic schedule more comfortable for you while still respecting your faith.
- Before you go abroad, let your host country program coordinators know about any religious dietary restrictions or time needed for practices ahead of time so they can have that in mind, especially if you are staying with a host family.
- There may be some misunderstandings about your faith abroad so be patient when receiving questions.
- If a situation makes you uncomfortable, remove yourself from the situation. Always make your own safety your priority.
- Keep in mind, religion may play a larger or smaller role than it does in the United States depending on your host country.
- Stay open-minded and take this as an opportunity to learn about different faiths, interfaith dialogue, and inter-religious politics.