Though there may be commitment to religious diversity and freedom in the United States, this may not be the case in the country where you’ll be living and studying. While abroad, you will likely have encounters that challenge your notions of spirituality that, if not guided, could lead to judgmental and ethnocentric views of the host culture. Take the opportunity to understand the social and historical views of religious acceptance and tolerance within your host country. In doing so, you may also examine your own values and beliefs and arrive at a better understanding of yourself and your spirituality. Being familiar with the world’s religions and how religious diversity is defined and understood across cultures will allow you to have a rewarding and safe international experience. Please discuss your questions and concerns about this or any other issue with your Education Abroad Advisor.
Preparing to Study Abroad
Before you leave the U.S., we encourage you to learn as much as possible about the country where you plan to study. Allow time to consider how your religion or spiritual beliefs may influence your encounters abroad. What is the predominant religion in your host country? How might your beliefs and practices be viewed in that society, and how could this influence people’s interactions with you?
You can alleviate potential misunderstandings by learning in advance as much as you can about the culture in which you’ll soon be living. Speak with your UMW Education Abroad Advisor about these questions so that we can assist you in gathering the information you need.
While Living and Studying Abroad
Take advantage of your experience abroad to understand how people in the host culture worship and engage in religious practices. What are the host community’s important religious observances and ceremonies? Do you wish to study the predominant religion in your host country? Are religions associated with differing levels of social class? How will you practice your religion while abroad? Will your beliefs preclude you from befriending people from other religious backgrounds? Do you wish to connect with a group or attend religious services while abroad? Are there members of your religion in the area where you will be living? What actions and beliefs are frowned upon or considered taboo in the host culture? Is atheism accepted? You can alleviate potential misunderstandings by addressing these questions and determining how they will impact your experience.
Bringing the Experience Home
Preparing for your return home is equally as important as preparing for your departure. Give thought to what you have gained from your study abroad experience. Before you return to the U.S. it is helpful to consider how changes in your self-identity may affect your relationship with family and friends back home.
What have you learned while abroad and how will you use the experience later? Did study abroad allow you to pursue research, volunteer in an overseas community, or serve an internship? Compare your pre-departure goals. Are you interested in sharing your experience with others?