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Religion Abroad

Religion plays a role in many cultures throughout the world.  While you are studying abroad you may be exposed to new religions.  There may be more or less religious diversity in your host country than what you are used to in your home town or in Washington, D.C.  Use religion as one of the many lenses that will help you understand your host culture.  As part of pre-departure preparations, you should research the dominant religion(s) in your host country and try to understand the role it plays in your host culture and society.  
 
If you practice a religion back in in D.C. and wish to continue practicing it abroad, then you will want to research several things before you depart to find out what places of worship might exist in your host city and country. 

Thing to Consider

  • Research the major religions that exist in your host country.  What role does religion play in your host country society? Are there any major religious holidays during your semester to be aware of? 
  • Learn about local laws governing religion in your host country.  Is there legal separation between religion and government?  
  • Research the degree of religious tolerance. Would it be advisable for you to wear religious symbols and/or clothing? How are atheists perceived? 
  • Consider how religious culture might shape the secular life of a country.  For example, depending on the dominant religion, weekends might be Friday and Saturday and/or certain religious holidays might be observed differently by schools and businesses.   Alternatively, days that you might have come to expect to be treated as holidays may not be. 
  • Be respectful – When visiting local religious sites wear appropriate clothing and respect religious icons. 
  • If you want to practice your religion while you are abroad, do research ahead of time to find out about the existing community in your host city. US university chaplains, faith-based university student groups and other organizations can help study abroad students find local places of worship. You can ask the leader in your religious community back home if they have any connections to faith communities in the city you’ll be traveling to. Join local religious services if you are interested.  
  • You may develop a new outlook on religion and spirituality during your study abroad experience. Be open-minded. 
  • If you have any religious dietary restrictions, be sure to let your program director or appropriate staff know ahead of time to determine accommodations.

Resources

The AU Abroad Office can advise you on your study abroad options and help you find the right program for your major and personal goals.  The AU Abroad office is located in the Rockwood building (to the left of Public Safety by the south side shuttle stop). Tel: 202-885-1320 or auabroad@american.edu
 
AU’s Kay Spiritual Life Center is the home to spiritual life at American University in D.C.  Their website has brief summaries of many of the world’s prominent religions
Tel: 202-885-3320 or kslc@american.edu
 
Diversity Abroad is an organization dedicated to increasing participation and better serving the needs of diverse and underrepresented students in international education. They have a diversity and inclusion abroad guide on their website.
 
The International Religious Freedom Report, the Department of State’s annual report to congress on international religious freedom, describes the status of religious freedom in every country.