Religion plays a role in many countries and cultures, and depending on where you travel, this may be a larger or smaller role than in the United States. It is a good idea to research religion in your host country before you go abroad. One place to start can be the CIA’s World Factbook that allows you to search by country and provides the most recent statistics on religion. Additionally, you may have religious practices that you would like to observe abroad. Be sure to talk with your Study Abroad Advisor if you have specific questions about any needed accommodations (e.g., dietary restrictions, prayer times).
Remember to stay open minded about different beliefs you may encounter and consider how your own beliefs will be received abroad. Learning about a country’s major religions can be a good opportunity to learn more about its culture. If you are planning to worship abroad, do some advanced research on available locations. There are also many centers and student organizations that can be utilized by students. In addition to talking with your Study Abroad Advisor, you may be able to discuss some of your concerns about worship abroad with these groups.
Some other things to consider are:
- What is the degree of religious tolerance in your host country? What is the dominant religion in your host country? Are all religions tolerated?
- Will you be part of the religious majority or minority?
- Is it safe to wear religious symbols and/or clothing?
- How are atheists and agnostics perceived in the host country?
- Are there laws regarding religion (e.g., proselytizing Christianity is banned under Chinese law)?
- Is there separation of religion & the government?
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Detailed information on various beliefs and religions
International Religious Freedom
The state of religious freedom, country by country, as seen by the U.S. Department of State
International Humanist and Ethical Union: IHEU is the world union of over a hundred Humanist, rationalist, secular, ethical culture, atheist and freethought organizations in more than 40 countries.
Secular Web: List of organizations, including a limited number of international student organization
Bahia.org: Directory of more than 100,000 Bahá’í communities in almost every country and territory.
World Buddhist Directory: Worldwide searchable database of Buddhist organizations.
Christianity Today International: International network of Christian ministries.
Church Finder: Limited international church listings.
Mass Times: Search for a Mass Near You
Many denominations have their own church directories. Search for your denomination and your host country or city name.
Hindu Temples Worldwide: Details of various Hindu temples in Asia, Africa, North America, South America, Australia, Europe, UK and the Caribbean.
Halal Trip: A site to help Muslims remain true to their faith while exploring the world with purpose and compassion.
Muslims Abroad: An initiative to provide resources for Muslim students interested in going abroad.
Jewish Virtual Library: List of synagogues worldwide.
KAHAL: Your Jewish Home Abroad: Kahal provides resources, tools, and connections for Jewish students to meaningfully engage with the Jewish community and deepen their Jewish identity while abroad.
Kosher Delight: Information on synagogues around the world
Kosher Without Borders: Every Kosher restaurant on earth listed and confirmed
Tips and Challenges of Keeping Kosher While Traveling
World Union of Jewish Students: WUJS is an international umbrella organization comprised of 48 national independent Jewish Student Unions around the world.
We ask students to share their experiences on how various parts of their identity impacted them while they were abroad in their program evaluations. Below are tips and advice given by Badgers about their individual experiences and thoughts. These do not represent all experiences in a location. Our staff is happy to talk with you about any questions you may have.
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“It did not really impact my experience abroad, but I could understand how other people may be uncomfortable because Ecuador is a very conservative Catholic country, especially in smaller communities. Evaluate with yourself what your comfort level would be in a situation where you may not have other people from the community around you.” – Ecuador participant
“People did not understand the idea of “nonreligious,” or agnostic or atheist. Religion was something you were supposed to be born into and would always have. Explain to people if you can how nonreligion exists in other parts of the world. I received very positive responses to this.” – India participant
“It positively influenced my experience. Even though my faith was not largely represented abroad, I never felt excluded because of it.” – India participant
“I was not raised/am not Jewish and I went to Israel and I definitely felt this difference when I was abroad! It was not negative, and I think I had more to learn and gain because of it.” – Israel participant
“Studying abroad in a very religious country did not change what I believe in, but let me appreciate some parts of religion more and less.“– Italy participant
“There were Catholic churches everywhere and I didn’t see a single non-Catholic or Christian church except for those destroyed by Christians in the medieval times. I am not religious but sometimes it can be triggering, so it made me think a lot about my identity, people who struggle with this everyday as they live there permanently, and how to be respectful of these buildings despite a personal divide. Try to think of the churches as beautiful architecture and about the many different lives each building has had instead of the religion that is housed there or how it destroyed other histories.” – Italy participant
“Because I was a white Westerner, nearly everyone assumed I was a Christian. There were a couple occasions where I was asked my religion. In some cases, I was honest, and I reluctantly told people that I was an atheist. That is a fantastic way to kill a developing friendship with a Moroccan. I never felt that my identity put me in danger, but I did learn that things go smoother if you let them assume you’re a Christian. It’s not hard to do, but I wish it wasn’t necessary.” – Morocco participant
“As an atheist in a very religious country, it was fascinating to learn about Buddhist culture and the incredible history of Buddhism.” – Sri Lanka participant
“As a non-denominational and practicing Christian I was very much a minority in my classes and in my home. France is Catholic, but not many people practice religion daily. My host family never truly understood or fully respected my religious identity. There are communities or churches that you can be a part of that share these beliefs. It is important to be honest with your host family despite differences in worldview.” – France participant
“I am Catholic and I had to work hard to keep Catholicism a part of my life while abroad. Luckily, there are many Catholic churches in Hong Kong, including one called St. Anthony’s right next to HKU. Through my study abroad experience, I definitely strengthened my Catholic identity. Being abroad forced me to resolve some unanswered faith dilemmas I was having and I also relied on my faith to conquer the challenges of being abroad. Join the Catholic student organization at HKU. They are very welcoming.” – Hong Kong participant
“While Christianity is a privileged religion, the city of Varanasi is very Hindu, with some Islam. You will be surrounded with religions not familiar to your own. That’s OK. Just please talk to someone. Learn where your identities can fit into the world.” – India participant
“I attended Catholic Church and a Christian church there. I loved it because it was a super supportive, multicultural, multi-generational space where people spoke every language under the sun. Super rare for Hokkaido. Also, there were many cool events I was invited to, like potlucks or beach trips. Having a support system helped me during difficult times.” – Japan participant
“I was very worried about how my Catholic faith fit in with a majority-Muslim state. However, Jordanians were incredibly welcoming of my Christianity and loved to talk about it. There are multiple churches in Amman and I found several students willing to go along with me on Sundays to church services. I was afforded the ability to go to mass regularly, and the program even provided a “Biblical Tour” of places like Mount Nebo and the baptism site. The greatest challenges and denigrations I received were from the other students.” – Jordan participant
“I was a Christian in a very culturally catholic city. It was interesting to see how religion and practices were different. Find a church community or go out and experience different churches – there are tons. Get involved in a bible study or faith conversations in Spanish.” – Spain participant
“I thought my identity as a Christian was extremely valuable in terms of learning and engaging with the experience. I was able to consider my religion in a way that I have never before since almost everyone around me was of a different faith. I was better equipped to ask questions and to understand the positions of those we met with, especially when we visited the mosque. I recommend keeping an open mind and use that to aid your empathy and to put yourself into their shoes.” – Tanzania participant
“I am Jewish and met amazing people in a strong Jewish community in Sydney. Reach out to the Jewish community to go to Shabbat dinner etc. It was so nice, and they are so warm and welcoming.” – Australia participant
“As someone of the Jewish faith, being a religious minority abroad impacted my experience in that I had the privilege to teach my host family about Judaism. It was an amazing cultural exchange opportunity. I made them a Shabbat meal and we had many discussions over the semester about what Judaism means to me and what the religion entails. Seek out the local Jewish community! It was so nice to attend Passover Seder and Shabbat services while abroad. Definitely share your religious traditions with locals and your host family (if you feel comfortable).” – Denmark participant
“My friends and I were saluted with “Heil Hitler” once while walking in our neighborhood, and there was a graffiti swastika drawn on the local train station wall. While these experiences both made me very uncomfortable, I was able to talk to my host family and counselors at the school if I needed to. In general, Copenhagen is a very liberal and accepting city. They are not very religious, and mostly tolerant of other cultures. However, there are people everywhere who are intolerant and who will make remarks that make you uncomfortable. Know that you have someone to talk to if these situations come up.” – Denmark participant
“I am Jewish, and my family has a rule that when I am in Europe, I am not allowed to wear any of my jewelry that identifies me as being Jewish for my own safety.” – England participant
“As someone who celebrates the Jewish holiday of Passover by attending a Seder and “keeping Kosher” for a week, I was able to make both happen with the help of KAHAL. KAHAL is a nonprofit company that connects study abroad students to Jewish experiences, ranging from holiday celebrations to historical tours. KAHAL really helped me maintain this sense of Jewish identity while abroad, and I would recommend that any of my fellow Jewish students studying abroad connect with them.” – England participant
“As a Jew, it was interesting traveling in Europe where grand churches are such a huge part of the culture and the countries’ landmarks. The only temple I saw was in Budapest and it was really amazing to see, but it is kind of jarring how wholly Christianity is woven into the history and architecture of each country. Churches are beautiful. Go see them. Even if you don’t think you’ll get anything out of it, they are some of the most beautiful structures and have some of the most beautiful views of different cities because so many resources were allocated to them.”– France participant
“Southern Germany is a very Catholic area. The only other Jew I met while in Germany was a visiting American. Being a minority wasn’t a problem for me. My Jewish identity definitely affected my experience, as certain things were more meaningful to me. Heidelberg, like the rest of Germany, has golden Stolpersteine (“stumbling stones”) marking the homes of Holocaust victims and other remnants of the Nazi regime. My trip to Berlin was similarly affected.” – Germany participant
“I am Jewish, so being in Israel felt like home to me. It made me appreciate the country and the people and everything it has to offer. Israel is extremely diverse! It is a melting pot of different cultures, languages, religions, identities, abilities, etc. Studying in Israel made me realize how many different types of people call this place home.” – Israel participant
“I connected with any areas that had a Jewish foundation. I participated in several Shabbats in Florence and I liked visiting the ghettos in Rome. If you do want to practice Judaism, find the Chabbad Rabbi in your area. They will welcome you with open arms and help you meet other Jewish students studying abroad.” – Italy participant
“Sometimes it felt like I couldn’t quite be myself. My religious identity isn’t a huge part of me, but consistently hearing negative comments about Jews and Judaism was difficult. It’s a unique feeling and it’s smart to hear others’ perspectives and why they have them. Keep your religion to yourself. Some people are OK with it, but others are not. It’s safer to just keep it to yourself.” – Jordan participant
“I am Jewish and this was the least I’ve been surrounded by Judaism in my entire life. It made me reflect on Judaism’s role in my life and became even more important to me. My friends and I were involved with a program called KAHAL that provided us grants to host Shabbat dinners. It was amazing and allowed my friends and I to get together every Friday for weekly Shabbat dinners”. – New Zealand participant
“There were not any Jewish organizations on campus (and only 2 synagogues in Singapore which are more orthodox). This was fine because I’m not very observant, but I did want to celebrate some of the Jewish holidays that occur in the fall and didn’t have the option to. It might be difficult if you are actively practicing Judaism and it is a major part of your lifestyle. You can reach out to the two synagogues downtown and see if you can attend their services.” – Singapore participant