Chapter 6

God, Allah or Krishna

Are you religious? Is your family? What do you believe? These are pretty personal questions for us to be asking. You are about to experience a whole new culture and with that will be a whole new set of beliefs. Do you know what the predominant religion is in the country you are traveling to? You should look into it because chances are it won’t be like yours. Christianity is the largest religious group in the world; the next largest is Islam. In the “global village” that David Smith speaks of, 15 are non-religious. Maybe these numbers surprise you, or maybe they don’t.

Be able to speak intelligently about other religions. Most importantly, be able to listen and be open to learning. Don’t argue about local religious customs or beliefs. You don’t fully understand theirs and vice versa. Be aware when it would be best to avoid the subject and when it may be okay to have a discussion about the differences. Many countries like Germany and the United Kingdom are not as open about their religious beliefs. Consider the religion of a country as another learning experience. Go to a religious service in your new home, celebrate their festivals, take it all in. You will learn something about your faith and theirs.

a controversial topic

Religion may or may not play a significant role in your life. The best thing we can advise while abroad is to not bring up the subject. You may think that this seems irrational, but most people around the world will tell you not to get involved in religious arguments or even simple discussions on the topic. It is a deeply personal part of their lives. This may upset you if you like to discuss your faith with people. Sometimes at home that goes over well; other times it does nothing but offend people. Try to avoid religious conversations; it’s just better this way.

and then you get cornered

It is possible that you walk into a situation where you can’t escape a religious discussion. If you remember this one thing, you will walk away still friends: respect other people’s right to disagree with you. We know that it is hard to walk away before you win an argument, but sometimes you just have to call it even and change the subject.

the odds are in your favor

The chances of actually having a conversation about religion are unlikely. People from the U.S. are typically more open about such topics than other people are in many parts of the world. It is said that we wear our religion on our sleeve, when in other countries, few people younger than 60 go to religious services. It just does not play as big of a role in the public lives of people. Please note that we are not saying that religion or spirituality is not important to people in other countries; they just don’t want to talk about it as much as people at home do.

There is a time and a place for religious discussions. Many people who want to remain connected to their faith while abroad attend a church or small group. Check with the community religious centers or even the local telephone directory for locations and information about places of worship that you can attend.

put on your sunday best

When you go to religious services at home, you know to always dress appropriately. The same thing goes when you are abroad. Find out what the appropriate attire is before you go so you don’t end up making a huge fashion faux pas and offending people. For instance, besides your church clothes, some countries will ask for women to wear something to cover their heads. Even if it’s not your religion, respect those you are around.

ringing church bells and cell phones

The two do not go together. If and when you do attend a religious ceremony or event remember to turn off your cell phone. It’s distracting to hear a ring right in the middle of a religious service. Just so you know, the vibrate setting isn’t any better; it can seem just as loud. Be content with where you are and who you are with, and turn off your phone. You can always check your messages later.

use the golden rule

Your religion is important, and you don’t need to hide it. While abroad, experience other religions. Learn something new about other people’s faith. Be open minded and think before you speak. The most important thing is to be respectful of other faiths, and you will likely get respect in return.

Culture questions


What is the dominant religion? Is it a state-endorsed religion? Have you read any of its sacred writings?


What are the most important religious observances and ceremonies?  How regularly do people participate in them?


How to members of the one religion feel about the other religions?


What are the most common forms of marriage ceremonies and celebrations?


What is the attitude toward dating? Opposite sex friendships?