Religion can be a sensitive topic for schools, host families, and students, so it should be addressed thoughtfully during your student orientation. Host families and schools should be aware that many international students do not come from Judeo-Christian backgrounds and may be unfamiliar with Western religious practices. The majority of Chinese believe in Chinese folk religion, which is a tradition that involves worship to a multiplicity of gods and deities. These practices have blended ideas and teachings from Buddhist and Taoism. Moreover, many Chinese students and families share no religious affiliation at all. In Korea, members of Protestantism and Catholicism represent more than a quarter of the total population, so Korean students often identify as Christian.
If theology is a fundamental piece of your school’s identity, here are a few tips to better align your international students’ understanding of religion with your school’s tradition.
1. Give a Brief Introduction
During your school orientation, you can give students a brief introduction to your school’s religious background. This will help students understand the values and philosophy on which your school was founded, and the significant role religion plays in your curriculum.
2. Explain that Activities and Classes are Required
Be sure to explain that religious activities and classes are a required part of your curriculum and that these classes will affect a students’ GPA. Please keep in mind that many international students come from an academic culture in which final grades are determined solely by final exam scores. You may want to consider modifying religion assignments to help students adjust to this unfamiliar topic, vocabulary, and cultural foundation. Your Student Development Manager can offer advice on reasonable modifications.
3. Explain Underlying Morals and Philosophy
When teaching students about your school’s religious traditions, be sure to highlight the underlying morals and philosophy, these religious beliefs represent. This will allow students to understand that applications of religion in The United States often represents a way of life in addition to spirituality.
4. Explain Freedom of Religion
When explaining the importance of religion to your school’s identity, teach students about the importance of freedom of religion and its relation to the ideology of America. This will improve students’ cultural competency, which in turn will help students integrate socially and prepare for their future in college and beyond.
5. Respect Differences in Religious Beliefs
Most importantly, schools and host families should be respectful of differences in religious beliefs and answer any questions students may have about this unfamiliar topic. Host families are encouraged to invite students to participate in religious services and events, but families must be understanding if a student declines their offer. Schools and hosts alike should provide welcoming environments to share their spiritual and intellectual knowledge as well as embrace their student’s beliefs and perspective. The experience of sharing cultural and religious traditions is a means to recognize the value and uniqueness of people from all faiths.
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