How to Approach Religion

Religion can be a sensitive topic for schools, host families and students, and thus should be addressed thoughtfully during orientation. Host families and schools should be aware that many international students do not come from Judeo-Christian backgrounds and may thus be unfamiliar with Western religious practices. Moreover, many Chinese students consider themselves atheists, since the People’s Republic of China is officially an atheist country. That said, some Chinese students may come from a Buddhist background, and Korean students often identify as Christian.

If religion is a fundamental piece of your school’s identity, here are a few tips you can implement to accelerate your students’ understanding of the significance religion holds in your school and in the United States as a whole:

  • During orientation, you can give students a brief introduction to your school’s (or family’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 identity.
  • Be sure to explain that religious activities and classes are a required part of the school’s curriculum and that these classes will affect students’ GPAs. Please keep in mind that many international students come from an academic culture in which final grades are determined solely by final exam scores.
  • When teaching students about religious beliefs, be sure to highlight the underlying morals and philosophy your religious beliefs represent. This will allow students to understand that religion in the United States often represents a way of life in addition to a spiritual belief.
  • 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.

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.