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Studying abroad and my future goals

“Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” –Malcolm X

My time abroad has certainly had an effect on my future goals, both specifically in my area of academics and in my plans for the future.

As a student focused on Religious Studies, going to school in Belfast–a city with a long history of conflict, both religious and otherwise–has been a particularly enlightening experience.  One class that I have taken focuses on several of the world’s largest religions and is taught at Union Theological College, a religiously affiliated school which specializes in preparing students for ministry.  In this course, I came to realize the little-to-no exposure my fellow students had had to people of the faiths we were learning about.  There were even times in class when students would openly mock the religion we were learning about, calling the beliefs juvenile or ridiculous.  As a student of world religion with a personal passion for religious tolerance, I was shocked by the ignorance of my fellow students.  However, the professor explained to me that even to have a class offered on religions other than Protestant Christianity was a very new phenomenon for the school and for students in Northern Ireland in general.  This experience made me extremely thankful for the climate of religious freedom that I have learned in back home, but also made me respect the progress people are making here; whereas a decade ago students might not have even learned about a denomination other than their own, now they have the opportunity to learn at least a little about religions from other parts of the world.  It has been interesting to witness people being exposed to new religions for the first time and I think that I would enjoy studying the phenomenon anthropologically.

On a broader scale, studying abroad has impacted my outlook on my personal future.  For some time I have been interested in studying religion in graduate school, but I spent countless hours fretting and stressing over what exactly that would lead me to, what my future would look like, and how I would be able to make a sufficient living.  However, as I’ve met people from Belfast and other places in my travels, I’ve come to admire the attitude many people seem to have of letting life take them where it may.  That isn’t to say that I’m going to suddenly drop everything and travel around the world; I know that I want to go to graduate school and hopefully get a Ph.D.  And I could see myself someday doing research or being a professor in world religions.  But I don’t know yet, not for sure.  And in studying abroad I have realized that not knowing is okay, and even a bit exciting.  My appetite is certainly whet for learning about religion through other people’s eyes, and I would love to be able to travel around the world, but all of that is still to come.  For now, I will continue devoting my time and effort to my undergraduate degree and then I will see where life takes me.  If education is a passport, as Malcolm X said, then I intend to get as many stamps as possible.

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