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Know Your Rights: Religious dos and don’ts when studying in France

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In 2004, the government in France brought in a law banning the public exhibit of religious symbols in the school and the workplace. Source: Shutterstock

Can I apply for work as an international student in my host country? What are my wage rights? Am I allowed to join protests and class walkouts? If I had a run-in with the authorities, what should I do? To help you understand the extent and limitations of your rights as a student abroad, Study International News will provide the answers to all these burning questions and more through our “Know Your Rights” article series. Have a question you want to be answered? Email us at editor@hybrid.co

France is a popular international study destination thanks to everything from its interesting culture and fine wines, to delicious food and top-class education options.

Studying in France is as much an education outside the lecture hall as it is during your contact hours, but there can be big cultural differences due to the country’s religious expression law.

In 2004, the French government brought in a law banning the public exhibit of religious symbols in the school and the workplace. This means lecturers and students are not allowed to wear religious garments such as hijabs, turbans and jewelry in French universities.

If you are from a religious country such as Malaysia, Saudi Arabia or Colombia, this can be a big change from the way religion is expressed at home.

Study International has put together these dos and don’ts of practicing your religion when studying in France to help you get used to the change.

Don’t:

  • Wear religious symbols in universities. This includes anything that identifies your faith, such as hijabs, turbans, crucifixes, Buddhas etc.
  • Wear religious symbols in hospitals. Hospitals are places of healing as well as professional work, meaning religious expression is not permitted.
  • Wear religious symbols in the workplace. Your course may require industry experience or you may work part-time to help fund your studies, so be careful to stay within the law.
  • Wear religious symbols in schools. If you are studying a course where you will be working with young people, you must remember not to wear religious symbols in schools. This law was brought in to block the spread of fundamentalism, so it’s important you adhere to it when in places of education

Do:

  • Express yourself in private. Studying abroad can be a challenging time both intellectually and spiritually. Maintaining your faith will help give you strength to overcome any difficulties you face, as well as helping you to stay connected to who you are.
  • Stick to the status quo. Although the law doesn’t stop you wearing religious symbols outside the workplace and schools, you can learn the cultural nuances by watching what other people do. If other French people are wearing religious symbols in other social situations, you may find it comforting to do the same. However, if you are in a more conservative place where this isn’t the norm, you may decide it is best to follow the locals’ lead
  • Talk to other students within your religion about these challenges. As an international student, there are bound to be other students just like you who are struggling with the challenges of living in France’s secular society. You can find comfort and strength through each other, as well as maintaining your faith as part of a religious group.

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