Three Buddhists at a Catholic, Jesuit University

Recently, Shana Shin (MSB ‘22) announced on the Campus Ministry Instagram account that she was working on a project where she reflects on being Buddhist at Georgetown University. Below, Shana shares part of that journey — a conversation she had with fellow students about being Buddhist at Georgetown. 

In August 2020, my family stayed at Mihwangsa, the southernmost Buddhist temple on the Korean peninsula. Although I enjoyed being surrounded by nature during the stay, I did not fully grasp the religious values behind the visit at the time. (Shana is pictured here with her father)

Although born and raised in a Buddhist family, I had never regarded myself as religious. When I learned that Georgetown requires all students to take theology classes, I just hoped I could find an easy course to fulfill the requirement. So, last spring, I took Buddhism and Film, a class taught by Professor Francesca Cho. It was the only course about Buddhism, a religion I was the most familiar with, and, therefore, I assumed it would be easier than other theology classes.

Unexpectedly, the class was an eye-opening experience. While studying Buddhism, I realized how much my perception of the world had been influenced by Buddhist concepts and principles, which now I full-heartedly appreciate. For example, my motto is to live in the moment while recognizing that nothing is everlasting. It is, in fact, consistent with the Buddhist teaching that emphasizes practicing non-attachment by understanding the impermanent nature of the world. This revelation piqued my curiosity and I wondered if other Buddhist students’ had a similar experience?

Recently, I sat down with Ellena Joo (SFS’ 22) and Jessup Kim (SFS ’23), the co-presidents of the Buddhist Student Association (BuSA), and together we reflected on our religious journeys at Georgetown. While we all had very different experiences, Georgetown played a vital role in each of our stories.

Shana (right) and Ellena one of two co-presidents of the Buddhist Student Association (BuSA) about their religious experience at Georgetown.

Before coming to Georgetown, Ellena had never thought about faith in her life. But she now believes she is “a shell of a being without faith and spirituality.” Ellena’s initial motivation to explore religion was to find a supportive, inclusive community where she could create organic relationships. With guidance and encouragement from Matt Hall, the former residential minister in Village A, Ellena participated in various activities across religious groups, one of which was a weekly meditation session hosted by BUSA in the John Main Center for Meditation and Interreligious Dialogue. It was through these meditation sessions that Ellena’s interest in BUSA grew. Eventually becoming more involved because she found the community supportive and welcoming. 

To Jessup Kim (SFS ’23), a Buddhist community is a safe place where he has always been welcomed and accepted. And coming to Georgetown provided him with an opportunity to give back to the community. As co-presidents of BuSA Jessup and Ellena organize events that bring on-campus Buddhists together as well as provide opportunities for non-Buddhist students to experience and explore Buddhism. They lead meditation sessions and recently organized visits to temples such as the Wat Yarnna Rangsee Buddhist Monastery in Sterling, VA. The pair also work closely with the International Buddhist Association of America (IBAA) to better deliver Buddhist teachings to Georgetown students.

By exploring our curiosity and purpose of religion in our own way, we three Buddhists have found ways to deepen the understanding of our religion. As Ellena said, Georgetown is a campus that makes us think about faith and religion in ways that are often taken for granted.

Last October, I took this photo with Jack the Bulldog.  As you can see I am very happy.  I am also grateful that Georgetown gave me an opportunity to contemplate my religious background and values.

Next in the series, is my interview with Fr. Greg Schenden, SJ, director of Campus Ministry where we talk about a variety of topics including Jesuit values and the importance of promoting religious diversity. Please stay tuned!

Written by Shana Shin (MSB ’22).