The Study Abroad Experience

Well, its been about a month since I’ve gotten back from Great Britain, and I can honestly say I miss it. I loved being home with my family and seeing them again, but I must say there were a lot of times when I sat around my house wondering where all my healthy non-GMO food was, or why there wasn’t a slew of interesting stores withing walking distance from my house. I questioned why we drove everywhere and had to rethink our health care plans every year. But I also did a lot of reflecting over what I had learned in my time during study abroad. You can’t spend three and a half months of your college years in a foreign country, traveling with you friends and not learn anything. Here’s what I ultimately came up with.

On Community:

I loved living in community, having 20 other girls available to me 24/7 for whatever I needed.  It’s one of the things I miss most. However, about half way through the semester, there began to be times when I felt there were too many people in the house. As an introvert it was hard to get time alone and away from the people that I was constantly around and needed a break from. Things that started out as funny gradually got under my skin, and I really had to learn grace when interacting with people. No matter how tired I was, no matter how stressed or just out of it I felt, I had to treat my sisters in Christ as just that – family. I had to show them love all the time even when I didn’t necessarily feel it. And I do love them. Each and every one of these girls has blessed me in so many ways and I am thankful for all the memories I have with them. There are so many different personalities in that group, and something to be learned from each one. It’s amazing how well we all meshed together. It really felt like we were Christ’s Body, just as it says in 1 Corinthians 12:12; “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” I felt like I really was part of Christ’s body, building these girls up as they built me up, even during the weeks when we were all stressed and just wanted to go home. We have so many inside jokes and honestly when I dreamed about studying abroad, I could not have imagined a better group to go with. When I switched from the spring to the fall I of course made it my goal to make new friends, but honestly, after having such a hard time finding the right group my first semester and only coming out with a small group of friends my first year, I was not expecting to bond so quickly with so many people. God has blessed me beyond belief. I have learned to give grace, to work with people even when I’m too tired and stressed to want to, and to sit back and enjoy people’s company even in less than ideal situations. It has forever shaped who I am and will be, and I know it will continue to do so.

On Being a Global Citizen:

To me, as a missions major and someone who wants to become a missionary one day, being a global citizen means I am showing the world the gospel of Christ. Most of the time, I try to accomplish this by being a light of Christ through my actions, smiling, being encouraging (not that I’m always good at this), but I also really learned the importance this semester of telling the gospel in words where I am and not shying away from it. One of my favorite memories of the trip was at a hostel in Venice. We had just been talking to one of the girls we were sharing a room with about our day when out of the blue, Hannakate starts telling her what we’re learning in our CS Lewis class and how great his book The Problem of Pain is. I am not nearly as outgoing as Hannakate  and probably would never have brought this up with our hostel-mate on my own, but I am so glad we did. She was an American from New York but knew very little about Christianity. We got to share with her some of the reasons why there is pain in the world despite having a God who loves us, as well as answered a lot of her questions about the divisions of the church between Catholicism and denominations. It was so awesome to be a light to her and give her a taste of Christianity.

On God:

One thing I learned about God this semester is how much He loves people. I saw so many different cultures and lives that people lived and experienced that I don’t. It blows my mind that God knows each and every one of them and loves them all. I loved meeting strangers in hostels and hearing about their lives whether they were from New York or Germany. They all had different stories, different relationships and different future plans. This was even true for all the girls (and boy) on Study Abroad. Every time I think about how God created each and every one of them and planned out their lives and exactly when and where I would meet them, it blows my mind. It really gave me an appreciation of how much I should care for them because even when I don’t deserve love God gives it to me. Why would I deny someone else this joy?

I also really loved going to church in Britain. The church overall may be dying out in Europe, but St. Aldates was very much alive and praising God. It was refreshing to hear so many hymns that aren’t sung in America, and I loved the way they pray. All of their prayers are so specific. In America we get “God bless you,” and the like, but at St. Aldates they prayed for specific problems the world and their country are facing at the moment. It was really admirable hearing all the specific blessings the give out, especially at the end of the service when they invite people experiencing certain afflictions (illness, sadness, ect.) forward to be prayed over. It really reminded me that God knows about and cares for the specifics, not just the general.

On Myself:

I am a perfectionist and I love scheduling. I have always known this, but keeping to my own schedule has never been an issue before. It’s easy to do when I have a predictable homework and class schedule and I am not planning trips every weekend. However, the first time I went on a three day trip to Paris, nothing happened the way I wanted or planned it to. Everyone I traveled with wanted to sleep in late rather than getting an early start with me, and even though I tried to keep everyone on the schedule I mentally appointed, it just wasn’t happening. We got lost constantly, our phones wouldn’t load directions, and each of us had our own ideas about how to navigate. We all kept getting frustrated with each other because we all wanted to go to different places, and had different interests and ideas about Paris, and each of us at different points in the trip wound up in tears because of it. Sadly, it wasn’t until I got back to Oxford that I realized, maybe I should have just enjoyed the moment  rather than trying so hard to keep to my own “perfect schedule.”

After that, I applied this knowledge to every trip I went on, only choosing two or three priorities of places to go instead of many, and moving on with life if we couldn’t get to one or if others didn’t want to go. After all, just being in a different country and seeing so many new places, I was getting to experience so much more than most people! I managed to keep a cool head when transportation was cancelled (multiple times) or directions were lost, even though it was frustrating, and sat back to just soak in the moments of European travel. It really helped a lot, keeping the rest of the trip fun and smooth even when everything blew up in my face and we were running around the Venetian train station after missing multiple trains to Rome. All I had to do was enjoy the moment. It got frustrating when other people on the trip hadn’t learned the same lesson yet and were whining, but again, I had to enjoy the moment through that and have patience with people.

I have also learned my limits. As an introvert, there were a lot of times on the trip when I wanted to hang out with people but was very tired. I had to learn that it was okay to step back and take time for myself when I needed it. This was especially true at the end of long trips when I was exhausted from traveling and was falling asleep on my feet. I had to learn to plan trips around how much I could handle and still be functioning at the end of the trip and able to do homework. This took most of Study Abroad, and at the end I still was struggling to keep to my limits, but it is a work in progress, and likely will be for the rest of my life.

~

So there you have it. My Study Abroad Experience. I loved getting to share it with all of you (that’s you parents and grandparents!) and it’s really been fun getting to reflect over it through this blog. I know I’ve learned a lot from it, and I hope you have too. What I am going to now with this blog, you ask? Hopefully I will continue posting about things I’m learning and want to share. God is alive and active in Texas just as much as in Britain, and I know He will continue teaching me. So stay tuned! And have a great 2015 🙂

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