I’ve always loved to travel and study other cultures. I went on missions trips in high school and dreamed about the day I could see the world. So studying abroad in college was never a question of if but rather a question of where.
Even though I was an international studies major for only like a second, I still itched to study in a foreign country. Based on my years of high school Spanish, I decided on Spain. The main draw for me was being in the middle of Europe and easily being able to visit other countries via plane or train.
So in the fall of my junior year, with my passport and two 50-pound bags in hand, I headed across the Atlantic for a program sponsored through Trinity University from which I could receive credit through my college, Taylor University. It was one of the best parts of my college experience.
If you’re on the fence about spending a semester abroad, or even at another college in the U.S. or Canada, here are a few of the reasons why I’m glad I spent time abroad.
1. Cross-cultural Christianity
One of the coolest parts of my time in Spain was meeting a local missionary family and spending some time asking questions about what Christianity in Europe was like. I went to several different Spanish house churches and visited some of the most jaw-dropping cathedrals. It was fascinating to learn how faith is expressed in a culture so different from my Western experience.
My semester in Spain challenged my assumptions and helped me understand the global church in a new way.
At the end of my program, I spent 10 extra days in Italy visiting the Italian foreign-exchange student who had lived with my family 10 years prior. In a time before cell phones and Facebook, it was no small feat to make plans for her to pick me up at the airport, especially since the last time we had seen each other was when I was 10 and she was 16.
Ten years later, I had to navigate the Rome airport and hope we somehow recognized each other. But I managed to get myself and my bags there and was quite proud of my accomplishment!
Having no one I could call for help in an emergency forced me to rely on God and on my own common sense. That skill served me well when one of my first jobs after college required solo international travel.
3. Your way is OK.
There’s nothing like spending time in a foreign culture to help you understand that there is more than one way of doing something. Rather than having central heat, our flat in Spain was heated room by room. The dining room had a heat lamp under the table, and we kept warm by putting the heavy tablecloth over our legs like a lap blanket. The convention is a bit unorthodox, but it worked just as well as a furnace vent.
Learning that something can be different but still good is a major component of marriage. Tyler and I do the dishes differently, have different views on what is an appropriate time to wake up, and we have different family traditions. Learning to compromise and understand that his way is OK, too, is a skill I’ve learned. The beginning of married life is a little bit like living in a foreign culture, so appreciating cultural differences is a good lesson to learn to set yourself up for future marriage success.
What has living or studying abroad taught you?