4 Ways to Make the Most of Your Study AbroadPosted on Tuesday, May 10th, 2022
I still deem my study abroad experience as one of the top highlights of my life. There is something so unique about dedicating a few months to a culture and people while you’re in a season of learning. My experience studying abroad in South Africa is a huge reason why I am doing what I am doing right now as a mission coach, why I am the person that I am today, and why I am sitting here writing this blog. But I don’t think the story would have been written that way if it weren’t for the wisdom and knowledge I was handed before I headed on a plane in the Spring of 2015.
Don’t just slide by in your study abroad experience. Make the most of it with these four tips and tricks.
1 - Seek to learn the culture.
The thing that I will say over and over again to people who are hoping to study or even move abroad is to practice being a learner. Cultures are so beautiful and some are wonderfully different from our own, and we can learn so much because of it. The first thing many think about when learning a new culture is learning the language. On the surface, much of language learning focuses on the practical and tangible benefits; learning new words so that you can go to the store and get what you need or order the correct thing on a menu. But in a deeper sense, the language can actually teach you about a culture. I was so moved when I first learned what the normal greeting meant in Zulu (a South African language). Sawubona, usually used for a ‘hello’ means “I see you.” That taught me so much, just in a phrase. Choose to humble yourself and learn as you are in another place and your study abroad experience will be exponentially more beneficial.
The language can actually teach you about a culture
2 - Make new friends.
This is a big one! It would be really easy in any situation to stay in our comfort zones and stay within the safe context of our own bubble. Rest is good and needed when you’re in a new culture. But, pushing through your comfort zone is also needed to be able to grow! Meet new people, go to a new coffee shop, take a pottery class, or serve at a local ministry. Open your mind to how you can serve the country that is hosting you. One of the biggest gifts I received from studying abroad was making friends from a different culture. I loved hearing about the life of our driver or listening to stories from my South African biology professor. Those are some of my fondest memories from studying abroad.
3 - Bring your faith with you.
Alongside serving others, how can we bring our faith with us as we go abroad? I have heard countless stories of people going abroad and changing because of it. Walk through this change alongside the Creator who desires to be with you in your growth. Sit with the Lord in the new nature around you. Be with him in a new context. The Lord desires to show us more and more of his character and the times that those characteristics have been revealed to me is through new contexts. Look up how the Lord is currently working in the nation around you. Maybe you’re studying abroad in the Middle East and you’ll find that God is sharing his Gospel through dreams. Or maybe you’re going to South East Asia where we are seeing that the Lord is moving through miracles. How can you share the Gospel in the context you are in?
4 - Be present.
One of the struggles that I had studying abroad was that I constantly looked at the clock and counted down when I was coming home. This might be a particular struggle for me as I am such a futuristic thinker. As much as I was enjoying myself and having the time of my life, I was still drawn into what I knew and finding a longing to be there as well. Now looking back on my experience, I so often find myself wanting to be back. Studying abroad showed me that we are constantly longing for heaven. We are constantly longing for the place of perfection and perfect relationship with Christ. But Christ calls us to be “daily bread” people; people who respond to the Gospel with presence and contentment. If you draw one thing from this, I would encourage you to be present.
So those are my tips and tricks. Everyone’s study abroad experience is different because everyone goes to a different place with different people at a different time in that country. This experience is unique to you so don’t compare! Go out and learn as much as you can from the country that is hosting you. Learn from friends that you serve and share the Gospel with. And remember to be present as you prepare to go, as you're there, and as you head back home to wherever the Lord is leading you next.