Many people advocate for study abroad programs for college students, and there are countless benefits of being able to study abroad. What is not often discussed is the benefits of studying abroad from a Christian perspective, and there are numerous benefits that studying abroad has on a Christian’s faith.
Speaking broadly, the largest benefit that studying abroad gives is equipping you with the ability to share the gospel with a more diverse group of people. There are two main reasons for this. The first of which is that studying abroad teaches you how to interact with people from widely different backgrounds both religiously and culturally. While I was studying in Korea, one of my roommates was a Muslim from Turkey. Originally, I was nervous because I had never lived with someone who had drastically different religious views from my own, but as the semester progressed, she became one of my closest friends and we had many conversations about our respective faiths. We were both able to learn from each other, and she helped me to grow in how I interact and relate to people that are different from me. She showed me how even though we came from such different backgrounds and different places, we could still find things that we had in common, and I learned to appreciate and value the things that were different between us. This is important to my faith because understanding how to get along and form friendships with people who are different from myself can allow me in the future to share the gospel with people who I originally may have been hesitant even to approach.
The second reason that studying abroad equips you for sharing the gospel is that it teaches you how to communicate effectively with people from other cultures. This ability to communicate is important because miscommunication often leads to damaged relationships and hurt feelings. And the cause of these miscommunications is often the differences between your own culture and someone else’s. Studying abroad in Korea taught me how to effectively communicate with people from different cultures through respect and appreciation of the differences in our cultures. One example of this is the hierarchical structure of Korean society, which means that age is very important and it is imperative that you show the proper respect to someone who is older than you. If you do not keep this in mind as you are communicating with someone from Korean culture, then it is easy to unintentionally offend someone. From a Christian perspective, no one is going to be open to hearing about the gospel when you have just insulted them, so being aware of how you communicate with and are perceived by someone from another culture can open many doors to sharing about your faith.
Another benefit that Christians and non-Christians alike use to support studying abroad is the potential for personal growth that occurs while you are abroad. Within the category of personal growth, there is also a great deal of spiritual growth that occurs when you study abroad as well. For me, as I assume is the case with many Christians, I came from a Christian University where I was surrounded almost entirely by other Christians. This meant that studying abroad confronted me with different ways of thinking and ideas that I don’t deal with frequently at home. This active pushing me out of my comfort zone offered countless opportunities for spiritual growth while I was abroad. For example, while in Korea, I often spent time with many of the other exchange students, most of which were not Christian. The conversations that we had and the times that we spent together often challenged me to think deeply about what exactly I believe and why I believe it. I also was given the opportunity to explain the basics of Christianity to my roommate from Turkey, and that also challenged me to solidify my beliefs as well. Through this, I not only experienced immense personal growth but spiritual growth as well.
As Christians, we are called to go and make disciples of ALL nations, not just those that share a similar cultural background with us, and studying abroad can equip any Christian to do just that. Through a gained understanding of how to build relationships and communicate with people from other cultures as well as growing in your faith, studying abroad is an experience that holds immeasurable value for Christians in our world today.
– Lauren Wilson is from Monument, CO and currently studies Electrical Engineering at John Brown University. In 2017, she spent a semester at Handong Global University in Korea as an exchange student. She loves getting to tell others about her experiences there and how it personally affected her. She also enjoys hiking, solving puzzles, and spending time with her family.